Time to pop the cork in wine auction world?

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - In perhaps another sign of a recovering economy, millions of dollars worth of wines and spirits sold at three different auctions in New York over the weekend.

Corks of Chateau Canon red wine (First great wine of Saint Emilion) are stored in a cellar in Saint Emilion, southwestern France, in this November 6, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau/Files

At Christie’s almost $3 million worth of wines and fine spirits went under the hammer, including the 1964 Bowmore Trilogy -- three bottles of single malt Scotch from the distillery on Islay, a Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland. They fetched $21,600.

“I’m absolutely delighted with the result,” said Andrew Rankin, master blender for Bowmore Whisky, after the sale on Saturday.

“When we first did this, back in 1995, the set sold for $150. Now, that set is worth $15,000.”

To put that return in perspective, the Dow Jones Industrial average closed at 2,544.80 on December 31 1995. It ended trade on Friday at 10,270.47.

Over at Sotheby’s, a selection of wines direct from Bodegas Vega Sicilia, Spain’s iconic 145-year-old winery in the north of the country, sold for $1.09 million -- nearly triple its pre-sale estimate of $350,000.

A collection of magnums for each vintage of Vega Sicilia Unico from 1960 through 1995 sold for $102,850 -- five times the pre-sale estimate of $20,000. The winner, identified only as a South American collector, was declared after a spirited bidding battle from contenders in the room, on the telephone, and online.

As one collector, who did not wish to be identified, said: “You’re paying not only for the wine here; you’re paying for the provenance. It’s direct from the winery. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

At Zachy’s, spirited bidding continued with collectors paying $55,200 for an Imperial (six-liter bottle) of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1959 and $40,800 for a dozen bottles of La Tache Domaine de la Romanee Conti 1990.

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is an estate in Burgundy, France, considered one of the world’s greatest wine producers with its wine also among the world’s most expensive.

But prices generally have not returned to pre-fall 2008 levels if the weekend’s auctions are compared to sales 18 months ago.

One winning bidder at Zachy’s got a relative bargain when they paid $57,600 for six bottles of Hermitage La Chapelle Jaboulet 1961. In November 2007, a dozen bottles of the same vintage sold at a Christie’s auction for $252,000.

The Liv-Ex 100 Fine Wine Index, the industry’s leading bench mark, was up 12.9 percent for the first 10 months of the year to stand at 234.25 in October. That is up from its January low of 207.42.

Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith