April 16, 2011

Amateur night

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I've been complaining about auction fatigue for the last few weeks, and have managed to skip the auctions by Sotheby's, Christie's and Zachys for 3 weeks in a row.  I did, however, end up tagging along with a friend and his family to the Aberdeen Marina Club today for their auction.  When I arrived I found out that the auction was organized by ASC Fine Wines, which pretty much meant that the stock came from these guys...

Jean-Guillaume Prats was back in Hong Kong, and brought with him a bunch of ex-château Cos d'Estournel, especially in large formats.  Good provenance is paramount and it doesn't get better than ex-château stock!

My friend is an AMC member and was curious to check out the auction.  The Mainland Chinese buyers have been omnipresent at all the major auction houses, and have been held responsible for the sky-high prices of wine today.  My friend thought that since this auction would be held at AMC, with the majority of people being club members - meaning a lack of Mainland buyers - perhaps the prices would be more "reasonable".  I guess I was somewhat curious so I agreed to tag along.

To quote Dennis Leary from the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair... this was "basically amateur night."  To be honest, this was the worst wine auction I have ever attended.

First of all, we were repeatedly reminded that there was "no buyer's premium" tonight.  Instead of being charged 21 to 22% by the major auction houses, we would be pay 0%.  Well, we all know that there's no free lunch, and the seller can simply shift the reserve and estimates up by a corresponding amount.  More on that later.

The auctioneer was terrible.  He can't even perform the basic task of looking around the room to see if anyone on the other side has raised their paddles.  I can't tell you how long it took for him to see me each time my friend or I raised the paddle.  Sometimes 4 or 5 bids would have been made before he even bothered looking our way.  The ASC staff who were supposed to act as spotters initially just stood around chatting amongst themselves, and it wasn't until I got really upset and showed my frustration by waving my arms in the air that a couple of them finally realized that they were there to do a job.  Thankfully the spotters got a little better at their jobs.  Too bad the auctioneer did not.

The auctioneer also didn't offer lots as parcels, so we would go through the exercise of bidding for one lot at a time for multiple lots of the same wine.  If he had offered the winner of the first lot the right to buy up all remaining lots of the parcel, we would have been done with the auction a lot quicker...

Then there's the issue with estimates.  At last month's Acker auction, the estimate for a case of 2000 Latour was HKD 112,000-144,000.  Applying a 22% buyer's premium, the effective estimate becomes HKD 136,600-175,700.  Tonight's estimate for the same wine was HKD 153,600-165,600.  ASC's estimates - with no buyer's premium - were 12.5% higher at the low end.  The lots eventually sold for HKD 150,000-160,000.

The highlight of the auction was supposed to be several lots of 1982 Lafite-Rothschild.  Acker's estimate from last month was HKD 400,000-560,000 per case, or HKD 488,000-683,200 after premium.  ASC's estimate - without premium - was HKD 560,000-850,000.  I laughed when I first saw it in the catalog.  HKD 850,000??!!  Do they think we're idiots?!  Not surprisingly, none of the 4 cases sold when the reserve was set at HKD 520,000.  None of the 3 magnums sold, either.  The case at Acker got picked up at a hammer price of HKD 440,000, or HKD 536,800... one increment higher than their low estimate.  The whole "no buyer's premium" thing is just a crock of shit.

Then again, the buyers tonight were amateurs, too.  While I spotted a few familiar faces from the auction circuit, I think a good portion of the guests were members who were wealthy and really didn't know or care where the wines should be priced at.  They seemed perfectly happy to raise their paddles for anything with a big name or a high score from Parker.

Some seemed to treat this as a field trip and were really having a good time.  I saw a table of friends raise 3 separate paddles for the same lot, trying to outbid each other.  Wouldn't it have made more sense to raise just one paddle, then share the winning lot with your friends at a lower price?  I guess it never occurred to these people that they should try to pay less for the wine, not more.  The bimbo with the gweilo boyfriend really enjoyed herself, raising her paddle seemingly just for fun, screaming and clapping with excitement whenever she won.  Obviously she had no idea - nor did she care - that she had just overpaid for the wines.  Now I understand why wine prices have been going berserk over the last few years.  It's unfair to blame it all on the Mainland Chinese.  People who don't know the fair price of wines - but nevertheless have lots of change in their pockets - are just as responsible.

Throw in the poorly trained staff from the AMC, who didn't bother removing the cling wrap from the serving plates before we went to the buffet line, or who couldn't answer some very basic queries about what was being served for dinner... Sigh...  Amateur night indeed.

For all my ranting about padded estimates and people overpaying, I did manage to pick up one lot for a steal.  The case of 2005 Petaluma Tiers Chardonnay went for less than 60% of the low estimate, and less than half of what the wine sells for down in Australia.  I was only bidding against one person, and since this ain't no big-name Bordeaux nor carried a high score from Parker, people just didn't weren't interested.  The auctioneer said something about this being a nice price... Yes, it was!!!

We were served a few wines during the auction, all of which came from the stable of Cos d'Estournel:

2009 Goulée Blanc - nose of pipi de chat and toasty oak.

2005 Goulée Rouge - huge, sweet nose of strawberries, vanilla, mint and a hint of smoke.

2010 Cos d'Estournel - Jean-Guillaume was kind enough to ship over bottles of barrel samples from apparently yet another "vintage of the millennium".  After the waiter poured the wine into my glass, I could smell it from half a meter away!  A huge nose, with loads of mint, very alcoholic, very sweet, notes of forest, smoke, vanilla and cedar.  Obviously not fully integrated but reasonably accessible for what it is.

2004 Les Pagodes de Cos - smoky, ripe, woody and meaty.

2004 Cos d'Estournel - sweet fruit, smoke, with some sweetness on the palate.  Very classic.

2005 Stag's Leap Cabernet Sauvignon - smoky, big, concentrated and tannic.  Not very interesting.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Another idiot wannabe wine journo... Now THIS site is what I call amateurish.

Peech said...

You're entitled to your opinion, but I never claimed to be professional. I'm not in the trade and I'm just writing for me and myself only.

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