Wine sales at auction houses were flat to lower in 2012, with lower prices for the top Bordeaux weighing on results.
Values for Burgundies, which have long been in short supply and as a result command high prices, vaulted to new peaks. But, even so, the Burgundies could not make up for the Bordeaux disappointments.
Several major auction houses have released their final sales totals for the year, and only Christie's seemed to have been able to hold its ground. It said this week it expected to report its global wine sales were more than $90 million, the same level as in 2011.
Sotheby's said its total global wine sales were $64.5 million in 2012, down from the $85.5 million it reported last year. Acker Merrall & Condit said its total wine sales were $83.3 million. That was down from the $110 million it reported in 2011.
Bordeaux prices headed lower all through the year. The top Premier Crus - Chateaux Lafite Rothschild, Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion and Mouton Rothschild - were all down, in some cases as much as 40% from the previous highs.
At Spectrum Wines' Hong Kong auction two weeks ago, cases of 1982 Chateau Lafite went for between $33,860 and $38,115, all below their pre-sale estimate of $40,000. A year ago, such cases of Lafite were selling for about $45,000.
The lots of '82 Margaux at Spectrum's auction sold for between $6,655 and $7,865 a case, missing their presale estimates of $8,000 to $9,000. Prices for the '82 Latour held up a bit better. One 12-bottle case went for $15,730, still below its estimate of $16,000; the other case went for the same price, above its presale estimate of $11,000.
Spectrum wine specialist Dan Rhodes blamed part of the slide in Bordeaux prices on the glut of inventory - there is quite a lot of Bordeaux in Asia - as well as the producers themselves, who have priced their current releases at historic highs that he said "leave little room for appreciation..."
Prices for Burgundies, especially from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, accelerated aggressively through the year. At Spectrum Wines' summer auction in June, a case of 1990 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache sold for $53,775. By December, a case of the same wine sold for $67,375 at Sotheby's, a 26% price increase.
"Burgundy continues to be of great interest, albeit at the very high end, and high-end wines from the Rhône Valley and Italy would appear to be next on the Asian radar screen," Rhodes said.
The auction season for 2013 starts at the end of January with Acker Merrall & Condit's sale in Hong Kong, followed closely by Sotheby's in London.