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“The idea was to source on both sides of the Atlantic to get US bidders interested in the European sale site. It definitely worked,” says Thomas Hudson, who noted that over half the £376,256 achieved at the London leg of the sale came from American telephone and commission bids, which was far higher than usual. On the other hand, though there were some exceptional individual prices in London for the blue chip domaines in the best vintages, 33 per cent of the lots in London were bought in. Selling rates proved to be more consistent in New York where 91 per cent of the lots found buyers, generating a hammer total of $731,500 (£507,985), well above the pre-sale estimate of $450,000-600,000.

The contrast in performance reflected the smaller scale of the New York auction and its concentration on mature major-name Burgundies estimated at over $1000 a case from private collections. “We found that buyers in the middle $500-1000 range stayed away after September 11,” observed Richard Brierley, specialist-in-charge of the New York leg of the sale, adding that with recession in the air the market for wine, like so many other sectors of the auction market, has become increasingly polarised.
Undoubted stars of the New York half of the sale were three cases of the 1990 vintage of Vosne-Romanée’s Cros Parentoux, a tiny premier cru vineyard located just uphill from the grand cru Richebourg.

Cultivated by just three prestigious makers – Emmanuel Rouget, Meo-Camuzet and the legendary Henri Jayer – the vineyard produced minute quantities of wine in the highly rated 1990 vintage, Rouget and Meo-Camuzet having to share out and vinify the contents of just one vat. Given collectors’ notorious reluctance to part with mature Burgundy, Christie’s were understandably pleased to offer cases of Cros Parantoux 1990 from all three of the above makers. The now-retired Henri Jayer underlined his status as the cult wine maker of Burgundy with a treble-estimate price of $22,000 (£15,275) per case, closely followed by $20,000 (£13,890) for Emmanuel Rouget. Meo-Camuzet’s 1990 Cros Parantoux rated a slightly less spectacular $11,000 (£7640), owing to the absence of its original case.

Christie’s London sale was dominated, visually and financially, by the presence of great vintages of DRC’s legendary monopole Romanée-Conti in large format bottles. The seven most expensive lots at King Street were all single bottles of Romanée-Conti, topped by the £18,000 (estimate £8000-12,000) given for a jeroboam (four regular bottles) of the 1990 vintage, while magnums of the 1971 vintage were rating an equally amazing £9000 (estimate £3000-4000).

“Last year we were selling cases of six magnums of Romanée-Conti for £20,000. At these prices a case would now fetch £54,000, which is not far off what a case of Mouton-Rothschild ’45 would currently make,” said Thomas Hudson. While trophy wines by blue-chip makers like the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti were attracting up to a dozen bidders, the middle market remained stubbornly selective. “Buyers don’t want to gamble on the lesser names.”
Sotheby’s experienced a similar contrast in demand between New York and London in October. The presence of no fewer than four private cellars at Aulden Cellars/Sotheby’s (15% buyer’s premium) October 6 sale in New York was the main stimulant to a bumper total of $2.43m (£1.72m) from 1221 lots – of which just 5.5 per cent were left unsold – topped by the $28,000 (£18,930) given for a rare case of Château Haut Brion ’45.

Eleven days later on October 17 Sotheby’s (10% buyer’s premium) Bond Street held a more routine 1299-lot mixed owner sale of Finest and Rarest Wines which totalled £898,210 with 22 per cent of the material left unsold. “All things considered, the market’s holding up pretty well. With every month that passes after September 11 selling rates are improving,” commented specialist-in-charge Stephen Mould after Sotheby’s London sale. “There doesn’t seem to be slackening off of private people with money who want to buy wine, which is great news.”
Highlight of the Bond Street sale was 720 lots from the cellars of the Russian Imperial Massandra winery on the outskirts of Yalta in the Crimea, now part of the Ukraine. Sold with the approval of the President of the Ukraine, the dust-covered treasures from this historic cellar included seven bottles of 1865 Château d’Yquem at £6200 each and an extraordinary and apparently still enjoyable 1775 bottle of Massandra sherry which sold to an Asian private buyer for £29,000 against an estimate of £17,000-25,000.