Eyebrows rose yet again at further new records set for fine wine prices of Bordeaux first growths led by the Hong Kong offices of the major fine wine auction houses.
In a clear bid to position itself in-line with its Pauillac neighbour, whose significant price lead in the fine wine market over its Bordeaux peers was given a boost at a Sotheby’s wine auction on the island earlier this year, Chateau Latour chose Christie’s auction house to conduct last week’s ex-cellar sale. Of course, the owner of Latour also owns Christie’s.
As with Lafite, Latour’s wines came straight from its own cellars in Bordeaux, the so-referred to provenance that has become central to wine investment and in recent years as a mark of authenticity, scarcity and guarantee of storage conditions.
392 lots came under the hammer in an 8-hour session that saw total sales reach a staggering £4.6m ($7.6m) with prices more than doubling their pre-sale estimate for some wines. Asian buyers again accounted for the lion’s share of successful bids in an auction noted for its large format bottles - something that to date has been slower to be in embraced in Asia. . Only 2 cases of 75cl bottles in the whole sale.
The top 3 lots were identical 6-magnum lots of 1961 fetched well over double the high estimate of some £66,000 or HK$850,000. A single 1961 imperial (6L.) weighed in at £131,544. Other historic vintages, such as the 1945, saw a 75cl. case go for £122,148 after an initial estimate of £56,000.
Latour, the exception that proves the rule?
With regards to formation of fine wine prices and the Asian buyer threshold, although the average Westerner may well ask is there one, Latour has leveraged off a range of factors. Its choice of Christie’s to hold the auction as an apparent head-to-head following Lafite’s earlier success may be one. Another is that Lafite prices would have appeared to have plateaued and are in fact coming slightly off the boil. However, average prices for its first growth peers remain well behind, meaning rising first growth brands are still within Asian buyers comfort zones.
More than any other factor, however, is provenance, the new mantra of the fine wine collector, drinker and investor. Not only did these wines come straight from Latour's own cellars but Frédéric Engerer, the château director and President, personally inspected each and every one of the bottles before approving them for consignment. More importantly, Engerer then went on to apply a ProoftagTM to every bottle, a unique tracing system that can be used to prove the bottle has been released in April 2011 direct from the Latour cellar. To which he engraved the words ‘This bottle was released directly from the cellar Chateau Latour in April 2011 specifically for Christie’s auction in Hong Kong on May 27th 2011.
Nonetheless, large formats and special releases aside, as far as the wider market is concerned one of the most notable features of the auction is that Latour’s younger vintage releases – 2000, 2005, 2009 – saw hammer prices that came in marginally lower than their current prices on the open market, in a clear sign of Asian buyers growing awareness and a resistance to over pay. Buyers are not fools!
We have reviewed wine auction prices vs. open market prices in earlier blog pieces, with buyer’s premiums and other factors taken into account, it has been widely commentated that the results show auction buyers pay a premium over London market fine wine prices. It is highly likely that whereas such auctions may continue to be the preserve of some first growths, overall the open market remains the most competitive place to buy, or sell.