Wine Sellers Aim High Ahead of Chinese New Year


Last year was a wild ride for Asia’s growing legions of wine lovers — and 2012 could prove to be similar, with a double magnum of 1870 Château Lafite, rare bottles from Burgundy producer Henri Jayer and 90-year old Champagne among upcoming sales in Hong Kong.

Zachys kicked off the auction season on Saturday, and it will soon be followed by Acker Merrall & Condit and Sotheby’s, which hold sales this weekend, all squeezed in ahead of the region’s most important holiday, Chinese New Year.

Last year ended with mounting demand for Burgundy that has pushed a few top names up to new records, while mainstay Bordeaux struggled as Lafite and other traditional favorites seemed to fall out of favor.

“The truly rare and sought-after is getting good demand, but the other stuff you can get everywhere, like young Bordeaux, hasn’t done so well,” said Charles Curtis, Christie’s head of wine for Asia. “What is taking off is the old bottles, or the very rare like [Bordeaux’s] Château Le Pin, and Burgundy, because production there is so little.”

Christie’s Hong Kong sales rose 92% last year, and the auctioneer starts 2012 in early February with a $2.4 million sale of rare lots from Burgundy’s Henri Jayer. While Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is Burgundy’s most sought-after producer, with bottles regularly going for $10,000 and up a bottle, Jayer prices are not far behind.

Not everyone agrees about 2012’s prospects, however, given the global economy’s struggles, years of sharply increasing prices for fine wines, and the sheer glut of it coming onto the market.

“There’ll probably be fewer auctions, and the numbers a little less,” said Jamie Ritchie, auctioneer and president of Sotheby’s Wine, Americas and Asia. Even though the economy is slowing in China, home of many of the recent big buyers, Mr. Ritchie is seeing more activity by bidders in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Taiwan and Thailand.

Highlights of Sotheby’s Jan. 14 sale include Champagne magnums from Veuve Clicquot from 1921 to 1947, and a collection of bottles from Bordeaux Winebank that typically command high premiums given they are guaranteed to have been kept in optimum storage conditions throughout their lifetime. With volumes of fine wine sales surging, “provenance is more and more critical and in people’s minds,” says Mr. Ritchie.

The top lots at the two-day sale by Acker Merrall, the world’s biggest seller of fine wine, are dominated by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, alongside a double magnum of 1870 Lafite that it says is so rare it can’t put an estimate on it.

“DRC has become the strongest brand in the market and certainly taken over Lafite,” Acker CEO John Kapon said during a tasting event in New York. “Some of the Bordeaux energy is also diversifying into California and Italy.”

Diversification by Asia’s top wine drinks away from red Bordeaux is a point everyone agrees on as 2012 begins. “People are even starting to drink white wine in China,” said Mr. Curtis.

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