Highs and Lows of a Flood of Bordeaux

POSTED ON 01/12/2008

On the same mad Monday in September that Lehman Bros imploded and Damian Hirst pocketed £61 million at Sotheby’s New Bond Street, a less-well publicised sale was taking place a Master of Wine’s spit across Mayfair. Christie’s two combined sales of 40,000 bottles of Bordeaux 2000 amassed by an anonymous European collector achieved a total of £1,654,775 with 95 per cent sold by lot and 98 per cent by value. Given such a large number of bottles from a single vintage flooding the market at a time of economic uncertainty, it was an extraordinary performance, prompting Christie’s Chris Munro to claim that ‘we witnessed an upswing of prices for the 2000 vintage with all the first growths jumping by around 20 per cent’.

It seemed the best possible outcome in the best of all worlds. Among the highlights, all eight cases of Lafite made £10,925 per case and one of Latour £9,200 (the other seven going for £8.625). On the who-dares-wins principle, the vendor had a terrific stroke of luck with Carruades de Lafite, which had gone through the roof in China since his purchase of 100 cases en primeur, so the prices were exceptional: £1,380 a case on an estimate of £700-800 (and an en primeur price of little more than £100) and £31,625 for each of two 25 case lots (= £1,265 a case). There were some other substantial prices, notably the £57,500 (e: £45,000-55,000) paid by an Asian buyer for a single lot of all 59 King Street sale cases and a healthy £26,450 (e: £17,500-20,000) for 25 cases of Les Forts de Latour, so £1,058 per case on estimates of £700 – 800. Everyone happy then?

If they said they were, there were reasons to postpone popping the champagne corks. I couldn’t help wondering why the anonymous collector was putting so much wine from just one vintage, albeit a great one, on the market in one potentially indigestible go. According to Tom Hudson at Farr Vintners, flooding the market, especially at a time of uncertainty in global markets, was unlikely to achieve top prices, so it seemed an odd time to sell, and while results for the first growths and superseconds often exceeded the high estimate, a surprising number of wines scraped over the low estimate thanks only to the addition of the 15 per cent buyer’s premium. Many lots from La Croix du Casse, Beauregard, Clos Badon, Clos de l’Oratoire and Fugue de Nenin even failed to reach their reserves.

A quick glance at the anonymous vendor’s portfolio showed some inexplicable gaps. Why no Margaux, Cheval Blanc, Ausone, Pétrus or Le Pin ? Better investments surely than the oceans of middle to low-ranking crus classés, second wines and crus bourgeois on sale. Nothing wrong with the wines, but investments? These included 100 cases of Sociando Mallet, 80 cases of Cissac, 70 each of Grand Mayne and Quinault L’Enclos, 55 of Grand Pontet, 50 each of Les Fiefs de Lagrange, Poujeaux, Sarget de Gruaud Larose, Potensac, Bouscaut and Chauvin, 30 each of Caronne-Ste-Gemme and Cap-de-Faugères and 20 each of Bernadotte, Cambon la Pelouse, Grand-Corbin-Despagne. Tot up the total number of cases, 3,300, work out the storage at Farr rates, let’s say, of £8.81, and that’s £29,073 a year, or £145,365 in storage alone in the five years since delivery. Add vendor’s premium and it’s enough of a profit-haemorrhaging sum to take the gloss off an otherwise successful sale. As Tom Hudson points out, ‘the performance of the lesser wines is an indicator of the weakness of the market for this type of wine as people tighten their belts’.

There’s no question that Bordeaux 2000 has serious potential as an ‘investment’ vintage, but the Christies’ sales recalled two major principles: first that such investments should be backed by judicious buying of only the top few Bordeaux names (the Carruades the exception that proved the rule) and secondly that you should sell when you want to and not when you have to. The dangers of selling at the wrong time were underlined by the poor results of Bonhams’ sale on 1 October. Whether bad luck or judgment is anyone’s guess but Bonhams’ Richard Harvey MW was clearly not too thrilled that ‘two major vendors totally misread the market and raised both estimates and reserves the day before the sale and a third raised his reserves on the morning’. Admittedly most of the 2000s on offer were relatively small beer, but none, even with 15 per cent buyer’s premium, achieved their high estimates and others, like Canon, failed to reach their reserves. As much as caveat emptor applies to wine investment, so equally should caveat vendor.


At the Superlative Millenium Vintage Bordeaux 2000 sales at Christie’s London on Monday 15 & Thursday 18 September 2008, which achieved a total of £1,654,775:
• A unique superlot of 59 cases of 2000 Bordeaux featuring a single case of every wine in the sale at King Street, £57,500 (e: £45,000-55,000).
• 25 dozen bottles of Carruades de Lafite sold for £31,625 (e: £17,500-20,000)
• 25 dozen bottles Les Forts de Latour made £26,450 (e: £17,500-20,000)
• 12 bottles Château Lafite fetched £10,925 (e : £7000-9000)
• 12 bottles Château Latour realised £9,200 (e: £6000-8000)

Sotheby’s two sales on 10 and 24 September which made a total of £2,679,581. At Sotheby’s Finest and Rarest wines on 24 September, which achieved a grand total of £1,649,756:
• 6 magnums of 1982 Le Pin went for £41,400 (e: £24,000 – 32,000)
• 6 magnums of 1985 Henri Jayer, Vosne Romanée, Cros Parantoux went for £36,800 (e: £34,000 - £40,000)
• 12 bottles of 1982 Château Pétrus sold for £32,200 (e: £24,000-32,000)
• 8 bottles of 1961 Hermitage, La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet, sold for £29,900 (e: £22,000-28,000)
• A jeroboam of 1959 Chambertin, Domaine Armand Rousseau, realised £23,000 (e: £10,000 – 18,000).

At Bonhams sale on 1 October which achieved a total of £336,185:
• 12 bottles of 1982 Château Pétrus sold for £25,300 (e: £22,000 - 26,000)
• 12 bottles of 1976 Musigny, Georges Roumier, made £10,580 (e: £3,600 - 4,400)

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