2013 Wine auction recap

2Now that the dust has settled on 2013, we see once all of the figures now tallied that 2013 was something of a disappointment for the major wine auction houses, with fewer sales and lower totals.  In 2013 there were 87 live auctions held by the major houses (not counting internet sales) that generated just shy of $300 million, while last year 102 live sales generated $345 million in sales, for a decline of 13.1% year on year.

Sales declined in all major markets from Europe to Asia and in North America.  London sales dropped from US$ 42.7 million to $40.1 million.  Sales also slumped in Amsterdam and Paris, although they rose in Geneva, and the sales total for the Hospices de Beaune sale in Burgundy was higher this year in spite of having less wine to sell.  Sales in the U.S. were down from US$ 127.9 million last year to US$ 118 million this year, in spite of much stronger performance by HDH in Chicago.  This is due to a drop from US$ 88.5 million to US$ 70 million in New York, the principal North American market.  The sharpest declines were seen, however, in the Hong Kong market, which went from a total of US$ 154 million to just over US$ 118 million in 2013.

1Calculations of market share are always complicated, since auction houses who have internet auctions normally include them, while Bonham’s and Sotheby’s do not.  Christie’s practice of including the results from the sale of the Hospices de Beaune are also controversial in some quarters, since technically the sale for the Hospices is a charitable sale.  Normally charitable sales are not included in the tally, since the results are assumed to be inflated because of the charitable associations.  In this particular instance, the sale is included since it has always been considered in the trade a bellwether for prices rather than a purely charitable sale, and because Christie’s receives a buyer’s commission in this sale as it would in any other sale.  Bearing in mind these caveats, Christie’s managed to maintain its lead in the world auction market, with a provisional total of US$ 71.6 million, giving them a 23.9% market share (down from 24.9% last year).  Sotheby’s was in second place, with a total of US$ 57.8 million and a 19.3% market share, closely followed by Acker, Merrall, with US$ 55.9 million (18.6% of the market), and Zachy’s with US$ 52.9 million (17.7%), while Hart Davis Hart (HDH), selling only in Chicago, managed US$ 36.1 million (12% of the global market).  HDH must be pleased with their result, as they were the only one of the top five houses to grow their market share, up from 7.6% of the global market last year.

What may not please the auction houses, however, should bring satisfaction to wine collectors.  Lower totals generally mean lower prices, and this was true in 2013, particularly for Bordeaux wines.  Top recent vintages of Bordeaux are selling on average for the same price that they were five to six years ago, and it is possible to stock a cellar with beautiful wines from outstanding years for a very reasonable price.  Even buyers who neglected to buy the absolutely stellar 2009 vintage have been granted a reprieve, as they can now purchase these wines at or in some cases below the en primeur price.  2009 is a monumental vintage, on a par in terms of quality, with the very best: 1982, 1961, 1945, 1928.  Buyers who do not take advantage of this situation may rue the fact in years to come.  While prices have been slowly coming back from the correction that they took in 2011 and 2012, they are still approximately 20% off the global peak of 2010.

Buying Burgundy well has proven a bit more problematic recently.  The wines in general are selling at historic highs, and with more collectors showing more and more interest in Burgundy, this trend can only continue.  As new collectors discover the less well-known producers, those prices will rise as well, to the chagrin of those who have enjoyed them for many years.  The other side of this phenomenon, however, is that buyers are no longer concentrating solely on “trophy” wines, and in fact some of these have begun to come down, such as Romanée-Conti 1990 or Henri Jayer 1985 Richebourg, whose prices rose to incredible, unheard-of heights before returning to merely insane levels.  For collectors with modest means, however, it will be necessary to search very diligently in order to find top Burgundy wine at reasonable prices.

Collectors have also begun to show interest in other categories.  Champagne, Italian wines from Tuscany and Piemonte and even the top wines of California have recently begun to be very popular.  Only too soon their prices will be certain to rise.  This being said, there are still categories of wine producing stunning quality and great value where mature vintages can be had very inexpensively: Sauternes, Port and German Riesling chief among them.  In short, all is not lost.  2014 will be a great time to buy wine, with modest prices and a lively market, the true wine lover will certainly prosper.

Essential White Bordeaux

49 Rieussec.medNow it is time to finish with the whites—perfectly appropriate, since Bordeaux produces in Sauternes and Barsac arguably the world’s greatest sweet whites.  White wine in Bordeaux, though, is much more than the stickies.  There are dry wines, too, and quite a range: everything from light, fresh quaffable wines to those that are worthy of cellaring for half a century.  There is a wide price range here as well, with wines ranging from $26 to $916, and the majority are extremely good value.  We met a number of whites on our list of the 25 best values in Bordeaux (with the least expensive coming in well under $20), but here on the list of the greatest white wines, there are only seven out of twenty five on the list that break into three digits, and only three that are seriously expensive.  Those three?  Definitely worthy.  Here is the list:  Continue reading

Essential Bordeaux, Part II

bx.La Miss.29.3.smThe second stage of defining “Essential Bordeaux” is a fascinating exercise: take the top ten properties off the table and choose the best of the rest.  There are surprises indeed, and no little controversy.  Many people labour under the misconception that the Bordeaux hierarchy is carved in stone, but nothing could be further from the truth.  While it is true that the classification done in 1855 is still used, there is enough flexibility to make Bordeaux-watching interesting sport.  Continue reading

Essential Bordeaux

28 Margaux.smI make no bones about it: I love Bordeaux wine.  Some of the greatest wines that I have ever had in my life have been Bordeaux wines – and some of the best values have been as well.  I really believe that collectively Bordeaux is at the top of their game, and making better wines now than they ever have before.  Some wine drinkers feel that Bordeaux has gone out of style—au contraire!—the wines are set to become (once again) all the rage.  Quickly, before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon, I thought I’d offer up my list of Essential Bordeaux: Continue reading

Dr. Lavalle: Puligny

Puligny.smMore of my ongoing work translating Dr. Lavalle’s book on the Great Wines of the d’Or: -


The largest portion of the vineyards of this village is consecrated to the culture of Gamay.  Nevertheless, in the middle and upper portions of the magnificent slope where the village of Blagny is situation, one harvests white wines of an exceptional quality and red wines that are the equal of the best of the Côte de Beaune.  The method of grape growing is the same as in Meursault and Chassagne; the vines are still Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc for the climats that give fine wine.  The number of hectares planted in Pinot is still more than 180 ha.

The principal climats are: Continue reading

Dr. Lavalle: Meursault

Meursault.smMore of my ongoing work translating Dr. Lavalle’s book on the Great Wines of the d’Or:


The vineyard of Meursault is one of the largest and most interesting of the Côte d’Or.  Until now we have hardly noted, in all of the villages that have passed in review, several rare climats consecrated to Pinot Blanc.  In many of them we have found no trace of it.  In Meursault, to the contrary, more than 320 ha are consecrated to the growth of fine vines, and among these, more than half are devoted to the careful cultivation of Pinot Blanc.  We must also divide the good vineyard into two parts, one is planted in Pinot Noir, the other in Chardonnay or Pinot Blanc.  In the vines destined to the production of red wine, growers are careful to destroy the white vines.  In those that must give white wine, the Pinot Gris is destroyed, above all in the good climats.  It is also possible to say that in the renowned climats there is no more than one vine in fifty that is not Pinot Blanc or Noir.

The climat of Perrières, the first for white wine, produces hardly more than 14 or 15 hl/ha in an average year; the climats inferiors, from 20 to 30 hl/ha; Santenots-du-Milieu yields hardly more than 15 – 16 hl/ha, and the other good red vineyards from 17 – 20 hl/ha.  Vine growing methods are the same as in the preceding villages.

The climats should be classified in the following order: Continue reading

Dr. Lavalle: Monthelie

Monthelie.smMore of my ongoing work translating Dr. Lavalle’s book on the Great Wines of the d’Or:


In spite of the small size of the territory cultivated in vines, Monthelie merits to be counted among the commune s of the Côte d’Or that produce our good wines.  Situated above Volnay and bordering the town of Meursault, the vineyard can be considered superior to 85 ha for the part consecrated to fine vines, gives wines that have body and good color but lack a bit of bouquet.  The grape growing practices are the same as in Volnay and the vine is identical. Continue reading

Best $10 Bordeaux in the world?

Grand Village 2006.smRegular readers of my blog will realize that spend a lot of time writing about the market for fine and rare wine: it is, after all, the topic of my monthly column in La Revue du Vin de France / China.  Despite my love of rare wines, however, I have a confession to make: not every bottle I drink belongs to those starry heights.  Not even most of them.  Like most mortals, I need to find wine for dinner, too.  And like most of the self-employed, I have a keen sense of my budget.  When I forget the budget, my business manager, in the person of my lovely wife, hastens to bring it to my attention.  And thus, dear reader, my focus on a bargain.

Bordeaux might not be the first region that comes to mind when wine bargains are discussed, but believe me: it should.  Bordeaux is much more than the first growths.  The crus classés account for less than 5% of the region’s total production, and the appellations “Bordeaux” and “Bordeaux Supérieur” account for 55% of all production.  This should be the first stop for consumers looking for value in everyday wine.  The day-to-day wines that Bordeaux produces are better than good value – they’re good wines, period.  Nearly every wine shop will have some “petits châteaux”, and sometimes they transcend the good to offer something superb. Continue reading

Dr. Lavalle: Volnay

Volnay.sm More of my ongoing work translating Dr. Lavalle’s book on the Great Wines of the d’Or:


Although extensive, more than half of the vineyards of this commune are still planted to fine plants.  Pinot Noir covers a surface area of approximately 220 ha divided in a great number of climats that we will indicate presently.  The culture of Gamay does not attain this figure – one may estimate it at 210 to 215 ha.  Admirably exposed, protected by hills with dry, bare summits, far enough removed from the plain to avoid the influence of the vapors that arise from it, Volnay can be considered as the village that, with Beaune, produces the greatest number of excellent wines.  A large part of its climats are in the conditions of soil and exposition as favorable as possible; and this results in a fairly great conformity between all of the growths of the first order so that none of them, according to many people, may be classed sufficiently above the others to occupy a place apart.

Nevertheless, it seems that in order to be just, one must distinguish several climats, notably Caillerets and Champans, and recognize that they are worthy to be distinguished under the name of tête de cuvée.[i] Continue reading

Dr. Lavalle: Pommard

Pommard.smMore of my ongoing work translating Dr. Lavalle’s book on the Great Wines of the Côte d’Or:
The vineyard of Pommard is, with that of Volnay and Beaune the one that has until the present resisted the most to the invasion of Gamay.  All of this territory, elevated at the zone where the best wines are found, perfected exposed, with a backdrop of bare mountains with nothing to hold the mist, is still largely planted to Pinot.  In its 730 ha of vines, one finds 330 ha planted to fine vines.  Pommard is thus, in terms of the production of good wine, one of the most important villages of the department.

Pinot Noir alone is cultivated.  One finds scarcely one thirtieth or one fortieth part of Pinot Gris or Pinot Blanc.  The method of viticulture is the same as in Beaune and the neighboring villages.

No climat is placed above the others so as to merit being classed a part, but a great number of growths must be placed in the first rank and are worthy to count among the premières cuvées; these are: Continue reading