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There were plenty of nerves in the run-up to Aulden Cellars/Sotheby’s (15% buyer’s premium) Saturday March 24 sale of Finest and Rarest Wines in New York when Wall Street suffered some of its most dramatic recent losses.

As it proved, demand was barely dented, the sale netting $1.37m from 859 lots with under six per cent of the lots failing to find buyers. “The market for older and rarer wines wasn’t really affected. The people who buy these wines have deeper pockets,” commented Sotheby’s senior vice president Michael Davis.

Like his counterparts at Christie’s, Davis has noticed a powerful surge in interest in burgundy, inspired in part by the region’s new-found fashionability on the wine lists of Manhattan restaurants.

“Burgundy is red hot at the moment,” said Davis after seeing a three jeroboam-lot of Domaine de la Romanée Conti’s La Tache from the 1990 vintage top the sale with a price of $12,000 (£8450) against an estimate of $7500-10,000, followed by a case of Clos de la Roche of the same much-vaunted vintage from the equally vaunted Domaine Leroy at $11,500 (£8100), estimated at $6000-9000. Leroy was heavily and lucratively represented in the sale and a rare 21-bottle ‘vertical’ of Chambertin of vintages ranging from 1959 to 1996, estimate $6000-8000, was another star at $10,000 (£7040).

While within-estimate bidding tended to be the norm for bordeaux, burgundy generated a flurry of higher than predicted prices, such as the $6000 (£4225) paid for a case of Comte Georges de Vogue’s Musigny, Cuvée Vieilles Vignes from the 1971 vintage, which, together with the famous 1978 ‘miracle’ year, is one of the two great burgundy vintages of that decade. Michael Broadbent tasted this wine back in 1984, describing it as “a warm gorgeous wine with length and fullness”, but predicted it would not last much beyond 2000.

Back in the UK, the Third Growth Margaux of Château Palmer was having a rare month in the sun, featuring among the top prices in no fewer than three wine sales.

Featured on the front cover of the catalogue of Christie’s (10% buyer’s premium) March 22 sale of Claret, Fine Wines and Cigars, the 1961 vintage of Château Palmer is described by Michael Broadbent as “one of the least disputed greats” of
the legendary 1961 vintage, prompting a stream of adulatory adjectives in his Great Vintage Wine Book.

This assessment was borne out by the mid-estimate £7000 given for a dozen bottles with good levels and labels in a “new original case”, though the price fell to £4100 and £2100 for parcels of a dozen bottle in less good condition and lacking a case. Château Petrus from the 1961 vintage is one of those wines with a legendary reputation for expense in the saleroom (a Hong Kong buyer paid £52,000 for a case at Christie’s Grands Crus sale at the height of the wine auction boom in September 1997) and here two lots of two bottles rated a hefty £5200 – ie nearly £3000 per bottle with buyer’s premium and VAT.

A case of Château Palmer, this time from the very good, but slightly less spectacular 1970 vintage proved the top performer at Christie’s South Kensington (10% buyer’s premium) on April 2, selling to a private buyer for £1350 against an estimate of £950-1200.

Château Palmer also provided the star bordeaux lots at Dreweatt Neate’s (10% buyer’s premium) April 10 wine sale at Donington Priory, Newbury, with slightly over-estimate prices of £650 and £550 given respectively for cases of the sought-after 1985 and 1986 vintages. These prices were only exceeded by the £720 paid for a case of Warre 1963 vintage port whose catalogue entry, like that for the Palmer ’86, carried the all-important “Parker rating 90”.

The other main talking-points of last month’s sales were created at Sotheby’s (10% buyer’s premium) and Christie’s (10% buyer’s premium) London sale on April 11 and 19 respectively. These were both fairly surprise-free offerings, dominated by solid, if not spectacular prices for 1980s and ’90s clarets, but at Sotheby’s a Far East buyer did decide to pay a sale-topping £5800 (estimate £3600-4200) for a case of Château d’Yquem (not one of the strongest markets over the last year or so) from the 1967 vintage, and at Christie’s a mixed lot of six bottles from the 1991 and 1992 vintages of Hill of Grace, by the Robert Parker-admired Barossa Valley producer Hensche, caught the eye among an offering of cult Australian wines when it took £1100 against an estimate of £600-700.

Exchange Rate: £1 = $1.42