Latour vs Lafite in battle for wine sale
Updated: 2011-05-17 07:52
By Elin McCoy (China Daily)
NEW YORK - Can Chateau Latour catch Chateau Lafite? We'll find out on May 27, when vintages from Latour's cellar in Bordeaux, aged as much as 150 years, go on sale at Christie's International in Hong Kong.
Wines resting in the perfect storage conditions of a chateau's cellar command a serious premium. That was part of the story behind the mind-boggling prices at Sotheby's Hong Kong Lafite sale last autumn - a case of 1982 sold for $132,594, or $11,050 a bottle, double the average current price.
The key factor, though, was the continuing Chinese love affair with Lafite. At Zachys Hong Kong auction last month, Lafite accounted for only 19 percent of the lots, but brought in more than 40 percent of the dollars.
This month's 392-lot all-Latour sale looks like a bid to woo more Asian attention and get higher prices. No one at Latour, of course, is admitting they want to nudge out Lafite.
"We're going to China because we need to build knowledge and pass on messages," Latour president Frederic Engerer said last month as we tasted 2010 barrel samples in the chateau's light-filled tasting room. "Many people don't know what to look for in older vintages."
This year is the 50th anniversary of the great 1961 vintage. The Latour sale, which includes vintages from 1863 to 2009, includes seven cases of the legendary 1961 in regular bottles and magnums that Christie's estimates will fetch HK$650,000 to HK$850,000 ($84,020 to $109,873) each. From the same vintage, there's an imperial (estimated at HK$600,000 to HK$800,000), a double-magnum (HK$220,000 to HK $300,000), and a jeroboam (HK$400,000 to HK$600,000).
There are also rarities such as vintages from 1899, 1928, 1929, 1945, and 1959. The catalogue features not just bottles, but also attractive photos of the horses now used to plow the vineyard.
As an added provenance guarantee, wooden cases are branded with the auction date. Each bottle carries a special back label and uses a capsule seal from the Prooftag authentication and traceability system that verifies the wine was released directly from the chateau.
Excessive? Provenance is becoming ever more important. Even empty Lafite bottles trade briskly in China for $450 and up.
Everyone in the auction business has a prediction about which wine is going to be the next big Bordeaux in China. Latour may not be Lafite's nemesis.
Ben Nelson, president of Chicago's Hart Davis Hart, and Jamie Ritchie, president of Sotheby's wine department, are both big on Mouton Rothschild. The price of the 1982 has nearly doubled in the past year and other vintages are rising.
In some sales, Lafite is trending down. Ritchie sees prices for younger Bordeaux flattening out and Latour increasing only gradually. Burgundy is hot, he says, and there's interest in older vintages and labels like Pontet-Canet.
Maybe that's because the Asian auction market is awash in the very top Bordeaux.
"In 2011, it's not just China. The whole of Asia -Japan, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand - is driving sales," said Ritchie. Sotheby's has already sold $32 million worth of wine in Hong Kong this year, nearly 70 percent of its worldwide sales.
While the majority of mega wines still go to Hong Kong, US auctions have seen higher prices since January. Typically 95 percent to 100 percent of the lots have been sold.
"US buyers have more cash now, they're more confident and new Asian buyers are bidding here," said Nelson, "This is going to be the best first half of the year Hart Davis Hart has ever had, by a long stretch. Everybody is looking for wine."
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