Auction houses look to please Asian wine investors

NEW YORK Tue Sep 14, 2010 9:39am EDT

Bottles from a lot of 70 ''Four Centuries of Chateau Lafite Rothschild'' bottles, which includes bottles between 1799 and 2003, are displayed during a news conference in Hong Kong March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

Bottles from a lot of 70 ''Four Centuries of Chateau Lafite Rothschild'' bottles, which includes bottles between 1799 and 2003, are displayed during a news conference in Hong Kong March 24, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Bobby Yip

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - More than $15 million worth of first-growth Bordeaux and Burgundies will be going under the hammer in the coming weeks as the wine auction season kicks off in Hong Kong.

There will also be sales in New York, London, Paris, Geneva and Chicago, but the Asian auctions will set the tone.

"The wine market overall has remained pretty strong," said Sotheby's Jamie Ritchie. "The largest buying market is in Asia. That's not to say the market in Europe and North America and South America isn't strong, but Asian buyers remain the least price sensitive."

New York auction house Zachy's began the auction season during the weekend in Hong Kong with more than 900 lots on offer, including 1990 La Tache Domaine de la Romanee Conti, which sold for $50,262, and cases of 1989, '90 and '95 Chateau Petrus which fetched $40,837, $40,837 and $23,560 respectively.

On Friday and Saturday at Hong Kong's Island Shangri-La and the Grand Hyatt hotels, Acker Merrall & Condit, a bulwark of Burgundy and Bordeaux based in Manhattan, is expecting to auction a six-pack of magnums of 1971 Romanee Conti for about $185,000, three cases of 1982 Chateau Petrus, which each could sell for $72,000 and three cases of 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $51,500 each.

Christie's will be offering 300 lots in Hong Kong on Saturday from the collection of Korean energy company SK Networks, which includes more than 80 cases of Lafite-Rothschild with high-end estimates of $11,000 to $24,500 depending on the vintage.

"It is an auction that has been uniquely constructed for the Asian collectors," said Charles Curtis, Christie's New York wine director. "SK bought it mostly as an investment and the tastes being informed by the local favorites. Now they feel it's time to sell up."

San Francisco-based Spectrum Wine Auctions, which began operations in 2009, will hold a Hong Kong sale on September 25 that is to include a magnum of 1961 Petrus expected to fetch $14,000.

Hong Kong will also be the site for Sotheby's sale of a massive collection of Chateau Lafite dating back to 1869. Among the lots on offer is one bottle of 1869 with an estimate of $8,000, an 1870 expected to sell for $20,000 and five lots of the 1982 which could sell for $70,000 per lot.

"Lafite has an amazing longevity," Ritchie said of the 1869. When asked about the difference in estimates for the 1869 and the 1870, he replied, "Obviously like any vintage it has a reputation and it is the wine's reputation that gives the reasons for the pricing."

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