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Entered by an anonymous ‘international’ client with homes in several countries, the collection comprised 1659 lots with the main emphasis on First Growth claret from prime post-war vintages, supported by major-name Burgundies and Rhones, plus a smattering of Krug and Californians. With its quality-guaranteed, single-owner provenance and heavy emphasis on the best known blue-chip names, the sale had obvious commercial appeal, even if it did lack the sort of glamour rarities – i.e. cases of Mouton-Rothschild ’45 or Romanée-Conti ’78 – that would create really exceptional individual prices, and it was asking the market to absorb some massive parcels of First Growth claret from the 1980s.

A number of brokers, nervous about the overall state of the market, dragged themselves away from their on-line en primeur dealings to see how Sotheby’s sale would perform. Presumably they, as much as the auctioneers, were relieved to see that of the 1659 lots on offer only 101 (six per cent) failed to find buyers.

Significantly, in the light of the much-discussed threat of economic slowdown in the US, around a third of the lots went to the American buyers, which is pretty standard for Bond Street, and the overall two-day total was just £200,000 shy of the pre-sale upper estimate.

One of the keys to the success of the sale was the large number of magnums on offer. This was particularly the case with the older vintages which, as Stephen Mould points out, “are generally perceived to have kept slightly better because of the larger proportion of wine to cork” as well as looking more impressive when sitting on top of the Chippendale sideboard. The dictum was duly borne out by a six-magnum case of Château Lafite ’59 which went to an American buyer for the sale’s top price of £11,000 against an estimate of £5500-7500.

Interestingly, a similarly-estimated case of the same wine, which Parker rates 96/100, in standard 12-bottle format raised £8800 (i.e. 20% less) from a UK buyer.

The magnum format also did no harm to the performance of younger wines, such as when no fewer than 39 cases of Château Margaux ’83 in six-magnum format (estimate £1400-1800) all found buyers for between £1700-2000. Prices for the same wine in standard-bottle format were however only slightly less at £1650-1900 a case.

It was a similar story with Mouton-Rothschild ’82, which fetched £3300-3500 for standard cases and £3300-3900 a case for six magnums, prices levels which have been pretty standard for over a year.

In terms of individual highs, the collection’s other notable prices were the £9000 (estimate £3200-4000) given by a UK buyer for a case of Cheval Blanc ’45 and the £9000 (£4500-5500) given apiece by an American for two cases of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s La Tache from the legendary 1978 vintage.

The following day, June 29, Christie’s (10% buyer’s premium) held their last Finest and Rarest Wines auction of the season. Month after month, year after year, Sotheby’s and Christie’s have been holding hefty dispersals of high quality wine in either London and New York. As Harriet Joll, King Street’s senior wine specialist, points out: “As time moves on, it’s increasingly difficult to produce stocks of wines from the earlier parts of the last century,” and here it was interesting to see a Finest and Rarest sale including mixed lots estimated in the £200-400 range.

The lessening availability of top-name, great-vintage wines would lead an economist to predict price increases, but on the evidence of this Christie’s sale, prices remain stubbornly within estimate. A case of Latour ’61 did sell to the UK trade for
a top-estimate £12,000 – the highest price of the day – but the only substantially-priced lot to push past expectations was a case of Pomerol’s Château Lafleur from the 1982 vintage. This sold to an Asian private for £7800 (estimate £5500-6500), a price which reflected the words “stored in a temperature-controlled cellar since shipment from the Château” and the retention of its original wooden case. “These days Far Eastern buyers are very fussy about provenance and wooden cases,” explained Harriet Joll.

She, like everyone else in the world of wine auctions, will be looking to the new season to see just which direction the market will take.