Highlights from Sotheby’s 2017 Wine Market Report

Sotheby’s 2017 Wine Market Report

Picking five highlights from the previous year’s sales for wine investors

Sotheby’s Wine has put together a report based on its sales in its retail and auction sectors in London, New York and Hong Kong. If you’re already an investor, or are thinking of starting a wine investment collection, here’s what you should take note of.

Best Cellars

There would have been few surprises to report on Sotheby’s top 10 global producers if there hadn’t been one remarkable new entry; indeed the first five ranked places retained their same position in 2017 as in 2016.

The big news is not wine, but whisky, with Macallan entering the top 10 producers worldwide with astonishing sales of US$2.6m (S$3.5 million). The distillery’s leap from 100th to 7th place represents a 4,000 per cent increase.

Meanwhile, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti holds the top spot – for the fifth consecutive year – with sales of US$116m (S$156 million), which are more than Lafite, Petrus and Mouton Rothschild (ranked second, third and fourth respectively) combined. Latour takes the next spot again, and Margaux remains in 10th place.

Haut Brion moves up a notch from 7th to 6th spot, Armand Rousseau jumps from 16th to 8th place while Roumier will be pleased with its leap from 28th to 9th.

Burgundy and spirits (mostly whisky) gained a larger share of sales at the expense of Bordeaux, with only three Bordeaux chateaux – Haut Brion, Cheval Blanc and Ausone – posting an increase in sales during the year. But bubbly remains popular – Sotheby’s retail Champagne sales surged to the number five ranking in Champagne. Among Californian wines, the cult wine, Screaming Eagle continues to preside and outsold the next four ranked Californian wines combined.

The Thirsty-East Consumers

There is no question who is driving sales of the world’s top wines: buyers in Asia are continuing to dominate the market, edging up two points in the rankings to make 58 per cent of global purchases. Hong Kong retains the number one place, spending nearly US$25m (S$33.6 million) last year, which represents 34 per cent of sales. The US is next, followed by the UK (with 19 and 14 per cent respectively). Taiwan, in 4th place, has swapped with China in 5th, while Thailand has moved three places from 9th to 6th and Japan has moved up a notch from 8th to 7th. Mexico, Canada and Brazil bring up the rear in 8th to 10th places respectively.

In the auction business buyers from Asia bought 50 per cent o the lots, which translated into 60 per cent of the value.

Whisky Winners

In view of the above figures, it’s not surprising that the top prices were paid in the Asian markets and the highest three were for whiskies. The most expensive price paid was for 18 bottles of The Macallan In Lalique Legacy Collection, which fetched US$987,994 (S$1.3 million). A retail sale of six bottles of Macallan Assortment (aged 50-65 years), took the second spot at a price of $474,359, while the third spot, 58 bottles of Japanese whisky, The Legendary Ichiro Hanyu Card Player Series In Full, was sold for US$454,791 (S$611,000) to take third place. Of the top 10 places, the first eight were also purchased in Hong Kong and nine of the 10 highest prices were purchased by Asian buyers.

Sotheby’s notes that the wine market appears to be diversifying as neither Burgundy nor Bordeaux was among 2017’s top prices and two Germany wines (both by Egon Muller) entered the top 10 for the first time.

Auctioneers Are Bidding Online

Buyers (or their agents) are no longer turning out in force in sales rooms to catch the eye of the auctioneer with a subtle nod or wink. More and more are finding it more convenient to phone in their bids or put in their offers online. In 2017, 61 per cent of global sales came from absentee or phone bidders, 21 per cent of lots were sold online via BIDnow (up four per cent from 2016) with just 18 per cent sold to bidders physically in the sale rooms.

This trend was most marked in Sotheby’s London auctions, where only eight percent of buyers turned up in person compared with 69 per cent absentee or bidding by phone and 24 per cent bidding on line. In Hong Kong, just over 50 per cent of sales were by absentees/bidding by phone, 16 per cent were via BIDnow and just over 30 per cent in person. Sotheby’s New York figures were 59 per cent, 22 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

A Year to Remember

The global love of a fine tipple – an increasingly so in Asia – has made Sotheby’s wine sales a billion-dollar business. Since 1995, the company has sold more than US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) in wine auctions sales worldwide. Since 2009, Asia has represented a quarter of this.

For those who still need convincing that these investments are worth your while, here it is.

The top auction lot, the Macallan in Lalique Legacy Collection, which sold in April 2017 in Hong Kong, set a new record for a whisky lot at auction. Sales in the Hong Kong location more than doubled. Sales of Sotheby’s Champagne increased by 60 per cent. Buyers in 19 cities attended more than 60 events and tastings. Sales were made to buyers from 50 countries throughout the world.

Sotheby’s Wine

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