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This broad pattern of demand was clearly in evidence at the wine sales Sotheby’s and Christie’s held in London in the aftermath of September 11.

At Sotheby’s (10% buyer’s premium) September 19 sale of Finest and Rarest Wines, for example, an initial morning session of 709 lots of wine from an unnamed Michelin-starred restaurant in France attracted plenty of bidders to the rooms and registered a healthy enough selling rate of 79 per cent by lot. Top price here was the £6800 paid by a UK private buyer for a case of 1995 Vosne-Romanée, Cros Parentoux by the legendary maker Henri Jayer.

But in the afternoon’s mixed owner section the crowd thinned out and bidding became patchier, with early 1990s burgundies by the notoriously erratic Domaine Ponsot inspiring a hatful of bought-ins. These and other failures brought the overall selling rate down to 70 per cent, unusually low for a major wine sale, with a top price of £24,000, right on the lower estimate, paid by an Asian private for a case of Mouton Rothschild ’45, one of the greatest of all trophy wines. This is roughly half what the very occasional case of Mouton’s famous ‘Victory’ vintage was making at the height of the wine boom in 1996/97.

Patchy bidding was also evident at Christie’s (10% buyer’s premium) September 20 sale of Great Wines from the Cellar of Château Lascombes and Other Fine Wines.

One of only 15 Bordeaux châteaux to have achieved Deuxième Cru status in the original classification of 1855, Château Lascombes, despite being situated in some of the finest soils of Margaux, has traditionally been regarded as an underachieving Second Growth, though more recent vintages, such as the 1995, 1996 and 2000, have attracted improved reviews.

Just under 200 lots of one of Margaux’s less admired châteaux is exactly what the wine trade doesn’t want at the moment and there were few takers for cases of Lascombes’ poor early ’90s and 1999 vintages.

Most successful of the earlier vintages was a jeroboam of the 1959 at a within-estimate £820. Lottage selling rates, as at Sotheby’s, were just over 70 per cent, with the mood lifted, just as at Bond Street, by the occasional strong price for trophy name claret from the most admired years such as the £8800 (estimate £7500-8500) paid by a private European for six magnums of Château Petrus’s 1990 vintage and the mid-estimate £3000 by another private for a case of Château Margaux ’82.

“There’s no depth to the buying at the moment,” observed Thomas Hudson, Head of Christie’s European Wine Sales. “People want to see what’s going to happen. It’s a waiting game at the moment.”
It is indeed.