New Chinese wine connoisseurs will have the opportunity to bid on some very “mythical” bottle collections at Christie’s upcoming “Fine and Rare Wines” sale in Hong Kong on March 21. These “Oriental”-themed auction lots—with names like “Dragon”, “Phoenix”, and “Qilin” (a mythical hooved creature)— are part of the auction house’s growing efforts to appeal directly to the Chinese buyer.
The three different auspicious creatures represent the different levels of wine “instant cellars”, says Christie’s press release. It also says that this will be its first time offering mixed lots with this particular theme in a wine auction.
“Instant cellars”, themed collections of wine, such as the “best of” of a particular vintage, allow buyers to easily buy up large quantities of wine, be it for investment purposes or consumption. As previously reported by Jing Daily, more Chinese are turning away from the stock market in favor of hard assets, such as jewelry, wine, and art, and these collections are a boon to investors.
Christie’s auction will feature three lots: Dragon, the most auspicious creature in Chinese culture, features the rarest wines from the best producers in the auction. It is targeted at wine collectors rather than drinkers with 108 bottles of big names such as Château Margaux and Château Lafite Rothschild, and is expected to fetch about $28,000-$45,000. The Phoenix, second in the hierarchy of Chinese mythical creatures, is expected to sell for $12,000-$16,000 with wines of less acclaim. This lot is targeted at drinkers rather than collectors, seen by the fact that despite its lower expected price, it contains 246 bottles, with a mix of red, white, and rosé wines. Lastly, the Qilin, ranked third in the hierarchy, is expected to go for $10,000-$14,000.
Interestingly, despite Burgundy’s recent triumph over Bordeaux in popularity with Chinese bidders, the themed lots still have about twice as many Bordeaux wines as they do Burgundy, perhaps indicating Bordeaux’s good fight.
Themed wine auctions have been successful in the West, and Asia is slowly catching on. “They help focus the buyer’s attention, like the great private collections, for example the Great American collector, that is an important part of our business,” says Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby’s Wine, to Blouin ArtInfo. While this is Christie’s first “Oriental”-themed wine auction, others have done something similar, such as Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s sale of Confucian-themed wines in 2009.
Christie’s is clearly rethinking its strategy in the Chinese market by keeping in mind its target group: the newly rich who might be new to the wine scene. Not only are the lots themed for ease of wine collection, Christie’s included in its press release “Perfect Pairing” food and wine notes and recommendations on how best to enjoy the wines up for auction with traditional Chinese food. For example, Teochew beef balls pair well with with a Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1959, and Dezhou braised chicken complements E. Guigal, Côte Rôtie La Turque 1990.
However, whether or not this attempt to bring wine to an accessible level to new Chinese buyers remains to be seen, as wine auction revenues worldwide keep tumbling. Hong Kong lost its lead as the world’s leading wine auction market again in 2013, with a sharp 26 percent revenue drop from $155 million to $115 million for the year. Despite the gloom, Wine Spectator reports that demand for collectible wine in Hong Kong still remains strong, as evidenced by its 94 percent sales rate at auction that year.