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Bordeaux Goes Unsold, Price Qualms Damp $18.7 Million Sales

January 17, 2012

(Updates with Sotheby’s sales figures in eighth paragraph)

Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Lots of first growth Bordeaux, including Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and Chateau Margaux, went unsold in a $18.7 million test of demand for fine wine.

Wealthy Chinese and other collectors focused on the very best older vintages and Burgundies such as DRC Domaine de la Romanee-Conti at Hong Kong weekend auctions, passing on other lots in anticipation of further price declines this year.

“This is an opportunity to average down,” said Sam Lin, a collector for more than 20 years, who on Jan. 14 picked up six magnums of Chateau Mouton Rothschild 1990 at Sotheby’s for HK$26,000 ($3,348) before buyer’s premium -- well below the low estimate of HK$34,000. “In general, today was cheap but I think there will still be a correction.”

Auction buying became more selective last year, as the Liv- ex Fine Wine 100 Index dropped 15 percent. First-half price gains for Bordeaux were followed by declines in the latter part of 2011. Values may fall further before rebounding, buyers said.

“The market is waiting to find a level,” said Robert Sleigh, senior director and head of wine for Asia at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong. “The amount sold in the past two or three years is historically extraordinary and everyone is taking a breather.”

For example, six lots of Chateau-Lafite 2003 went unsold.

“Younger first growths and right bank wines were struggling to find a home,” said Sleigh.

The Sotheby’s sale of almost 1,000 lots raised HK$44.06 million, accounting for 82.1 percent of the presale estimate, while 85 percent of the lots sold.

Top Lots

The most expensive Sotheby’s lot was a 12-bottle case of 1990 DRC Romanee Conti that sold for HK$1.84 million, including a buyer’s premium of 22.5 percent. Across town at the Acker Merrill & Condit sale, the most expensive lot was also a case of 1985 DRC, costing HK$1.464 million with buyer’s premium.

Acker, the largest wine auction house by sales, raised HK$66.87 million, with more than 90 percent of almost 1,000 lots sold.

“Despite the distractions of economic uncertainty, Chinese New Year and record volume in the wine auction market,” John Kapon, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a news release last night, “buyers still showed that they want their fine and rare wine,”

One of the highlights of the Acker sale was the HK$488,000 paid for a rare bottle of 1870 Chateau Lafite harvested during the Franco-Prussian war. It has been kept at the Chateau until sold in 2003 and shipped to the U.S.

Smaller Value

Together with the HK$34.62 million raised by Zachys during its Jan. 7 sale, the three auction houses have sold a combined $HK145.54 million (equivalent of $18.71 million) in sales leading up to Chinese New Year celebrations. This figure is well below the combined $34.59 million total raised by the same three events in January 2011.

Hong Kong is the world’s largest wine auction market and is closely watched as a barometer of global sentiment. Last year, $198 million of wine was sold by the four biggest auction houses in the city, more than double the $92 million they sold in New York, the second-largest center, according to Bloomberg News calculations.

While the wine market in Hong Kong is dominated by French red Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, auctioneers have been finding success at selling some American wines. A 42-bottle lot of seven vintages of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon fetched HK$829,600 at Acker Merrall & Condit, while Harlan Estate of Napa Valley sold well at Sotheby’s, dealers said.

--Editors: Mark Beech, Richard Vines.

To contact the reporters on this story: Frederik Balfour in Hong Kong on Guy Collins in London on or

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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