March 29, 2009

Acker Act III: wine market rebounds

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I spent most of yesterday at the third Acker Hong Kong auction. I wasn't planning on bidding for anything and wanted to just sit in to keep my finger on the pulse of the market. What I witnessed was a pleasant surprise.

Since the last auction 4 months ago, wine prices have more or less stabilized. Financial markets around the world are still a mess, but there has been a bit of a rebound. Investors have - in my humble opinion - been lured into thinking that they have seen the bottom. Heck, HSBC has gone from that shocking close of $33 to $43.80 Friday, so the world must be all right again!

Right after I sat down, I noticed that the mood was different. There was good bidding action, especially on lots that were deemed to be cheap. Beaten down vintages like 2004 Burgundy were selling for twice the low estimate, which we thought was ridiculous... So a bit of that irrational auction room behavior has returned.

I registered for the lunch and sat with my friends at our own table. I started getting boozed up early by sipping on Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs at 11am. So no Krug this time...oh well.

A friend also brought along a bottle of 1998 Kongsgaard Chardonnay to share with us. Strong nose of straw, cheese, sweet honey, flint and lemon citrus. A bit acidic on the palate.

As lunch is served, two bottles of wine were brought to our table. The 2004 Comte de Vogüé Bonnes-Mares was a bit disappointing at first, with smoky, minty nose and brett and forest notes. It was acidic on the palate. The second pour was much better as sweet fruit notes emerged.

The second bottle, in the form of 2005 Magrez Fombrauge, was much more interesting. This is Bernard Magrez' garagiste wine, made from a tiny parcel out of the Fombrauge vineyard. I remember that the debut vintage of 2000 received rave reviews from Parker (98 points), and it's made in tiny quantities. None of us have ever had this wine before. The 2005 tasted like a New World wine - very concentrated fruit, with notes of coffee, vanilla, mint and toasty new oak. Still a young wine so there was plenty of tannin on the tongue.

The big draw this time was a large parcel of vintage Champagne from Big Boy Rob Rosania, the New York real estate investor and Champagne collector. More than 250 lots ranging from early 20th century were on offer, and Hong Kong certainly has never seen the likes of it. It's a rare opportunity to pick up some old gems, especially in large formats.

The superlot this time was a 12-case lot of DRC La Tâche across 12 vintages, which went for a hammer price of HKD 1.52MM before premium. The other notable lot was a single bottle of 1928 Krug Collection, whose hammer price was HKD 136,000 before premium. In contrast to November, very few lots got passed this time around. No doubt the more realistic estimates and reserves helped. The other surprise was how many people stuck around past 6pm. I thought I'd pick up some bargains at the tail end but it was not to be.

Nevertheless I did pick up a few small lots to add to the various birthday vintages I was collecting. From the looks of it, the wine market seems to have bottomed out. Lets hope it remains that way. We've got a few more auctions coming up so we shall see...

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