Traders exhibit growing thirst

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If the organisers have their way, a two-day wine auction starting in New York on October 20 will fetch more than $15m with 1,000 or so participants bidding for more than 2,000 lots.

The bidders will include an eclectic bunch of Wall Street traders, hedge fund managers and European financial executives, who have turned wine into a booming asset class.

“Fine and rare wines’ prices have gone up 50 to 100 per cent during the past two years in the finest and rarest categories,” says John Kapon, president and auction director of Acker Merrall and Condit, America’s oldest wine shop and the third oldest licensed business in the State of New York, which will run the auction.

The first such auction was held by AMC in January and brought in more than $10m, the third biggest wine auction in US history. The main part of the scheduled auctions comes from one wine aficionado and collector who has decided to sell half of his $50m wine collection – and whom AMC refuses to identify.

“The most sought after wines are made by Domain de la Romanée Conti and La Tache. Both of them come from two regions in France, Burgundy and Bordeaux,” says Kapon. A six-litre bottle of 1978 Domaine de la Romanée Conti, which will be one of the auction’s most coveted items, is expected to bring in between $80,000-$120,000. Many other lots will go for $50,000 or more.

Plans for the auction highlight how wine aficionados are becoming more and more like art collectors – buying rare, fine, aged wines, keeping them for years and selling whatever has not been drunk. Auction houses then sell them on for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars a bottle to like-minded wine enthusiasts.

While the fine and rare wines are sold in regular bottles, they are usually packaged in oversized ones, such as magnums or imperials, quadruple and octuple sized bottles respectively.

Although French wines still dominate the fine wine market, others produced across the world are considered among the best. “There are maybe 15-20 California wineries, four or five Australian wineries, a couple from Spain, 10-15 from Italy and there are 50-60 in Bordeaux and 50-60 in Burgundy that are in the same category. Those two regions had so much care and attention for centuries and they benefit from that,” says Kapon.

“A lot of people buy more wine than they can possibly drink, it’s like a hobby for them. It might be an issue of space or logistics, which is why they sell part of their collections,” says Kapon.

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