Archive | May, 2010

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 Either the reserve wasn’t reached or the lot was withdrawn.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.)
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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.

Bonhams 27 May 2010 Auction — Preview

20 May

A mixed lot of DRC, available in this auction by Bonhams HK as Lot 17 (Estimate: HK$124,800)

House: Bonhams

Date: 27 May 2010, 19:00 HKT

Title: Fine and Rare Wines

Live Location(s): Hong Kong (JW Marriott Hotel, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway)

Web: http://www.bonhams.com/asi/auction/18460/

Phone: +852 3607 0004

Buyer’s Premium: 15% + VAT*

Shipping: UK – ₤8 + VAT per case, ₤16 + VAT minimum charge, ₤80 + VAT maximum charge; ROW – “please ask for a quotation.”*

Storage: 7 days free from date of sale, £3 + VAT per lot per day thereafter*

* This information is from Bonhams’ UK “Notice to Bidders,” and I’m not sure if it applies to Hong Kong sales as well.  As a PDF of the specific auction catalog was not available online and as I couldn’t find anything specific to Hong Kong, please contact Bonhams directly to be sure of your ancillary costs.

Total Lots: 280

Wine Distribution: Red Bordeaux 25% (71 lots), Red Burgundy 23% (63 lots), Red California 11% (32 lots), Red Australia 10% (29 lots), White Burgundy 8% (21 lots), Red Italian 5% (15 lots), Red Rhone 4% (10 lots), White Bordeaux 3% (9 lots), Champagne 3% (8 lots)

Most Expensive Estimate: Lot 215, Romanee Conti 1996 (1 Methuselah), HK$585,000

Least Expensive Estimate: Lot 104, D. Mortet Clos de Vougeot 1990 (2 btls.), HK$3,100 and Lot 155, Chateau de Fesles Bonnezeaux La Chapelle 1990 (4 btls.), HK$3,100

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

Let’s look first at the two lots with the lowest estimates that are listed at HK$3,100 each, which is equivalent to about US$400.  Wine Consigners, a close-out retailer based in Beverly Hills, has the Mortet Clos de Vougeot at US$194 per bottle, which is a bit less than the maximum estimate for the two bottles of the same in Lot 104.  Parker gave this offering a 90, and Wine Spectator rated it twice in the mid-80s, which are good but not great scores.  Two-hundred bucks is a lot of money to pay for good but not great wine.  Unless you are a Côte de Nuits fetishist or particularly like Denis Mortet’s wines, at almost US$200 a bottle, this doesn’t really offer good value to my mind.

The Chateau de Fesles in Lot 155 couldn’t be more different than Mortet’s Burgundian Pinot Noir in Lot 104, notwithstanding their lots’ identical estimated price point.  A sweet Chenin Blanc dessert wine from the Loire, the super-cuvée La Chapelle had a tremendous year in 1990 according to the Wine Doctor when he tasted it 16 years later.  “Deliciously fresh, and an amazing length, building to a crescendo some time after, and then slowly fading. Excellent.”  Chateau de Fesles no longer makes the La Chapelle, so this offering is legitimately rare and is in its prime drinking window.  The only bottle of the 1990 Fesles La Chapelle I could find online at retail was being sold in Australia by the Ultimo Wine Centre for AU$149.95 per bottle (approximately US$125).  Back in 2003, Sotheby’s sold a 6 bottle lot of the 1990 La Chapelle for ₤92 (and two other six bottles lots in that auction for ₤80), so that should give you an idea of how much this wine has appreciated in value over the intervening years.  If sweet wines are your thing, Lot 155 is worth bidding on, especially if you can get it for under the maximum estimate.

Although it does not have one of the very lowest estimates in this auction, I might look at Lot 62 of a 12 bottle case of 2005 Chateau Beychevelle as an opportunity to get a good value.  Beychevelle is a fourth growth estate in St. Julien that Parker says “too often does not live up to its pedigree.”  But this reputation is something savvy bidders can use their advantage, as it means that Beychevelle is often well-priced compared to other Bordeaux chateaux.  Especially since 2005 is regarded as one of the best vintages in memory, and the experts agree that the 2005 Beychevelle is a fine, if not spectacular, wine, it is a good target for value bidders.  If you could get this lot at a price in the middle of the HK$5,900 to 7,000 estimate range, say for HK$6,500 (US$833), you’d be getting a deal considering that the average price for a bottle at retail is US$82.

Blockbusters:

There are plenty of high priced Bordeaux lots in this auction – see, for example, Lots 1-3 that are all of Lafite and all estimated to sell for between US$18,000 and $40,000 per lot – but the most extravagant lot has to be the Methuselah of 1996 Domaine de la Romanee Conti of Lot 215 that is estimated to sell for up to HK$585,000 (equivalent to about US$75,000).  This huge 6 liter bottle is from the Romanée-Conti vineyard and this namesake wine is beloved by collectors and drinkers alike, as are all the varieties of 1996 DRC.  Whether that love is strong enough to merit a bid on wine that may cost upwards of US$5,000 per Burgundy-sized glass (415ml) is another question.

As suggested above, Chateau Lafite Rothschild leads the way for red Bordeaux lots with its cases of the star vintage of 1982 (nos. 2-3 and 217), which are all estimated to sell for up to HK$312,000 (approximately US$40,000).  If you want the taste of top vintage Lafite and you’re rich, but not that rich, consider Lot 52 of one bottle of the 2000 Lafite that has a maximum estimate of HK$35,900 (about US$4,600).  As might be expected for what is considered by many the finest wine in the world, Lafite is consistently excellent every year.  Nevertheless, both 1982 and 2000 are thought to be “exceptional” vintages by experts, and are notoriously difficult to get a hold of at any price.  According to Wine-Searcher.com, the cheapest available bottle of 1982 Lafite at retail is being sold for US$3,199 plus shipping from Chicago.  This means that if you are a serious wine collector in Asia, the 1982 Lafite lots in this Hong Kong auction might actually be, believe it or not, reasonably priced relatively-speaking when you factor in possible shipping and that the least expensive available bottle in Asia costs HK$38,000 (US$4,870).

Wine on eBay, part I: Australia, Austria, Belgium & Germany

16 May

A screen shot of the wine selection at eBay.fr

You would think that eBay, who proclaims itself as the “world’s leading e-commerce company,” would be THE place to buy and sell wine online.  Uh, not so much… unless you know where to look.

It is practically impossible to buy or sell wine on American eBay due to the draconian and anachronistic alcohol shipping laws of the United States.  I couldn’t find any wine for sale on the British or Canadian versions of eBay either, presumably out of similar licensing concerns.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no wine for sale on eBay.

On the contrary, eBay sites based in several other countries offer a wide selection of wine (and other alcoholic beverages) for sale.  What follows below is a listing and quick analysis of many of the eBay sites around the world that sell wine directly to consumers.  There are some great deals available on eBay, but be aware of two things:

  1. Shipping wine directly to consumers may be illegal in your part of the world and neither I nor this site can give any sort of advice about the legality of such wine shipments, so make sure you know the rules before you buy a bunch of Mouton Rothschild through eBay.fr; and
  2. Most of the eBay sites below aren’t available in English, so you may have trouble navigating them and/or understanding what they say on there, although Google Translate can usually lend a helping hand.

That said, what follows is Part I of my review of the eBay sites that sell wine, in which I discuss a bit about each national eBay site, how many wine auctions it offers, and give an example or two of what’s available there.  These posts are not intended to be an in-depth review, but rather an introduction to the wine offerings on eBay.  Remember, links to all of these eBay wine sites are on the right-hand side of the blog.

  • eBay.com.au: Let’s start with the wine offerings on Australian eBay, which show that even English-speaking countries can figure out a way to allow for the sale and shipping of alcohol via internet auctions.  There were 4,215 wine auctions on eBay.com.au on Sunday, and the vast majority are Australian wines unsurprisingly.  Many auctions  (2,332) are listed in the “Not Specified” category, but many of these should have been categorized, however, as the category includes some famous wines.  In particular, when I checked, several bottles of Penfolds Grange, probably the most collectible Australian wine, were available.  For example, a magnum of the beloved 1998 Grange was available for $1,595.15 USD as a “Buy It Now” purchase, which is a good price for a magnum.  There’s also lots of cheaper wine on auction, such as the Carlei Green Vineyards Bendigo Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, which had a high bid of 87 cents USD when I last checked.  One thing to check before you bid is whether the seller will ship the wine outside of Australia, as it appears that most sellers only ship within.
  • eBay.at: I saw a t-shirt in Vienna once that said, “there are no kangaroos in Austria,” and you shouldn’t confuse the Australian and Austrian eBay wine offerings either.  Austrian eBay had 9,080 active wine auctions on Sunday, with most of these involving French, Italian, and German wines.  I was a bit surprised that there are relatively few Austrian wines on offer (591), but there are some real Austrian gems available.  An auction ending on Sunday offered a bottle of the supposedly terrific 2008 F.X. Pichler Grüner Veltliner Kellerberg, which had a high bid of EUR 27.50 some 11 hours before the auction ended.  Even if the sale price ended up being twice as much, it would still be a bargain considering that the cheapest bottle of the ’08 Pichler in the US or UK  is $84.  The seller of this one bottle lot of Pichler Grüner only lists Austria and Germany as shipping destinations, so, as with Australian eBay, it is best to check with the seller to see if he/she will ship to you before bidding.
  • eBay.be: Belgian eBay is divided linguistically, as is Belgium itself, and though my links here are to the francophone eBay.be, the site is available throughout in Flemish as well.  There is an extensive “Vin & Gastronomie” section on Belgian eBay, though many of the 7,394 auction listing in that section on Sunday were not for wine.  Rather, there were lots of auctions for spirits, beer, wine accessories, cigars, and food items.  That said, Belgian eBay has quite a few offerings of fine French wine, mostly Bordeaux.  One potential steal that I found was a lot of five bottles of 1995 Pavillon Rouge du Château Margaux that had no bidders as of Sunday with an opening bid of EUR 250 and including free shipping within Belgium.  The ’95 Pavillon Rouge is just getting into its prime drinking window and you’d be lucky to find it for less than EUR 62 per bottle retail.  If you’re looking for lower end wine, there’s plenty of that too on Belgian eBay.  One interesting lot I found was 60 bottles of Cara Mia Italian Pinot Noir for a “Buy It Now” price of EUR 270 and also with free delivery in Belgium.  Cara Mia pinot is not highly regarded, but that’s a lot of wine at the low price of 6 euros per liter.
  • eBay.de: Unsurprisingly, German eBay has the widest selection of German wine available of the national eBay sites I looked at.  Of the 2,520 wine auctions on German eBay, over 50% (1,310) involve German wine.  As with other eBay wine auctions, there were many older and/or otherwise unusual wine available.  One example is the auction of an 1967 Kaseler Nies’chen that has a starting bid of just EUR 1.00.  To find riesling this old is both difficult and, typically, exceedingly expensive, so it may be worth risking a few euros to try such a wine, especially when the seller invites foreign bidders to ask about shipping costs.  German eBay does have a selection of wine from elsewhere, but its French offerings seem to skew to less expensive wine, though I did find a blockbuster lot of 96 French wines.  This lot is comprised of seven cases and two half-cases for EUR 690 and includes a range of French wine from the Rhone to Bordeaux to Loire to Languedoc.

Part II of the “Wine on eBay” will cover the national eBay sites of France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, and will appear later this week.

About the Hart Davis Hart Wine Auction in March 2010

14 May

Chicago sommelier and wine blogger who goes by the nom de blog of Windy City Wine Guy has an atmospheric post about the Hart Davis Hart (“HRH”) wine auction back in March, available here:

http://windycitywineguy.com/2010/03/31/hart-davis-hart-auctions-at-tru/

Worth checking out to get a feel for what it’s like to attend a professional wine auction in person.  Of course, it appears that our friendly blogger may have gotten a set up from the wine director of the restaurant where the HRH auction was held, called TRU, who poured Bordeaux and Burgundy for him.  And, if I’m reading it right, the wine director comped him the $75 lunch buffet too, which he describes as “an awesome spread which included a large selection of seafood like crab legs, jumbo shrimp, raw oysters, octopus and roasted halibut, along with premium cheeses, beef tartare, sliced veal, beet salad and crepes.”

Yes, I’m jealous.  Even if he paid, I’m still jealous.  If you and the TRU wine director want to invite the Wine Auction Spy for the next HRH auction on 26 June (not that I checked or anything), you just let me know Windy City Wine Guy.

Maybe I’ll preview that June HRH auction, just to see what I’m going to miss.