Allegrini 2018

Wine auctions close an excellent 2021, with Burgundy at the top and Italy on the rise

At WineNews Bolaffi, Gelardini & Romani, Finarte and Pandolfini: the danger comes from counterfeits, the certainty is Monfortino

2021, which we are leaving behind us with a pandemic strengthened by the latest infection boom and more than a few fears linked to the exponential growth in the cost of energy and raw materials (and therefore inflation), is nevertheless an important year for wine, both Italian and otherwise. Consumption and sales are back on the up, after the drop in 2020, and the fine wines market has never been so healthy. This is shown by the figures from Liv-ex, the most important trading platform dedicated to wine, based in London, which has put together 18 consecutive months of growth, but also the turnover of auction houses, from the international auction giants - Sotheby’s, Acker Merral, Christie’s and Hart Davis Hart - to the Italian Pandolfini, Gelardini & Romani, Finarte and Bolaffi.
Sotheby’s wines & spirits auctions in 2021 saw a 44% growth compared to 2020, ending the year with a turnover of $131 million. As Jamie Ritchie, Worldwide Head of Sotheby’s Wine, points out, “2021 was a year of great transformation, in which we broke many records and saw Asia overtake us as the market leader, with $67 million. It was also the year that we went to Continental Europe for the first time, and to Hong Kong with a tea auction, while highlights included partnerships with Hospices de Beaune ($15.3m) and The Distillers’ Charity ($2.7m), where we raised significant sums to benefit local communities”.
Going back to the numbers, behind Asia - which accounts for 51% of total sales, confirming Sotheby's as the leading player in the area - there are the United States ($26 million), then the United Kingdom ($21 million) and France ($18 million). Wine alone accounted for $111 million, spirits $21 million. The number of auctions also increased: 51 in 2021, 24% more than in 2020. Of these, 19 were single-owner collections, which alone generated 57% of the total. Buyers came from 52 countries, with Asians accounting for 58% of wine purchases, followed by Americans (20%) and Europeans (22%), of whom 40% were new buyers and one in three was under 40. The charity auctions raised $20 million, with a total of 14,150 lots sold.
In addition to the partnerships with the most important charity auctions, an important event was the landing in France, in Bordeaux and Beaune, in the heart of Burgundy, with the inaugural auction on November 2 - a private collection of labels from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti - which raised $1.5 million, double its estimate, with 100% of lots sold. Notable sales directly from the cellar included those of Château Rauzan-Ségla and Château Canon, Bordeaux labels owned by Chanel, which raised more than $2m in London, and Château Mouton Rothschild, which unveiled the label for its 2019 vintage, illustrated by Olafur Eliasson, taking under the hammer a double magnum signed by the artist, six bottles, three magnums, an Imperial and the only Nebuchadnezzar to be released on the market in a single lot, which fetched $182. 525 dollars, which went to the Bergonié Foundation. The private collections that raised the most were “The Ultimate European Cellar from a Visionary Collector” ($15.7 million), “The Art of Living: Legendary Wines from the Cellar of Pierre Chen” ($15 million) and “Wines from the Cellar of Joseph Lau Part II” ($6.8 million) in Asia, and “Legendary Vintages: An Important American Cellar” ($5.1 million) and “A Private Single-Owner Collection of Important Champagne and Burgundy, Part III” ($1.8 million) in New York.
One of the main players in the world of wine auctions is undoubtedly Hart Davis Hart, who in 2021 took ten catalogs under the hammer, raising almost $92 million, with the peculiar record of 100% of lots sold. Many lots were sold, with Burgundy, and in particular the “usual” Romanée-Conti, standing out above all others, but also hundreds of lots dedicated to great Italian wines, with an extraordinary variety in terms of terroirs, formats and vintages, capable of going beyond Monfortino, Sassicaia and Masseto. Proceeding in order, the most important lot was the 3 magnums of Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2006 which was sold for $191,200, but also exceeding $100,000 were 6 bottles of Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1996 ($143,400), a double magnum of Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2004 ($101,575) and 12 bottles of Romanée-St-Vivant Domaine Leroy 2006 ($101,575). Remaining in Burgundy were the 12 bottles of Musigny Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier 2005 ($77,675), but the Bordeaux labels also did well, including a magnum of Château Pétrus 1990 ($71,700), five bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild 1959 ($41,825), two bottles of Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 ($47,800) and 12 bottles of Château Le Pin 1985 ($38,240).
Turning to Italy, 12 bottles of Barolo Riserva Monfortino Giacomo Conterno 1999 were sold for $22,705, with 12 bottles of the 2004 vintage sold for $21,150 and 6 bottles of Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido 1985 at $17,925 to complete the podium. The 5 bottles of Barolo Riserva Collina Rionda Bruno Giacosa 1982 ($16,730) also did very well, as did the 12 bottles of Masseto 2015 ($9,560) and the 12 bottles of Masseto 2008 ($8,962). And Gaja, the king of Barbaresco, with 6 magnums of Sperss 1997 sold for $8,365 and 9 bottles of Barbaresco 1997 for $3,585. Remaining in the Langhe, identical adjudication ($6,572) for 12 bottles of Barolo Bartolo Mascarello 2008 and 10 bottles of different vintages of Barolo by Giuseppe Rinaldi, as well as, moving to Valpolicella, for 9 bottles of Alzero 1991 Giuseppe Quintarelli, while 4 bottles of Amarone della Vapolicella 1997 Romano Dal Forno reached $2,629. Back to Tuscany with 12 bottles of Solaia 2015 by Marchesi Antinori ($5,019), 12 bottles of Ornellaia ($3,585), 6 bottles of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva Biondi-Santi - Tenuta Il Greppo 1997 ($2,390) and 12 bottles of Tignanello 2015 by Marchesi Antinori ($2,151). But, as we have said, many other great names have fallen under the hammer of Hart Davis Hart, who have obtained very high prices and revaluations: from Le Pergole Torte (Montevertine) to Brunello di Casanova by Neri and Salvioni, from Joseph Drouhin to Henri Jayer, from Emmanuel Rouget to Armand Rousseau, from Sylvain Cathiard to Jean-Louis Chave, from Luciano Sandrone to Roberto Voerzio, from Aldo Conterno to Vietti, from Louis Roederer to Krug.
Christie’s also had an excellent 2021, with a total collection of almost $43 million, the result of 11 sales in the USA, London and Asia. For the historic British auction house, the top items were the great Burgundy wines, such as the 12-bottle lot of Domaine Leroy Clos de Vougeot 2015, which fetched $104,210, the 11 bottles of Romanée-Conti 1971 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which were sold for $362,200, the 12 bottles of Domaine Leroy Richebourg 1990, which fetched $88,177, and 6 magnums of La Tâche 1995 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which fetched $96,200. As for the great wines of Bordeaux, there was a super lot of 107 bottles of Château d’Yquem 1900, which fetched $293,450, as well as 12 bottles of Château Lafite-Rothschild 1982, which fetched $51,300. However, Christie’s also sold the lots of “Barolo en primeur”, a charity competition organized by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Cuneo, together with the Fondazione CRC Donare and in collaboration with the Consorzio di Tutela Barolo Barbaresco Alba Langhe Dogliani, staged in the spectacular location of the Castello di Grinzane, which raised 600,000 euros, between great wines and solidarity. Another important meeting between Christie’s and Italy, again in a context of solidarity, the charity dinner in favour of the Gerard Basset Foundation, the charity founded by the family and colleagues of the Master Sommelier, Master of Wine and Best Sommelier in Europe and the world, and to fund wine education programs linked to diversity and inclusion, which accompanied “The 2021 Golden Vines Awards”, which raised over £1.2 million, also bringing under the hammer the best of Italian fine wines, from Giacomo Conterno’s Monfortino to Tenuta San Guido’s Sassicaia, from Biondi-Santi’s Brunello di Montalcino Riserva to Gaja’s Sori Tildin.
The balance of Italian wine auctions starts instead with Pandolfini, which in 2021, as recalled by Francesco Tanzi, head of the Fine Wines and Collectibles department and of the Whisky and Spirits Collectibles department, had a turnover of “4 million euros, marking a 30% growth compared to 2020, in line with the trend recorded over the last three years”. On the podium of the top lots, “there is a bottle of Romanée-Conti from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, sold for €28,175 (including sales rights), a magnum of Krug Clos du Mesnil 1996, sold for €11,025, a bottle of Musigny Domaine G. Roumier 2014, at €15,312, and the Quarto di Brenta of Barolo Monfortino Riserva by Giacomo Conterno, which fetched €23,275. Burgundy is still the leader, but there has been a significant recovery in Bordeaux and the success of Champagne, while Italian sales are essentially linked to a very small group of great labels”, continues Francesco Tanzi. “Great satisfaction and great results have come from Masseto, Sassicaia, Ornellaia, Monfortino, Giacosa and Pergole Torte, which in proportion to the cost of release show truly exceptional revaluations. In a territory as important as that of Brunello di Montalcino, on the other hand, the most successful brands are Soldera, Casanova di Neri, Marroneto and Biondi-Santi. And Lupicaia, Montevetrano, Amarone di Dal Forno and Bertani. Gaja is on the upswing, especially with its Barbaresco base, but also Solaia and Tignanello by Marchesi Antinori are doing well”.
For the future, continues the head of Pandolfini’s Fine Wines and Collectors’ Wines department, “I’m counting on a great name like L'Apparita from Castello di Ama, which has an important history behind it, as well as being a great wine. Critics continue to have a fundamental influence on the possible success of a label: without scores, it is difficult to stand out. Obviously, then, each auction house reasons according to the circuit in which it operates. Allocation prices, however, are in line with those of the big international houses, and our buyers come mainly from the US, which is recovering strongly, Canada, Great Britain and Asia. I think and hope that the growth, both in turnover and in the number of labels sold, will continue, but the future also confronts us with a major problem: counterfeiting. The problem is not limited to fakes, but also to the difficulty of establishing whether or not a bottle is original, because it takes time and specialists, and sometimes they are not enough”, concludes Francesco Tanzi, “to establish the authenticity of a bottle, which in the event of even the slightest doubt, we do not put in the catalog”.
Gelardini & Romani, the Roman auction house that chose Hong Kong as its headquarters some time ago, is a very important thermometer for measuring the health of fine Italian wines at auction and their popularity among collectors and Asian wine lovers. “Our role as bridge-builders”, Raimondo Romani tells WineNews, “is increasingly difficult, but in this 2021 it has also proved increasingly central. We close the year, between auctions and distribution, in growth even on the excellent 2018, with a turnover - generated by an exclusively Italian catalog - that exceeds one and a half million euros. The prospects are also interesting, because there has never been so much wine on the Hong Kong secondary market. The reason is simple: a lot of American, Australian and British expats are leaving the island, and often they don’t find it convenient to take huge wine collections of thousands of bottles with them, so we manage to sell entire collections without passing through Italy, but doing everything locally. Italian wine continues to grow a lot, and even if we lack a Romanée-Conti, a label that can push up the value of the auctions practically on its own, the quality of what we sell is always higher, as is the care we take in our work. Another interesting aspect is the distance that separates the consumption of Hong Kong wine lovers from that of Italians: here, in essence, only great labels from the most important denominations are purchased, with great attention paid to old vintages. And if interest in Italian wine is constantly growing, it is also thanks to two great communicators like James Suckling and Sarah Heller (awarded “Wine Communicator of the Year” by Vinitaly), who are based here in Hong Kong and with whom we often have the pleasure of working together. Finally, another very important factor is cuisine, which is culture and communication. There are associations, such as the “Knights of the Alba Truffle”, which in the Hong Kong delegation have involved many local enthusiasts and professionals over the years. Not forgetting, of course, the great work of Umberto Bombana with his legendary “8 ¹⁄₂ Otto e Mezzo Bombana”, the first and only Italian restaurant with three Michelin stars abroad”.
The wine department of Bolaffi, the historic auction house in Turin, raised €1.85 million in 2021, “with more than 95% of lots sold”, Filippo Bolaffi, managing director of Aste Bolaffi, tells WineNews. “It is a sector characterized by a high percentage of sales, demonstrating the very high demand, and with realization prices that for this reason increase transversally auction after auction. However, it is increasingly difficult to find bottles worthy of auction: our selection criteria are very strict, both in terms of quality and state of preservation, and the origin of the lots. In addition, given the high values moved by the sector, fakes are increasingly present on the market. Last but not least, the growing number of enthusiasts is leading to an increase in the consumption of important bottles of wine from the past which, for this reason, “survive” less and less on the first purchase (from the producer or distributor) without reaching the secondary market, such as the auction market”, concludes Filippo Bolaffi. Among the most important lots of this 2021, the “Guitar Case Dom Perignon Rosé Limited Edition By Karl Lagerfeld” (6 bottles at 35,000 euros), 11 bottles of Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Etichetta Bianca 1970 Bruno Giacosa (3,200 euros), a bottle of Romanée Conti Grand Cru 1988 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (8. 500 euros), 12 bottles of Rosso dai Vigneti di Brunello 1977 Case Basse - Gianfranco Soldera (2,500 euros), a vertical of 10 vintages of Chambertin Grand Cru, Domaine Armand Rousseau (26,000 euros) and the legendary Quarto di Brenta of Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1955 Giacomo Conterno (17,000 euros).
For Finarte, the latest addition to the world of wine auctions in 2019, “2021 was a year of clear growth in turnover, which touched a value of adjudications of €550,000”, Guido Groppi, head of Finarte’s Wines & Spirits Department, tells WineNews. “We organized four auctions, as in 2020, but one was in collaboration with Gelardini & Romani and another, in July, experienced some difficulties. In a way, it was our first year on the scene. The last two auctions - in October and December - marked a turning point. Although the catalogs were not very large, we were able to sell important lots that brought enormous revaluations, such as the vertical lots of Sassicaia and Ornellaia at the last sale. The same labels (Giacomo Conterno, Bruno Giacosa, Gaja, Sassicaia, Masseto, Ornellaia, Tignanello, Solaia, Biondi-Santi, Case Basse, Romano Dal Forno) are more or less leading the bidding, with two important labels that have given us great satisfaction. First of all, Pergole Torte, which is now fully entitled to be among the top names, as is Rinaldi: in the last few auctions their lots have sold like hot cakes, triggering a veritable race to raise money among wine merchants and collectors, who have almost always won. Our aim now for 2022”, concludes Guido Groppi, “is to bring the consumer to Finarte auctions. This is something we did on the occasion of “Black Friday”, bringing interesting but not particularly valuable lots under the hammer, with no reserve price, involving those who love and drink wine. In this context, there are many labels that are still niche but highly appreciated and quite accessible, such as Emidio Pepe and Valentini from Abruzzo. We will have to create ad hoc events, such as dedicated tastings before the auctions, where we can offer accessible and interesting lots”.

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