Auction focus: Sotheby’s (and the Provenance view on buying fine wine at auction for investment)

2009 has already been an incredible year for Sotheby’s fine wine auctions. Every sale of six so far has surpassed high estimate, and in fact the auction in Hong Kong of “Wine From a Great American Collector” achieved sales of £4,383,817.

These soaring figures have been brought about by an increase in purchasing power from Asia, represented in significant numbers in sales in both New York and London and the April sale in Hong Kong. We were at the Sotheby’s auction a couple of weeks ago in London (we will always continue to attend local auctions where we can, even if there may nothing of particular interest to purchase and where only to ascertain buying trends), where it was noted by many of the staff and regular buyers that the Asian interest seen recently – which looks to continue apace – will certainly drive fine wine prices quickly upwards.

Our view on buying fine wine for investment at auction has always been a case of “approach with caution”… Of course, bargains are there to be had, but there is a reason for that – it is often difficult to obtain satisfactory condition reports for wines offered at auction beforehand, and of course caveat emptor applies once you are in the sale room, so it pays to restrict bidding to wines to those stored professionally since their purchase en primeur. It’s a costly mistake to purchase fine wine for investment which may have questionable provenance.

And finally, try to steer clear of “paddle fever”; have your maximum bid written down in front of you and do not equivocate! It’s astonishing how many times we have seen a price driven up higher than one might sensibly imagine by two or more people bidding against each other.


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