Cheval Blanc stumbles as DRC powers on

Auctions at Sotheby’s and Bonhams last week showed up Cheval Blanc’s apparent weakness at auction and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s upward rise.

Pétrus, Mouton Rothschild and Juan Péron’s Champagne provided some light relief but it was the chance to see how similar lots have progressed in both pricing and results that was most interesting.

The Sotheby’s auction raised a total of £1,132,348 and was sold 85% by lot. It was a small auction focused entirely on Bordeaux and a few lots of Champagne from between the years 1986 and 2007.

The top lot was an imperial of 2000 Pétrus: with an asking price of £20,000-£26,000 it sold for £32,200. Lafite followed, but less spectacularly, with a case of 2000 falling short of its £24,000 high estimate at £21,850.

Many of the other top 10-selling lots also failed to exceed their high estimates. The exceptions were a case of 2001 Pétrus for £17,250 (£13,000 high estimate) and a case of 2000 Mouton Rothschild for £12,650 (£9,500).

Meanwhile, there was a large collection of Cheval Blanc spanning the years 1986 to 2004. A great many of the bottles were large format with no fewer than 21 lots of double magnums – with two to three bottles per lot – five Jeroboams and a staggering 55 imperials.

However, Cheval Blanc showed again that it does not appear to be auction friendly with most lots either barely surpassing their high estimate or falling well within.

The double magnum of 1986 with a £950-£1,100 estimate made £978, of the imperials of 2003 that were sold none made their £2,200 high estimate (more often £1,725) and lots 304-323 including all of the 2004 magnums, double magnums and imperials remained unsold.

Once again this calls into question Cheval Blanc’s potential as an investment wine and raises serious doubts about the wisdom of releasing 2010 at over €800 a bottle. Will anyone make any money back on it?

At Bonhams, a half bottle of Perrier Jouët believed to have belonged to former Argentine president Juan Péron sold for £100.

A case of Pétrus 1982 made £43,700 and a case of 1966 DRC La Tâche a modest £16,100 (asking price £12,000-£16,000).

Meanwhile, a vertical of Mouton Rothschild spanning 1945-2004 and a case of 1988 DRC showed how the auction world has moved on since last year.

First the Mouton collection. On 22 September last year, Sotheby’s sold a vertical of Mouton from 1945-2003.

Judged to be in largely pristine condition and valued at £15,000-£20,000, it made a staggering £50,600 on the day.

At the Bonhams auction last week (7 July), a very similar vertical was sold for £52,900. It marked a small jump in price but the bottles in this collection had, according to the report, a far higher proportion of spoiled caps and labels and greater ullage. Nonetheless, the asking price this time around was £40,000-£50,000.

The fortunes of DRC, as epitomised by the cases of 1988 Romanée-Conti apparently doing the rounds, are more interesting. On 25 March last year Bonhams sold a rare complete case of Romanée-Conti sourced from a private French collection. Valued at £35,000-£40,000 it sold for £42,550.

On 23 February this year Sotheby’s sold a case of the same wine also from a continental cellar for £63,000. The asking price that time around was £46,000-£55,000.

Bonhams’ auction last week again saw the return of a Romanée-Conti case – this time brought over from the US. The asking price had risen again to £58,000-£70,000 and the hammer went down at £74,750.

That is a very small case study and does not take into account similar cases that may have turned up in New York or Hong Kong.

Does it however, say more about the fortunes of DRC as an increasingly investable brand? Or the overall fortunes of Burgundy that seem to be on the rise?

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