London and NY auctions trounce sales estimates in fine wine market bull run

The auction season is upon us, and some startling sales last week were another reminder just how good an investment fine wine can be. Auctions by Sotheby’s in both London and New York raised much more than was anticipated, with the New Bond Street house amassing £2.67 m (nearly a full million more than expected).

Across the pond, $3.8m was realised, which took Sotheby’s Big Apple fine wine sales for 2016 to a whopping $34m. That represents the second highest total in 23 years of wine auctions in the US by the company.

The London auction, of what was a remarkable private collection that included umpteen examples of the best Bordeaux, Burgundies, Champagnes and Ports from great vintages, was hailed as a “fantastic sale result” by Stephen Mould, head of Sotheby’s Wine, Europe. “The depth and breadth of the collection were breathtaking, resulting in 78% of lots selling above the high estimate,” Mould said.

“Buyers came from 21 different countries and they competed energetically for the most coveted lots, with a high proportion selling to telephone bidders and 35% to online bidders. It is difficult to single out highlights, as there were so many, but special mention should be made of the two lots of Montrachet, which were the highest sold lots in the sale.” Both of these went for £54,050 (inclusive of the buyer’s premium of 17.5%): ten bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1986, and a case of Domaine Ramonet Montrachet 1992.

Bordeaux was in no less demand. Am Imperial (6 litre-bottle) of Château Lafleur 1982 (a superlative vintage) was sold for £25,850, and a case of the same for £30,850. Six magnums of Pétrus 1982 went for £44,650 (hammer-price 38K), while single cases of Haut-Brion 1959 & 1961 amassed £18,800 and £30,550 respectively. The latter price was the same as was paid for a case of Latour 1961.

Beating them all, however, was a special edition magnum decanter of Louis XIII Cognac that was bought for as much as £188,000. Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of wine for Sotheby’s, said: “The final result is testament to the passion and appreciation for Louis XIII from collectors all over the world, not only for the sublime drinking experience this Cognac affords, but also for the highly-skilled artisanal work that goes into making it.”

Burgundies and Champagnes were the highlight of the New York auction. A very rare bottle of Bollinger 1914 was bought for $12,250, and a Jeroboam of 1979 RD from the same house went for $6,738. Three bottles of 1973 ‘Année Rare’ fetched $5,145.

“I am absolutely thrilled with the results from our first-ever US auction – and in fact our first auction in the world,” Jerome Philipon, Bollinger’s chairman, said. “The main takeaway for me is that all of the wines, from the non-vintage to the vintage, to the historic vintages, surpassed estimations. This shows the strength of the Bollinger brand across all Champagne cuvée categories.”

A delighted Ritchie added: “It was an honour to offer the first wines ever released for auction direct from the cellars of Champagne Bollinger. We saw strong demand from champagne lovers, who will now enjoy these wines that are in perfect condition. The sale included 202 lots of wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti which saw equally strong demand, selling for an average 142% of the low estimate.”

A case of the 1965 DRC made $42,875, although another of Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1966 went for more – $58,850. A half-case of La Tâche 1999 fetched $26,950, while a magnum of Henri Jayer 1985 Vosne Romanée Cros Parantoux was bought for $21,000. That was trumped by a magnum of 1947 Cheval Blanc, which was sold for $32,000.