Sotheby’s hosts largest champagne auction

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Champagne Club

1,500 vintage bottles to be sold from Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen’s collection. [read the full champagne story] 

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Sotheby’s will host the largest ever champagne-only fine wine auction the 20th of June in Paris, a sale that will test sentiment among collectors as vintage champagne prices have fallen a quarter since peaking in 2022.

The auction house, owned by French-Israeli financier Patrick Drahi, will auction around 1,500 bottles of the finest vintage champagnes belonging to Taiwanese electronics billionaire Pierre Chen.

This is the second of a series of five international auctions of 25,000 bottles from Chen’s collection of wines. The first, in November last year, raised US$16.8mn in a two-day auction at Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental hotel.

Rarities on offer this time include a five-bottle lot of 1971 Salon Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs estimated at as much as €18,000. Also offered will be vintages from top champagne houses — including Krug, Dom Pérignon, Salon and Roederer — dating back to the 1950s.

‘The combination of wine, food, and company at any one moment makes each encounter totally unique, but every memory of every encounter brings a smile to my face. I suppose that is the magic of wine to me: the power to relive moments through a single sip.’

Pierre Chen

There are high hopes for this sale. “Pierre’s cellar is richly stocked with an incredible depth of the most iconic champagnes produced several decades ago. It’s rare to see such wines, even in small volumes, at auction, let alone for them to make up an entire sale,” Sotheby’s said.

Asian buyers may play a big role. While in the past Asian buyers had less interest in champagne generally, that has changed. Younger consumers there have taken more interest in champagne in recent years.

Japan leads the region and is the world’s third-largest market for champagne. “We . . . anticipate that there will be a good deal of interest in this sale in Japan . . . and have just hosted a dedicated event in Tokyo to cater to that interest,” noted Nick Pegna, global head of wine and spirits at Sotheby’s.

Auction pricing for fine wine can result in higher pricing than merchant-led trading. Partly this is because the age and rarity of some of the bottles on sale attract more specialist collectors, perhaps focused on one brand such as Dom Pérignon or unusual sizes. One example is a methuselah of 1971 Pol Roger, the equivalent of eight standard bottles.

Though auction prices are not strictly tracked by merchants, the concentration of so much top champagne sold at this event is expected to offer a sense of buying sentiment. Auction prices do differ from the rest of the fine wine market partly due to auction house commissions of around a quarter. Though terms vary, dealers in fine wine usually make smaller margins.

Prices across the fine wine market continue to drift downward this year following a buying binge towards the end of the pandemic lockdown.

“After a sharp spike in prices from mid 2021 through 2022 for champagne,” typical collectors are more price sensitive,

said Matthew O’Connell at Bordeaux Index.

Other auctions of Chen’s collection will follow, including one of top Burgundy among grape vines outside Beaune in early July.

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