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).

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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.

Sotheby’s 19 May 2010 Auction — Preview

14 May

The Catalog

House: Sotheby’s

Date: 19 May 2010

Title: Fine and Rare Wines & Vintage Port

Live Location: London, U.K. (34-35 New Bond St.)

Web: http://ow.ly/1K888

Phone: +44 (0)20 7293 5283

Buyer’s Premium: 15% + VAT and Duty

Shipping: England – ₤7.50 per case, ₤25 minimum charge; ROW – No delivery, must be arranged through a forwarder

Storage: 4 weeks free from date of sale, ₤2 per case or part of case per week thereafter

Total Lots: 431

Wine Distribution: Red Bordeaux 39% (167 lots), Red Italian 25% (106 lots), Red Burgundy 18% (79 lots), White Burgundy 12% (50 lots), Port 4% (16 lots)

Most Expensive Estimate: Lot 5, Chateau Lafite 2000 (12 btls. owc), ₤17,000

Least Expensive Estimate: Lot 295, Chateau Monbrison 2005 (6 btls.), ₤100

Potential Bargains:

While the Cru Bourgeois from Margaux Chateau Monbrison has the lowest estimate in the auction, working out to a seemingly reasonable ₤16.67 a bottle, this isn’t really such a great deal.  The 2005 Monbrison is fairly widely available according to Wine-Searcher.com and can be found for only slightly more money on a per bottle basis.  For example, two stores in Belgium and France price the wine at about ₤21 per bottle and stores in the States have it for around ₤23 ($35).  Plus, if you live outside of England, you won’t have to hassle with Sotheby’s no-shipping policy if you buy retail, and no retail purchaser has to pay their buyer’s premium.

Instead of the Monbrison, and if I was willing to drop a bit of dough, I might look at Lots 19 and 20 of the 2001 Chateau La Conseillante.  It ain’t cheap at an estimate of ₤650 per lot ($1,000), but considering that it is considered a “very admirable” wine by experts, subdued but high praise from the Wine Doctor Chris Kissack (he rated it 17.5+/20), and that you’d be lucky to find it for less than ₤60 per bottle ($100), if you could get it for around the maximum estimate, you’d still be paying less than retail even when you figured in the buyer’s premium.

If the Conseillante is more than you want to spend, wines estimated to sell for under ₤300 per lot and that represent good value include several Ports, such as the 1997 Graham (nos. 277-278).  That Graham vintage averages ₤56 per bottle at retail, meaning if you can get one of those lots for less than ₤285 ($419), you’d be paying less than the retail average for a case of six even accounting for the buyer’s premium.  Not a bad deal for a Port that U.K wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd price at ₤60 and call “one of the top three vintage ports in 1997, for some the best wine of all.”

If Port isn’t really your thing, perhaps you’d consider something lighter, like a 1er Cru Chablis?  There are several lots of Louis Michel & Fils Montmains Chablis Premier Cru from the 2004 and 2006 vintages (nos. 372-374, 402-403) listed at maximum estimates of ₤160 ($240) for a case of 12, and there are two additional lots of 24 bottles each of the ’06 (nos. 404-405) at the equivalent estimate of ₤320 ($480).  While Michel’s Montmains is far from the best Chablis, it comes from a well regarded domaine and International Wine Cellar (“IWC”) rated the ’04 Montmains 85-87 when it was tasted in the barrel.  If you could any of these lots for under ₤200, you’d be saving money on retail.

Blockbusters:

Per usual, it’s the big name Bordeaux from heralded vintages that will go for the biggest bucks.  There are five lots in this auction that are estimated to sell for over ₤10,000, two cases of Latour (both from 1982), two cases of Pétrus (from 2000 and 2005), and the most expensive estimated lot, the Lafite 2000 that is listed above.  On a per bottle basis, the Pétrus lots, nos. 9 and 57, are the dearest since they consist of six bottles per lot instead of the twelve bottles per lot of the First Growths.  As mentioned earlier, all of these lots’ vintages – 1982, 2000, and 2005 – are considered to be top Bordeaux years by experts like Parker.

Interesting, two lots of 1985 Le Pin (Lots 91 and 92, with 12 bottles and 6 magnums respectively) are in the rarified air as well with estimates at ₤9,000 each.  Sotheby’s in-house Master of Wine, Serena Sutcliffe, effuses about this Le Pin, saying “This seems to me as essence-like as ever. Luscious blackberries, total appeal.”  These Le Pin lots are the only ones in this auction that could be categorized as so-called Bordeaux “garage wines” or “microchateau” of the type that have been priced so highly in the past 20 years.  Le Pin is usually considered a predecessor to the garagistes, the Bordeaux winemakers who eschewed traditional Bordelais subtlety for big, brash, tannic, fruity wines in the mid-1990s.  Despite a substantial decline in “garage wine” prices, Le Pin has held its value better than most.  Considering how tough Le Pin is to get a hold of and how expensive the wine is even if you can find it (one American retailer sells a case of 1985 Le Pin for $21,599.88, that’s approximately ₤14,560 at prevailing rates), these lots may even be a relative bargain.  Relatively speaking.

One other unsurprising, but interesting, note, out of the 40 lots with the highest estimates, there are only three that are not red Bordeaux: two lots (nos. 129-130) of 1985 Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido, called the “king of the Super-Tuscans” by Sutcliffe, and one lot (no. 121) of the queen of Burgundy, that’s me talking not Sutcliffe, DRC – Domaine de la Romanee Conti, from 2005.  As both of the Sassicaia lots and the DRC one will likely cost more than a used car, you can imagine what the top Bordeaux sells for.  Anyone who’s ever looked at the Liv-ex indices knows that red Bordeaux rules the roost when it comes to wine investing, and this Sotheby’s auction demonstrates that same thing.  Luckily for those of us not named Buffett or Gates, the laser-like focus on a few “name” wines by investors leaves lots of lesser-regarded ones for us plebs to drink.

This Week

13 May

As mentioned on the Twitter feed, which also appears on this page on the lower right-hand side, later this week will appear this site’s first Wine Auction Preview, which will be for Sotheby’s 19 May auction in London.  If you want to get a head start on evaluating what’s on offer there, check the auction website at sothebys.com.

Also, I’ll be working on a glossary of wine auction terms for readers’ reference, as well as Wine Auctions 101 for newbies to participating in wine auctions.

Any other ideas anyone has, just shoot me an e-mail.