HDH Wine

Wine Spectator Auction Index Records Biggest
Gain in Three Years in First Quarter of 2014

Chicago house Hart Davis Hart leads the pack; demand surges in foreign markets

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: April 16, 2014


The Wine Spectator Auction Index, which tracks sales of commercial wine auctions in the United States, rose 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2014, to 339.94 points. This represents the index’s largest quarterly increase in the past three years.

“It seems that buyers and consignors are more confident and more active,” said Paul Hart, CEO of this quarter’s global leader, Hart Davis Hart, which recorded $12.6 million in sales. (All figures are listed in U.S. dollars.)

So far, 2014 looks to be a banner year, added John Kapon, CEO of Acker, Merrall & Condit. “Burgundy remains the lead story of 2014, but Italy, California, Champagne and Spain have also seen gains,” he said, noting that Bordeaux “remains a firm anchor in all markets,” but especially in Hong Kong.

The rise in U.S. sales can be attributed to a larger volume of lots. This quarter, 10,496 lots tracked by the Auction Index went on the block for a total value of $34.1 million—that’s 46 percent higher than in the first quarter of 2013, when 7,147 tracked lots totaled $23.4 million. The sell-through rate, at 98 percent, and average price per lot, at $3,252, were roughly the same as this time last year.

By contrast, the average price per lot in Hong Kong in the first quarter of 2014 was $6,124, nearly double the U.S. average. That’s because Hong Kong auctions tend to focus almost exclusively on the rarest consignments. In the first quarter of 2014, however, Hong Kong auctioned $28.4 million of fine wine—up 28 percent over the same period in 2013, but 17 percent below this quarter’s U.S. tally.

“Hong Kong has gotten a lot of attention from the media and the wine trade over the past few years,” said Kapon, “but it seems New York is intent on reminding the world that it is still as important a market in the wine world as any.”

Sales of Bordeaux, which consistently represents the largest category of wine sold at worldwide auctions, rose 6 percent in value over the fourth quarter of 2013. The 1982 vintage posted an average gain of 14 percent, led by Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1982, which climbed 93 percent to average $1,708 per bottle. Other front-runners included Château Gruaud-Larose 2000, up 35 percent to an average $162 per bottle, and Château Cos-d'Estournel 1990, which averaged $255 per bottle, for a 30 percent gain.

Sales of blue-chip California wines grew by a factor of 8 percent. Opus One 1999 led the pack with a 23 percent increase, averaging $271 per bottle. Among California cults, Harlan Estate’s 1994 and 1997 bottlings rose 13 and 12 percent, for per-bottle averages of $1,058 and $1,033, respectively.

Vintage Ports showed a mixed performance. While Graham Vintage Port 1970 fell 18 percent to average $112 per bottle, its 1994 vintage surged 107 percent to average $95 per bottle.

Italian estate bottlings rose by 4 percent in the first quarter. The leader was Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 1999, which grew 16 percent to average $218 per bottle, followed by Antinori Toscana Solaia 1997 which, at an average of $368 per bottle, posted a 13 percent increase.

Burgundies, which are tracked separately from the auction index, were likewise up 4 percent. Among the top-grossing lots were Armand Rousseau Chambertin-Clos de Bèze 1985, which gained 57 percent to average $3,187 per bottle, and Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 1990, which soared 166 percent for a $1,429-per-bottle average. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1996 averaged $2,481 per bottle, up 29 percent.

Rhône reds, also tracked separately, appreciated by 8 percent in the first quarter. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon 1995 climbed 75 percent to average $279 per bottle, followed by Chave Hermitage White 1998, up 58 percent at $174 per bottle. Château Rayas Châteauneuf du Pape Réservé 1990 ascended to an average $1,729 per bottle, up 56 percent.

Single-cellar consignments drew heated bidding this quarter due to their pristine provenance. At Hart Davis Hart’s Feb. 8 auction of the late Herbert Bridges Harris Jr.’s exemplary collection, the $7.5 million total exceeded its presale high estimate by more than $1.5 million. A six-bottle case of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1985 fetched $101,575, for a 112 percent increase over its index average, while a six-pack of Château Pichon Longueville Lalande 1970 brought $3,824, up a remarkable 431 percent.

On March 8, Sotheby’s New York auctioned 225 lots of rare Domaine Joseph Drouhin wines, the first consignment directly from the cellars of the famed Burgundy producer. Prices far exceeded expectations, bringing a total of $930,694 against a presale high estimate of $645,500. One of Drouhin’s highlights was a six-bottle lot of Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses 1978, which sold for $13,475, up a hefty 244 percent from the fourth quarter of 2013. A case of Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 2004 commanded $10,413, up 165 percent.

Despite the strong prices overall, some buying opportunities emerged. A magnum of Château Cos-d'Estournel 2005 averaged $329 at Hart Davis Hart, down 42 percent, and at Christie’s New York, Caparzo Brunello di Montalcino La Casa 1990 also dropped 42 percent to average $71 per bottle. At Sotheby’s New York, Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St.-Jacques 1990 averaged $194 per bottle, for a 44 percent decline.

“The buying base in North America, Brazil and Central America has strengthened,” said Michael Jessen, CEO of newcomer Wally’s Wine Auctions, which held its second auction on March 28. “We are seeing more purchasing from Europe and the United Kingdom. The fine wine market has become global again.”


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