Chinese wine collectors may be slowly moving away from a single-minded focus on top French reds and towards Italian and Californian wine and even (gasp) white wines, but -- following their love affairs with Château Lafite Rothschild then Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) -- it appears that they're investing ever more into perennial status symbol Château Pétrus. While DRC -- with its limited production and prohibitive price-tag -- arguably remains "king" in the Hong Kong wine market, accounting for half of the top 10 lots sold in June at the “Fine and Rare Wines: Featuring an Important European Cellar" auction at Christie’s Hong Kong, Pétrus made up three spots, besting Lafite and Château Latour. This indicates that, to Chinese wine investors at least, Bordeaux monolith Lafite may be finally giving way to Pétrus.
Hit by rampant counterfeiting in mainland China, rising ubiquity, and a perhaps unfair perception as a wine for the country's newly wealthy, Lafite's reputation has taken a tumble in the Greater China region over the past year, leading many regional buyers to seek out other "big name" wines to fill out their collections.
These trends, while ever-changing, are highly important to the global wine auction market. Down 11.4 percent by the end of last year, the health of the Hong Kong and mainland China wine auction markets weighs heavily on the US$4 billion global industry, with an effect on the price of wine around the world. Speaking on some of the recent dynamics of the wine auction market in Asia, Anthony Hanson MW of Christie's recently confirmed the rising stature of Pétrus and tossed in his two cents to a crowd at the Fine and Rare Wine Specialist course at Vienna’s Palais Coburg.
[Hanson] reported an “enormous increase in Greater China buyers,” but said that usually the “address for the invoice is Hong Kong”.
“They want to be invoiced in Hong Kong [where duty on wine was repealed in February 2008] because in China they have to pay 47% tax.”
Continuing he said, “So they either leave the wine in Hong Kong, or throw parties there, or take it home in their hand luggage.”
Considering in more detail the average Christie’s buyer, he said that after Hong Kong and China, the source of bidders at auction included Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Macau and South Korea.
Finally, comparing the sources of wine for Christie’s sales, he explained that 25% was obtained from Hong Kong, 14% from New York, 25% from London, and the final 35% from “international” sources.
We'll have to wait until this fall's wine auction series in Hong Kong to see whether Chinese collectors truly are moving towards Pétrus and away from Lafite in a major way. If so, it will validate Christie's view that Pétrus is the one to watch among the "big ten" Bordeaux wines: Lafite, Mouton-Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Pétrus, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Le Pin and Lafleur.