January 22, 2011

Sotheby's sells Andrew Lloyd Webber

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Ever since she started her new job, the Specialist has been prodding me to attend one of her wine auctions.  She complained about my continued patronage of Acker auctions while never having registered as a client of her more prestigious employer.  My response has always been that a poor slob like me isn't classy enough to be a Sotheby's customer.  In any case the prices at their auctions are simply ridiculous, even worse than those achieved at Acker.  If I couldn't afford much of the wines sold at Acker auctions, what chance do I have to pick up something at Sotheby's?

I finally caved and agreed to sign up for the auctions this weekend.  Today they are selling part of Andrew Lloyd Webber's collection - which is obviously quite a coup for them.  Unfortunately for a consumer like me, these single consignor collections with impeccable provenance means only one thing - bidding frenzy leading to sky-high prices.  It's pretty much what happened today.

While the prices today supposedly weren't as crazy as their last sale, they were still way above market, and that's before adding the 21% buyer's premium.  One constant throughout the day was the presence of a particular online bidder, whom we suspected to be a start-up wine merchant from Mainland China.  This bidder simply outbid everyone else, paying 50% above high-end estimates without blinking, and proceeding to take each and every parcel - as much as 10-15 lots at a time.  At one point I joked that the guy should have just worked out a deal with Sotheby's and Andrew to just take a large chunk of the collection for a fixed price.  They were paying up for it anyway, and doing a deal like that would have saved the rest of us a lot of time.  Sotheby's would go on to announce that 53.2% of the lots went to online bidders.  Well, my guess is that around 50% went to this particular client!

There were very few bargains, if any, to be had during the time I spent at the auction.  For the first few lots I was interested in, bidding went above my price limit even before I had a chance to raise my paddle.  I even managed to bid against a friend without realizing, eventually losing to him as the price went above my limit.  Finally, in the middle of the afternoon, I finally managed to win a single lot of Burgundy by bidding it up to my limit price.  I had been advised by the Specialist that Sotheby's clients don't buy Burgundies.  That definitely was not the case today.

But I did enjoy the buffet lunch.  Food at the Mandarin Oriental was miles better than what is usually served by the Shangri-La for the Acker auctions.  Maybe Sotheby's just tilts the balance of the F&B budget towards food, and we end up with a less generous selection of wines.

2002 Bouchard Echezeaux - meat nose with black fruits, and a little smoky.

1995 Calon-Ségur - smoky, forest notes with soy sauce, minerals and Puer tea.

1990 Gruaud-Larose - minty, minerals, sweet, coffee, herbs and smoked meats.  Lovely.

Today's auction just reinforced the point I had been making to the Specialist - I just ain't got enough dough and barely qualify as a Sotheby's client...

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