Hart Davis Hart 26 June 2010 Auction — Preview

25 Jun

A highlight of the auction according to HDH: The 1999 Barolo Riserva, Monfortino, Giacomo Conterno of Lot 586 (Estimate: USD$3,500)

House: Hart Davis Hart

Date: 26 June 2010, 09:00 CDT

Title: An Auction of Finest & Rarest Wines

Live Location: Chicago (Tru Restaurant, 676 N. St. Clair Street)

Web: http://www.hdhwine.com/auction-catalog/1006

Phone: +1 312-482-9996

Buyer’s Premium: 19.5% + Sales Tax (if received in Illinois)

Shipping: The auction catalog lists the following shipping options within the United States:

  • Local Delivery (within 10 miles of downtown Chicago) (approximate fees: $14-$30 per case)
  • Common Carrier Ground Service (approximate fees: $25-$45 per case)
  • Second Day Air Service (approximate fees: $49-$113 per case)
  • Next Day Air Service (approximate fees: $103-$120 per case)
  • Fully licensed temperature controlled trucking, when available ($750.00 min. charge)

Storage: “We offer complimentary storage in our temperature and humidity-controlled facilities for 60 days after the date of auction.”

Total Lots: 1,173

Wine Distribution: Red Bordeaux 50% (590 lots), Red California 17% (200 lots), Red Burgundy 16% (186 lots), Red Italian 5% (63 lots), Red Rhone 4.5% (53 lots), White California 2% (24 lots), White Burgundy 1.5% (17 lots), Champagne 1.5% (16 lots)

Most Expensive Estimate: Lot 208, Romanée-Conti, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1995 (6 btls.) and Lot 233, Romanée-Conti, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2003 (6 magnums), USD$45,000

Least Expensive Estimate: Lot 555, Domaine Raveneau, 1er Cru Chablis 2005 (2 btls.), USD$220

Potential Bargains (Using QPR or Quality to Price Ratio):

Like Haut-Brion, but don’t like Haut-Brion prices?  This HDH auction has a lot featuring six magnums of the 1999 Chateau Bahans Haut-Brion, the second wine of Chateau Haut-Brion, which has been called Clarence de Haut-Brion since 2007 (lot no. 133).  Although only scoring in the high-80s according to Tanzer and Parker when it was first tasted in the bottle in 2002, it’s in its prime drinking window now.  Vinopedia only shows one store in the world selling magnums of the Bahans ’99, the Swiss retailer AMP International Trading, which lists it for approximately USD$92 (look at page 4 of AMP’s price list where it’s shown at CHF 109).  If you could get this lot for anything within its estimate range of USD$220-$320, you’d be beating retail handily, especially if you live in the U.S., as shipping from HDH in Chicago will be much less than AMP in Switzerland.

Staying on the theme of second wines from top Bordeaux, Lot 660 is a case of the 2000 Réserve de la Comtesse, the second wine of Chateau Pichon-Longueville, Lalande. As most of you know, 2000 was an excellent vintage for Bordeaux, and though the users of CellarTracker are all over the board on this particular wine, most of these amateur tasters rate it around a 90.  Plus, the well-known English wine seller Lay and Wheeler says in its tasting note for the ’00: “This has to be the best Réserve de la Comtesse we have tasted.”  This wine averages USD$61 per bottle on Wine Searcher at retail, with the least expensive option being $47 a bottle at San Francisco Wine Consulting, which has two bottles currently in stock.  With a top estimate of USD$450 for this lot, you’d be getting a very good price at a $400 or less hammer price.

If you fancy a white wine instead, there a quite a few options, though none that are particularly inexpensive.  The least expensive estimate in the entire auction is, as mentioned above, for a lot of two different primer cru Chablis from Domaine Raveneau (the Butteaux and the Montmains) in Lot 555, and I do love Chablis.  But considering that the French wine dealer Millesimes lists the Butteaux for 77.74 € (approximately USD$81 — thank you strong dollar), this lot isn’t exactly a bargain unless you get it for significantly less than the maximum estimate of USD$220.


Well, this is getting familiar.

This is only the third wine auction preview on this blog so far, and invariably, the most expensive lots are DRC and Lafite.  The nine most pricey lots by maximum estimate in this HDH auction come from those two producers, as do the vast majority of the top 50 most expensive lots (with Bordeaux stars Petrus, Le Pin, and Latour making a few appearances). Sure, sure, this is completely understandable considering how collectible, storied, and in demand these wines are.  For example, Liv-ex, the exchange that acts as sort of a “stock market” for fine wine, has 702 vintages of Lafite Rothschild and 287 vintages of Domaine Romanee Conti available for trading going back to the 18th and 19th Centuries respectively.  Lafite and DRC have been desirable for a long, long time.

If you’re a collector, these brands have to be in your portfolio.  If you’re a drinker, although you have to try and find a way to try these wines — they are just too superlative to not drink if you have the opportunity — their exorbitant prices make drinking Lafite or DRC almost idiotic.  Lot 208 of this auction is six bottles of 1995 Romanée-Conti with a minimum estimate of USD$30,000.  For those of you who are bad at math, that’s $5,000 a bottle, plus buyer’s premium, shipping, taxes, etc.

Just for comparison, for USD$30,000 you could buy almost 24 ounces of gold (or 600 grams), even at today’s inflated gold prices.  Is it worth it to buy this ’95 DRC to drink at such a price even if the estimable Allen Meadows, the Burghound himself, calls it “extremely impressive”?  I like wine a heck of a lot more than gold, but I think I’d rather have six big ol’ bars of gold myself.

The Plan

21 Jun

'85 Haut Bages Liberal, a recent purchase of mine from Spectrum

So for the past several weeks, I’ve been on vacation in Central Asia and then I’ve moved to Southern Africa with a lovely 33 hours of transit in between.  Now I’m tanned, rested, and happy, and despite the sadly frequently power outages here in Harare, I’m ready to blog with a passion on wine auctions around the globe.

So what’s the plan for the next few weeks?

  • Continue tweeting on a regular, hopefully daily, basis at http://twitter.com/wineauctionspy;
  • Updating the “Upcoming Auctions” calendar at the bottom of the page;
  • Preview the June 26th Hart Davis Hart auction in Chicago;
  • Review the past two wine auctions at Skinner in Boston;
  • Share with you some of my recent purchases at auction; and
  • Start a basic primer on bidding for wines to drink at auction.

I’m going to get cracking on all of this post haste.  In the meantime, please do send me any comments, questions, concerns, World Cup picks, or whatever to josh [at] wineauctionspy.com.  As this blog and this site grow, I will continue to depend of the insight and suggestions of my readers, so please don’t be shy, drop me a line.

Watch this space and talk to you all soon.

Off Climbing Mountains

3 Jun

Off climbing mountains in Tajikistan, so posts and tweets will be few and far between until about two weeks from now. More here at my personal blog: http://friejose.wordpress.com/2010/06/03/to-the-roof-of-the-world/

Talk to you all then.

Bonhams 27 May 2010 Auction — Quick Results

28 May

Bonhams LogoLet’s see how the lots I mentioned in my preview of Bonhams’s Hong Kong auction did.  A list of the sale results for all lots is available at the Bonhams website.  All prices below include the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium of, I think, 15%, but are exclusive of taxes; all currency conversions are to the nearest whole dollar and based on today’s rate:

Potential Bargains Mentioned:

  • Lot 104, D. Mortet Clos de Vougeot 1990 (2 btls.), Estimate HK$3,100 — Not sold. Either the reserve wasn’t reached or the lot was withdrawn.  Whatever the case, this is no loss to my mind as I said in my preview: “Two-hundred bucks [a bottle] is a lot of money to pay for good but not great wine.”
  • Lot 62, Chateau Beychevelle 2005 (12 btls.), Estimate HK$7,000 — Not sold. Second suggestion in a row that the auctioneer couldn’t entice any bidder, or enough bidders, to show interest in.  Seeing this makes me think that Hong Kong wine auctions may be all about the big names and not so much about value shopping.  In which case, placing a low bid online prior to the auction to see if you can sneak away with a cheap lot or two may be a worthwhile strategy for bargain hunters.
  • Lot 155, Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux La Chapelle 1990 (4 btls.), Estimate HK$3,100 — Sold for HK$2,618 (US$336).  This Loire dessert wine sold for significantly below its maximum estimate and at a substantial discount to what the one retailer that carries the wine lists it for.  Of course, you could’ve gotten it much cheaper in 2003 from Sotheby’s, but that’s seven years of cellaring that you didn’t have to worry about at least.

Blockbusters Mentioned:

  • Lot 1, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2000 (12 btls.), Estimate HK$195,000 — Sold for HK$166,600 (US$21,392).  A lot of money yes, but 15% below its maximum estimate and cheaper than it can be bought almost anywhere in the world.
  • Lots 2-3, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982 (12 btls. per lot), Per Lot Estimate HK$312,000 — Sold for HK$267,750 and HK$309,400 (US$34,381 and US$39,729 respectively).  I’m not sure what accounts for the US$5,000 difference in price between these two lots.  The online version of the auction catalog doesn’t provide any description of the lots in question beyond the year, chateau, and number of bottles, so I can only wonder what was said in the printed catalog about fill levels, label condition, possible seepage, and the like.  The answer may be more psychological than that, though.  Bidders saw Lot no. 2 go for a good deal less than its maximum estimate, they knew they wanted this classic Lafite, and they bid more than intended trying to get it.  Prosaic, I know.
  • Lot 52, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2000 (1 btl.), Estimate HK$35,900 — Sold for HK$35,700 (US$4,587).  Great producer, great vintage, still a ton of money for a bottle of wine, especially a singleton.  I hope some rich person bought this to drink.  Still, the winning bidder paid almost US$300 less for this bottle of Lafite than it costs in Hong Kong, which means two things to me: he/she got a good deal in a relative sense and Lafite is very, very expensive no matter how you buy it.
  • Lot 215, Romanee Conti 1996 (1 Methuselah), Estimate HK$585,000 — Not sold. The outliers, both cheap and expensive, did not sell through very well in this auction.  Makes me wonder if the Bonhams’s staff is properly valuing their lots.
  • Lot 217, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1982 (12 btls.), Estimate HK$312,000 — Sold for HK$380,800 (US$48,899).  Well.  I guess the bidders who didn’t get lots nos. 2 and 3 went a little nuts.

Value Lots I Missed Originally:

Domaine Nicolas Rossignol Logo

  • Lots 83-86, Mixed Nicolas Rossignol Lots (12 btls. per lot), Per Lot Estimate HK$3,900 — Sold for HK$3,332 per lot (US$428 per lot).  In my wine auction experience, both live and online, it always pays to keep your eyes on mixed lots if you are looking to buy wine to drink.  These four mixed lots of fine Pinot Noir from Burgundian winemaker Nicolas Rossignol prove the point.  Each of these lots had two bottles per lot of the same six N. Rossignol wines from 2006: Volnay Les Caillerets, Volnay Chevret, Volnay, Pommard Chanlins, Pommard, and Beaune Rouge.  Prices of these wines are all over the board, with some averaging as little as US$17 or so at retail, but others are much more expensive, up to US$50 to $60 per bottle.  What is more, Spurrier in Decanter said that N. Rossignol has “a superb, really exceptional range of 2006s” that are coming into their prime drinking window now.  At $36 per bottle, it is worth to take a chance of these lots at this price.  (Interestingly, lot no. 87, which was identical in composition to these lots, sold for much more at HK$4,165.)

Is Acker Merrall’s Hong Kong Auction on May 29th Selling Fake Wines?

26 May

When two different Masters of Wine express reservations about the authenticity of wine being sold at auction, you have to sit up and take notice.

Jancis Robinson MW, one of the doyennes of the British wine world (she’s an OBE for heaven’s sake), had a cryptic Twitter post up on 21 May:

In lead-up to Vinexpo in HK I’m increasingly worried about the way fakes may be being offloaded in wine auctions in HK. Buyers, mega beware!

This wasn’t cryptic as regards Robinson’s fears — that there may be Hong Kong wine auctions selling fakes — but was vague on some key points.  Why was she worried?  How did she find out about this issue?  Why did she use the word “offloaded;” could these alleged fakes not be sold elsewhere?  And perhaps most importantly, which particular wines was she talking about?  Granted that Twitter isn’t exactly the place for long analyses, but her one follow-up didn’t expand upon her fears either.

Luckily, some of the questions raised by Robinson’s stray tweet were answered the next day by Jeannie Cho Lee MW, one of the leaders in the Hong Kong wine world, in a series of related tweets on the subject.  Here’s the first post of hers that I saw about the possible auction fakes, in full:

I am recvg many emails warning Asian buyers abt upcoming HK$125mill Acker auction. V difficult to assess how much is real vs rumour…

Now we know the allegedly offending auction house: Acker Merrall & Condit.  And we also now know the allegedly offending auction: Acker’s mammoth wine auction (1,865 lots!) in Hong Kong scheduled for 28-29 May 2010, and which is imposingly titled “The Imperial Cellar”.  These 140 characters also tell us how Lee found out that there may be fake wine being auctioned, through e-mails.  From whom?  That we don’t know.

Notice how both Robinson and Lee parse their words very carefully in these posts.  Neither of them comes out and accuses anyone of anything, just that they are “increasingly worried” and are finding it very “difficult to assess how much is real” and how much is rumor.  Of course, libel law may be part of the reason for the qualification of their comments (and I should make clear that I have no specific evidence of wrongdoing either, I’m just presenting the scuttlebutt and my thoughts on it).

Lee’s next tweet showed how seriously she took the accusation of fake wines at the Acker auction, however:

If anyone has evidence of questionable authenticity abt HK auction wines, pls send. Researching 4 article 4 ChinaBzNews w 800k readers. Thnx

This led me to ask her, on Twitter, why she was concerned about possible fakes, and Lee’s response clarified how she heard about this issue:

@wineauctionspy I have numerous emails frm US contacts who said many upcoming wines were rejected by other auction hses- believed 2 b fakes

Okay, now it is starting to become clear.  Acker Merrall, an auction house based in New York, schedules a wine auction in Hong Kong, an increasingly important wine market, that Sommelier India calls “the largest wine auction ever conducted in Asia and the third largest in the world.”  This huge auction features a exceptional selection of rare Bordeaux, the cream of collectible wines, including 450 bottles that are pre-1961, 181 bottles from the 1961 vintage, around 400 bottles from the 1982 vintage, and 3,000 bottles from the 2000 vintage.  Needless to say, the 1961, 1982, and 2000 vintages are considered to be three of the four best, most collectible vintages of Bordeaux in the last 50 years (with the 2005 vintage being the fourth).  That’s a lot of very, very good and very, very expensive wine.  Oh, and there are 1,470 bottles of Romanée-Conti being auctioned in this sale too.

But this mother-lode of wine is only that good and that expensive if it is real.

Acker Merrall’s competitors know that, of course.  Could any of them be the source of the mysterious e-mails claiming Acker is passing off fakes?  I have no evidence of that one way or the other, but I’m not connected in the industry and so the evidence may exist unbeknownst to me.  If so, these e-mails could just be the manifestation of jealousy that Acker Merrall is pulling off such a big auction in such an up-and-coming wine center.  But allegations of counterfeits being sold at the “Imperial Cellar” may have the ring of truth because Acker Merrall has a history of auctioning, or almost auctioning, fake wine.  In an April 2008 wine auction by Acker Merrall in New York, 107 bottles of rare Burgundy slated to be sold proved to be fraudulent and were withdrawn from bidding at the last moment.  Further, a lawsuit filed last year asserts that Acker Merrall sold numerous lots of fake Burgundy and Bordeaux wines in 2005 and 2006.

I certainly don’t know which wine in Acker Merrall’s “Imperial Cellar” auction is real and which is fake.  It could be that everything is 100% authentic; I hope so.  But it behooves potential bidders to take Robinson’s advice and caveat emptor mega.