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Sotheby’s falls short of estimates, Acker bullish

Sotheby’s first wine auction of the year in Hong Kong fell short of pre-sale estimates as buyers turned their backs on top Bordeaux - but the Bordeaux market is healthy, the auction house insists.

Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1990: highlight

The sale of Finest and Rarest Wines Including the Bordeaux Winebank on 14 January made a total of HK$44,058,350 (US$5,648,506), compared to the pre-sale estimate of HK$50-70m.

The auction was 85% sold by lot and 82.1% by value – a disappointing contrast to many sales in the Far East in the past few years, which have typically been sold out.

Wines that failed to sell included eight 12-bottle lots of Chateau Latour 2003, and three 12-bottle lots of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2005.

Other wines that did not perform as well as expected, Robert Sleigh, head of Sotheby’s Wine in Asia told Decanter.com, were 2003s – ‘which have always been very popular’ – 1995 and 1996 Mouton, and 1996 Margaux.

Sleigh said, ‘Commodity Bordeaux from younger vintages, that are still available in larger parcels, received less demand, which reflects the significant volumes of these wines that have been sold in the last two years, along with historic price increases.

There were ‘many factors’ influencing the market in what was ‘an interesting time’ for fine wine sales, he said.

‘The Chinese market has matured and people are ready to diversify. Burgundy is on the up and there is a lot of interest in Sauternes and cult California.’

Sleigh did not agree that the rest of Bordeaux would suffer from association with the inflated prices of the top wines.

‘I don’t think that’s the case. What we are seeing is a hunt for value – for instance in right bank wines like La Mondotte and Troplong Mondot. The market for Bordeaux is still very healthy and in terms of quality and quantity it will remain so. After all, without Bordeaux we’d have nothing to sell.’

The auction continues the trend of soft pricing at the top of the fine wine market, with fine wine exchange Liv-Ex recently announcing that prices of the top 100 traded wines (95% Bordeaux) fell 25% between June and December last year.

Prices for Château Lafite 2008, for instance, have fallen by 45% over the past 12 months, while the 2009 vintage lost 26% of its value in the second half of last year.

Among the highlights of Saturday’s sale was the top lot, a case of 1990 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which fetched just over HK$1.8m, ahead of its HK$1-1.5m estimate.

Three Veuve Clicquot vintage magnums – 1921, 1929 and 1947, were sold for HK$67,375-91,875 each.

Meanwhile, a two-day Acker Merrall & Condit fine wine auction held in Hong Kong on Friday and Saturday netted a total of HK$66,865,760 (US$8,572,333), with just over 90% of the lots sold.

Company CEO John Kapon said he was ‘delighted’ with the result, ‘despite the distractions of economic uncertainty, Chinese New Year and record volume in the wine auction market’.

Burgundy again proved a big seller, while a double magnum of 1870 Lafite was the sale highlight, fetching HK$488,000.

Written by Richard Woodard, and Adam Lechmere

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