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For the moment at least, it would be premature to take this as any kind of trend. Certainly the relevant experts-in-charge are keen to attribute any kind of patchy response to purely local difficulties.

Sotheby’s (10 per cent buyer’s premium) grandiloquently titled December 6 sale “...Featuring Greatest Champagne Spanning The 20th Century”, for example, only managed to sell 60 per cent of its 1709 lots to the tune of £592,034. By the standards of wine sales over the last few years, where selling rates of 90 per cent and above have become commonplace, this was a moderate performance, but December 2000 was not as an attractive month as December 1999 to try to sell a great deal of champagne. Moreover, according to departmental specialist Stephen Mould, the problematic 1997 claret vintage was responsible for a heavy proportion of the sale’s bought-ins. Just 12 of 100-odd 1997 claret lots managed to find buyers.

Central focus of this auction were the 358 lots of champagne made available to the market in the aftermath of a historic ‘Great Tasting’ of champagne organised by Richard Juhlin in Stockholm in 1999. Proceeds of the sale were donated to Medécins sans Frontières.

This tasting, at which wine experts from round the world were meant to give marks out 100 to the various vintage champagnes produced throughout the century, rated Billecart-Salmon, Cuvée Nicolas-François Brut 1959 as the greatest champagne of the century with a score of 101/100 from Sotheby’s Serena Sutcliffe.

Given that only tiny amounts of 1959 vintage remain in Billecart-Salmon’s cellars, it was hardly surprising to see the one magnum they released top the champagne section of the sale with a price of £3000 against an estimate of £1000-2000. “Divine hedgerows nose. Like coming home – this is it,” gushed Serena Sutcliffe MW à la Jilly Goolden in the catalogue.

Top price of the sale, however, was the £15,000 (estimate £9000-12,000) paid by a South American buyer for a case of Chateau Petrus 1982.

A wine that was selling for under £8000 a case in 1997, Chateau Petrus ’82 has now acquired the status of one of the 20th century’s great ‘trophy’ wines and its auction price has recovered strongly since the collapse of the great mid-1990s wine boom.

To prove the point, it was also the top performer at Christie’s (10 per cent buyer’s premium) December 7-8 sale of Finest and Rarest Wines, fetching £10,800 against an estimate of £8500-10,000. The atmosphere at this wine sale was very different from December 1999, when, as Thomas Hudson, Christie’s Head of European Wine Sales, put it, “an enormous number of people put wine on the market thinking there would be a rush of buying for the Millennium, which in fact didn’t really happen.”

However, Christie’s December 2000 sale was their largest event of the year and they seemed reasonably happy with their total of £936,610 from 1521 lots, of which 23 per cent were left unsold.

They were particularly pleased with the performance of their older vintage Spanish wines, which have a cult following.

Chateau d’Yquem is a Sauternes which, for all its fame and prestige, is only supported by a small handful of buyers, and two of them have recently turned sellers. Responding to this commercial background, Christie’s pitched their estimates for early 20th century vintages at a level not unadjacent (ie £200-300) with what buyers are currently paying for 1990 d’Yquem from merchants’ lists. As a result the 86-lot d’Yquem section proved a virtual sell-out, headed by an Oddbins-unlike price of £5800 for a single bottle of the super-rare and almost mahogany-coloured 1806 vintage.

Christie’s were also pleased to be ending 2000 with a total of £27m ($41m) for their international wine sales, reversing the superior global turnover Sotheby’s celebrated last year. Sotheby’s total for 2000 was £18.5m ($27.5m).


NOVEMBER 23 might seem a long time ago, but a couple of months represents the briefest twinkling in the eye for this historic bottle of 1784 Chateau Lafite which came up for sale at Christie’s (10 per cent buyer’s premium).

Eighteenth century bottles of First Growth claret are of extreme rarity, the most celebrated example being Thomas Jefferson’s 1787 Lafite, which sold in December 1985 for £105,000, the highest price ever paid for a bottle of wine.

The Presidential provenance of that bottle was of course exceptional, but 1784 is regarded as the greatest of all pre-19th century vintages and, according to the Michael Broadbent tasting notes from The Great Vintage Wine Book quoted in the catalogue, “still sweet, intense with high extract.”

Slightly naughtily, Christie’s omitted the next sentence in Broadbent’s tasting notes – “But, alas, not drinkable!” – but it is unlikely that the American collector who bought this bottle for a mid-estimate £21,000 will ever ravish its contents with a corkscrew.