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The new century might have brought a new stability to the market, but it has also become a rather duller place in which prices for key areas like Bordeaux and the Rhone track Robert Parker’s percentage points with yawn-inducing predictability. But every so often the market does yield a surprise, and beneath the mountain of much-as-expected results new trends can occasionally be detected.

Take the case of burgundy. As recently as 10 years ago the wines of Burgundy had a reputation for unreliability which meant that only a few trusted major-name producers – the Domaine de la Romanée Conti being the most prominent – ever made a serious impression at international wine sales. Now, thanks to the enthusiasm and skill
of a whole new generation of younger wine makers using the latest equipment, burgundy has undergone a major change of image.

“There is a perception of greater dependability in the region,” observes Anthony Hanson, senior director of Christie’s International Wine Department. “There are many more reliable makers in the region than there were 20 years ago and many more of these top domaines are featuring in our sales. Burgundy enthusiasts have been buying actively and when a good new vintage comes along they let some of their previous purchases go.”

According to Hanson, burgundy has become a particular favourite with UK buyers who are now among the world’s heaviest – if not the heaviest – importers of wines from the region. Ten years ago the UK ranked as Burgundy’s six or seventh most important export market.

America also has its burgundy enthusiasts and for once it is not Robert Parker and his highly influential Wine Advocate who are the sole arbiters of taste. Parker is now recognised as a less canonical judge of burgundy (consultant Pierre-Antoine Rovani now writes the reviews of that region for the Advocate), which, to the overall benefit of the market, has resulted in American buyers having to rely more on their own enthusiasms.

There was no shortage of enthusiasm at Zachys/Christie’s(15 per cent buyer’s premium) February 22-23 Fine and Rare Wines sale in New York which included a Focus on Burgundy with some 900 lots of “the greatest, classic names, along with the most exciting of the recent arrivals”.

Over 90 per cent of these wines found buyers and over-estimate bidding was far more prevalent than it has become in the more commercially stolid world of fine bordeaux.

Inevitably the classic names of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti and Leroy dominated the top prices, with DRC capturing all five of the heftiest results. An Asian private was prepared to give the sale’s joint top price of $45,000 (£31,035) apiece for methuselahs of Romanée-Conti from the much admired 1985 and 1990 vintages.

But while that was the type of result that could have been achieved in the early 1990s, other less familiar names were also making an impact.

Among the white burgundy makers, Jean-François Coche-Dury has become a highly sought-after maker and here in New York three bottles of his 1995 Corton-Charlemagne fetched $2600 (£1795), while a single bottle of the 1996 went to a massive double-estimate $1100 (£760). Another name to keep an eye on for white burgundy is Verget, whose 1992 Batard-Montrachet rated $1100 (£760) for three bottles.

As for red burgundy, the formidable Lalou Bize-Leroy continues to throw a hefty shadow over the market, a case of her 1990 Chambertin soaring to $17,000 (£11,725) against an estimate of $9000-12,000 at this New York sale.

Bernard Dugat-Py is one of the several less well-known Burgundy domaines that are making an increasing impact on the international wine market. His bottles of Mazis-Chambertin from the 1995 and 1996 vintages fetched a double-estimate $2200 (£1520).

But increasingly it is Henri Jayer, “the winemaker’s winemaker”, as Robert Parker calls him, who has become the cult figure of the market for fine red burgundy.

“He’s a real legend, this guy,” explains Thomas Hudson, head of Christie’s European Wine Sales. “He’s a paysan farmer who just made brilliant wine in tiny quantities. And he doesn’t any more, so you now have the quality and rarity to create a cult status.” Prices for Jayer’s wine now rival those paid for great bordeaux vintages.

At Christie’s New York sale, two bottles of Jayer’s 1978 Richebourg rated a huge eight-times-estimate $9500 (£6550), while at Sotheby’s (10 per cent buyer’s premium) February 14 Fine and Rare Wines Sale in London there was similarly ferocious competition from American bidders for three lots of Jayer Grands Crus recently removed from a Belgian family cellar.

Ten bottles of Jayer’s 1979 Richebourg topped the sale at £7500 against an estimate of £2500-3500 and two cases of the great man’s 1986 Echezaux made a further £3800 (estimate £3600-4500).

After results like these, Jayer can now join the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Leroy among the blue-chip names of the burgundy auction market. Other names look sure to follow.

Exchange Rate: £1 = $1.45