Auction Trends

It’s a ‘cellars’ market

Wine auctions have become the toast of the town. Recently, I was hired to help auctioneer at a Zachys wine auction. At my interview, I was surprised to learn how quickly the wine auction business has grown in New York. Zachys is a third-generation, family-owned business based in Scarsdale, New York, whose holdings include Zachys Wine and Liquor, New York Fine Wine Storage, and Zachys Wine Auctions.

In 2002, Zachys auctioned $5.9 million worth of wine. In 2003, the figure grew to $15.3 million; 2004 total sales reached $26.1 million, and in 2005, their total sales was $33.8 million!

Zachys once again raised the bar in the wine auction market with their spring auction. Despite the rainy weather, the room was abuzz with bidding at New York City’s Daniel restaurant on April 7 and 8. The auction featured 2,097 lots, 97 percent of which sold, realizing a total of $4,323,190. I met tons of collectors, both new and old.

“Zachys is thrilled with the outcome of this sale,” Auction Director Michael Jessen said. “The heavy bidding on the part of both longtime clients and new customers proves that our buyers appreciated the quality of wine and provenance in these exceptional consignments. The sale was ideal, with offerings from a variety of regions, vintages, and bottle formats, and the percent sold and prices realized certainly reflect that.”

In 1992, New York state passed a law which allowed retail businesses that had a license to sell wine for more than 10 years to apply for an auction license, as well as allowing the business to accept privately owned wine for resale. Immediately, the auction houses responded by forming relationships with retailers. Some wine retailers responded by starting auctions as part of their new business strategy. Sotheby’s and Christie’s have relationships with outside vendors, and there are auction houses that handle only wine, like Zachys, Morrels, Acker Merril, and numerous on-line auctions.

After the auction, I was hooked and had to find out how to collect wine. How do you get started? According to Fritz Hatton, one of the leading wine experts, auctioneer, and proprietor of Arietta Wines in Napa, Calif., the first thing one should do is visit a trusted retailer. Make sure you ask questions. Keep a log of your notes or labels when you are drinking. Attend tastings; they are often free and may have representatives from the vineyards there. See what types of wine your palette likes and buy individual bottles. Then, start buying by region. This does not need to be expensive. You can find good, drinkable wines in any price range.

After you know what you like, turn to the resources. There are tons of magazines, on-line services, auction catalogues, and books on this subject. It is important to do extensive research on the many different types of wines that are on the market.

Either way, there’s a wealth of information on wine that you can find. Explore, absorb, remember, and record! Think about your lifestyle when buying wine. Do you often dine alone; at home; do you give dinner parties? This will help you create a strategy for collecting based on your lifestyle rather than just on the wine alone.

After you have decided to start you collection, storage is key. Some wines are meant to be saved and stored over a long period of time, and some are not. Either way, your wine cellar is as important as the wine you collect. Ideally, your wine should be stored at 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit with not more than 2 degrees fluctuation in a day. The colder the storage, the better, as the lower temperature helps in storing older wines for long periods of time. If you do not have a place to store the wine, you can always have it professionally stored.

Wine auctions are great for many reasons. First, you know the wine is vetted. It’s the best place to buy individual wine bottles. Also, you can often get great deals on certain bottles, especially if you are buying a mixed lot of wine.

Balance is important. You’ll need all kinds of wine for a variety of cuisines, seasons, and events. Find vineyards you love, and buy some bottles in every vintage. This will ensure your entire cellar doesn’t mature at the same time. Also, if you like something, you may want to consider buying a case of it, so you can save some bottles and drink a few bottles, without feeling guilty.

Eric Schiffer of Starchefs.com collects wines that have a shelf life of 5-15 years. He sticks to names that have stood the test of time: Araujo, Harlan, Turley, Gaja, Conterno, Trinoro, Penfolds Grange and Catena Zapata.

When launching your red wine collection, you can’t go wrong including Barolo, Bordeaux, California Cabernet, Brunello, Barbaresco, Burgundy and Spanish Rioja.

For years, people have been collecting Burgundies. They are more interesting, have more small great domains, and come in smaller quantities of higher quality. These wines can be rare.

Fritz Hatton of Arietta Wines said “cult wines” have become very collectible over the years.

Cult wine can be defined as wine from a small production with super quality. Rarity and critical acclaim distinguish cult wines from others. To be a cult wine, annual production is usually tiny, often less than 500 cases, and the wine often must score 95 points or higher in a highly regarded publication. Hatton favors wines from the Harlan Estate, Bryant Family, Dalle Valle, Colgin, Araujo, and Screaming Eagle.

Another interesting person I met at the Zachys wine auction was Peter Meltzer. He is auction correspondent for Wine Spectator, and a contributing authority (wine) to Food Arts magazine. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Town & Country, and Art + Auction. Peter also is in charge of the Wine Spectator’s Wine Auction Index, which provides a comprehensive record of recent wine auctions from around the globe (www.wineauctionindex.com). It helps collectors get the “going rate” on more than 500 frequently auctioned wines. Results date from 1992 with the inception of the New York Wine auctions. The site can be easily searched and provides accurate calculations of wine price trends. It is a valuable tool for the private collector for buying and selling or just for learning purposes.

Peter just finished a book titled Keys to the Cellar: Secrets and Strategies of Wine Collecting, to be published in October. It should appeal to all wine lovers who contemplate creating a bona fide wine collection.

The most important advice I got from everyone at Zachys was to have fun. Collecting wine is unique, and your experiences with drinking the wines should be just as momentous as collecting the wine itself. I am off to purchase my first bottle! By the way, if you are near New York City on May 12, stop by Daniel’s to see Zachys’ next auction. You can even stay for lunch; there is a great buffet and wine tasting.
I cannot think of a better way to spend an afternoon and start a collection!

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