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Is this one of the most valuable wine collections ever to be auctioned?

Sotheby’s is to sell one of the largest and most valuable wine collections to ever come to market, from the cellar of Taiwanese art collector Pierre Chen, comprising 25,000 bottles of rare and exceptional wine, whose pre-sale estimates total US$50 million. 

The Epicurean’s Atlas: Journey Through the Legendary Cellar of Pierre Chen is a series of five dedicated auctions, that will take place in Hong Kong, France and New York, with tasting events in London, from November 2023.

The collection belongs to one of the world’s biggest art collectors, Taiwanese entrepreneur Pierre Chen, who founded a successful electrical component company, Yageo, in 1977 which helped him become one of the country’s richest men.  Chen has spent four decades collecting wine and modern art, with his collection boasting at least 7 Picassos, 2 major Bacons, and works by Hockney, Twombly, Richter, Doig, and Freud.

Some of his paintings are included in the current Tate Modern’s exhibition, Capturing the Moment. Alongside his interest in art, Chen has amassed a collection of extremely rare wine – some from vineyards that produce just a handful of bottles a year.

The highlight of the sale include six magnums of Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux 1er Cru, 2001 (estimate: US$50,000-70,000 per magnum), which came direct from the cellar of Henri Jayer, the last wine he made before retiring in 2001, three magnums of Salon Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs 1971, Salon (estimate: US$6,000-8,000 per magnum), a 6-litre Imperial of Petrus 1982 (estimate: US$45,000-65,000), considered as one of the greatest Bordeaux, from the “ideal” 1982 vintage, and a magnum of Château Latour 1961 (estimate US$12,000-16,000),  widely regarded as the greatest vintage since WWII.

Nick Pegna, Sotheby’s global head of wine and spirits called it “the ultimate wine collection”, which had come to the market at a time when “global interest in fine wine has arguably never been greater”.

“Full of extraordinarily, rare bottles and mythical vintages, Mr. Chen’s cellar will capture the imagination not just of existing wine connoisseurs, but of wine lovers and enthusiasts around the world. This is a cellar in which every bottle has a story, and in which every wine is the best you could wish to own and enjoy,” he said.

George Lacey, head of Sotheby’s wine Asia said that when it came to collecting, understanding and appreciating wine, Pierre Chen was “in a league of his own”.

“The extent of his cellar is staggering both in volume and range – a testament both to his constant pursuit of the best, and to his deep appreciation of the winemakers who excel in their profession,” he said.

The first sale will take place in Hong Kong at the culmination of a three-day festival of food and wine at the Hong Kong Mandarin Oriental hotel and leading restaurants around the city on 23-25 November. Further sales and special events will be held in Beaune (The Epicurean’s Atlas: Live in the Vines) and Paris (The Epicurean’s Atlas: The Ultimate Champagnes), in July, in New York (The Epicurean’s Atlas: Around the Globe) in September, with tastings and events in London during the course of the year, before closing with the final sale, The Epicurean’s Atlas: The Zenith in Hong Kong in November 2024.

The Encyclopedic Cellar

The first sale in Hong Kong will  from Mr. Chen’s cellars is designed to give a broader sense of the scope and quality of this truly encyclopedic collection and will include wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Champagne.

Highlights include:

  • Some ultra-rare Methuselahs of Burgundian icon, Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti La Tâche, including 2 Methuselahs from the 1985 vintage (estimate: US$120,000 – 190,000 each), 1 Methuselah from the 1999 vintage (estimate: US$100,000 – 130,000), and a a 3-litre Jeroboam from 1971 (estimate US$110,000 – 140,000).
  • Two bottles of Domaine Leroy Musigny 1991, (widely regarded as one of Burgundy’s most stellar years) originally from the celebrated Raymond Floyd collection (estimate: US$12,000 – 18,000 per bottle)
  • 12 bottles of Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1990 (estimate US$4,000 – 6,000 per bottle), and 2 magnums from the 1985 vintage (estimate: US$24,000 – 32,000 per magnum) –  Sotheby’s noted that no comparable wine has come to auction since 2019, when a 10-bottle offering of the 1990 vintage sold for almost $100,000)
  • Six magnums of Henri Jayer Vosne Romanee Cros Parantoux 1er Cru 2001 (estimate: US$50,000 – 70,000 per magnum)
  • 12 bottles of Domaine d’Auvenay Batard-Montrachet 2014 (estimate: US$15,000 – 22,000 per bottle).

The Bordeaux wines include:

  • A magnum of Château Latour 1961 (estimate: US$12,000 – 16,000)
  • Two magnums of Château Lafite Rothschild 1959 (estimate: US$10,000 – 13,000)
  • Six bottles of Château Cheval Blanc 1947 (estimate: US$7,500 – 11,000)
  • A6-litre Imperial of Petrus 1982 (estimate: US$45,000 – 65,000) – often considered as one of the greatest Bordeaux wines.

Champagnes include:

  • Six magnums of Dom Perignon Rose P3 1988, (estimate: US$5,000 – 7,000 per magnum)
  • Three bottles of Krug Collection 1973 (estimate: US$1,900 – 2,800 per bottle)
  • Three magnums of Salon Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 1971, (estimate: US$6,000 – 8,000 per magnum)

The sale will start in Hong Kong in November, before moving to France, New York and back to Hong Kong, but tasting events will also be held in London.

Strong demand

According to Sotheby’s, the market for wine has skyrocketed in recent years – from $58m in 2013 to a record $158m last year – seeing an influx of new bidders from Asia, which now accounts for 43% of sales, as well as a new, younger demographic, with 60% of new buyers now in their 30s and 40s.

Chen said that to him, wine was “the ninth art”

“It is the only art form one can consume, using senses that other art forms don’t typically involve, such as one’s taste and smell, and it requires creativity on the part of the owner,” he explained. “What dishes should I pair this bottle with, and what other bottles should I include in this meal? The combination of wine, food, and company at any one moment makes each encounter totally unique, but every memory of every encounter brings a smile to my face. I suppose that is the magic of wine to me: the power to relive moments through a single sip,”

28/9/2023: The article has been expanded to include more detail of the collection.

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