Lafite Sets New Auction Record As Hong Kong Wine Frenzy Continues

Three Bottles Of 1869 Chateau Lafite Sell For HK$1.8 Million (US$230,000) Each

Chateau Lafite has proven exceptionally popular with Chinese wine collectors

Chateau Lafite has proven exceptionally popular with Chinese wine collectors

These are interesting times for anyone keeping an eye on (or collecting) Chateau Lafite, the wine of choice for China’s burgeoning wine collectors. This weekend, Sotheby’s held its eighth wine auction series of the year in Hong Kong, again achieving 100% sell-through rates, but the figure that really stands out is the HK$1.8 million (US$230,000) spent for each of three bottles of rare 1869 vintage Chateau Lafite, sold to an Asian telephone bidder. These bottles not only blew their pre-sale estimates of HK$40,000-60,000 out of the water, they also set a new world record for the most expensive individual bottles of wine ever sold at auction. The previous record-holder, also by Chateau Lafite, was a 1787 vintage engraved with the initials of President Thomas Jefferson, bought at auction by the publisher Malcolm Forbes for £105,000 pounds ($168,000) at Christie’s in London in 1985.

All told, Sotheby’s pulled in HK$65.5 million (US$8.5 million) at this weekend’s sell-out wine auction, well over the sale’s high estimate of HK$19.5 million.

As Bloomberg points out today, the fact that the anonymous buyer of the 1869 Lafite purchased three bottles indicates that this individual may have plans to actually consume one:

Wines produced before the phylloxera epidemic devastated France’s vineyards in the 1870s rarely appear on the market, [Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby’s international head of wine], said.

“There will be a huge curiosity to try a great pre- phylloxera vintage,” Sutcliffe said. “There’s a lot of speculation about why the Chinese like Lafite so much. People say it’s because the name is easy to pronounce in Mandarin. Actually, they like the taste, otherwise they wouldn’t pay such high prices for these wines.”

Buying by Chinese and other Asian collectors is pushing prices for Chateau Lafite increasingly higher, much to the pleasure of wine dealers and auction houses but, potentially, to the chagrin of avid drinkers elsewhere. In the last week alone, according to the Hong Kong wine merchant Bordeaux Index, a case of 2008 Lafite has risen from from being traded at US$14,458 (as of last Friday) to $20,884 as of this morning. The announcement that bottles of ’08 Lafite will come imprinted with the Chinese character for “eight” contributed a great deal to the growing interest in that particular vintage, particularly in Asia. However, Lafite 2009 hasn’t been overlooked, with open orders rising to $24,097 over their price last week of $20,081.

As Doug Rumsam, MD of Hong Kong operations for Bordeaux Index, reflected on the shift in market power from West to East, “Wine investment traditionally was centred upon the finest wines the market had to offer from the best vintages – but now we’re seeing a different trend. Mainland buyers want to indulge their clients with gifts from the cellars of the finest brands in the market while at the same time getting value for money. They’re looking at the best value vintages of the first growths rather than focusing on the great vintages and as a result we’ve seen a dramatic rice in the price of the 2001, 2002, 2004 and 2007 vintages.”

As Rumsam added, “We’ve had clients come through the door ready to buy Lafite en masse. Buying 20 cases in one go to give away as gifts is not out of the ordinary. To an outsider, it’s difficult to accurately display how popular Lafite has become. The wine is used for a variety of purposes – as gifts, as a form of currency during business deals, as an investment and just as importantly, it’s also bought simply to drink.”

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Art & Auction, Food, Wine, & Spirits