Hong Kong wine auctions overtake London, New York

HONG KONG Sun Oct 4, 2009 2:34pm EDT

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong took top slot among the world's major wine markets at weekend auctions where Sotheby's sold $8 million worth of fine wine.

Hong Kong has grown as a wine hub, taking over from London and New York, after the city abolished wine duties. And auction houses such as Sotheby's and Christie's have been pushing Asian buyers for new business as prices drop in the wake of global economic downturn and as luxury spending dwindles.

Sotheby's said two Hong Kong sales over the weekend of wines from the cellars of two unnamed American collectors fetched $7.9 million, around 28 percent above the pre-sale high estimate.

"Asian buyers represented 99 percent of buyers in this two-day sale," said the head of Sotheby's international wine department Serena Sutcliffe. "Hong Kong has become Sotheby's most important wine center, ahead of very successful auctions in New York and London," she added in a statement.

The top lot Sunday was a Chateau Petrus 1982 6-liter Imperial that fetched around $93,000, a world auction record for that size of Petrus vintage. Meanwhile, a 12-bottle case of 1995 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti fetched $93,077 while a case of 2002 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti fetched $85,000.

Last month, U.S. wine merchant Acker Merrall & Condit sold $6.4 million worth of fine wine in a Hong Kong sale which Acker's president John Kapon said indicated Hong Kong's role as "arguably the fine wine world's most important market."

Christie's said Asian buyers accounted for 61 percent of its global wine sales in New York, London and Hong Kong this spring, up from just 7 percent in 2005. Of these, buyers from greater China -- including Hong Kong, Taiwan and China -- grew over 200 percent between fall of last year and this spring.

David Elswood, Christie's international head of wine, told Reuters that with the U.S. market still weak, its nascent Hong Kong sales were encouraging. Average lot values of wines sold in Hong Kong were now relatively high at around $19,000, though sales volumes were not yet up to the West.

But the Asian market for wine was also "in danger of overheating," Elswood said, after 18 months of hyperactivity and instances of inflated prices for top wines paid by overzealous Asian buyers that could be acquired more cheaply in the West.

"It needs to level off," he told Reuters.

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