Behind the scene – French wine auction
by Sayuri Aoyama
What is your image of wine auctions? We sometimes see breaking news and headlines on very famous wines fetching millions at Sotheby’s or Christie’s in Hong Kong, NY or London. Is this what wine auctions are really all about?
French wine auctions may reveal slightly a different picture. About €30-€40 million worth of wines are sold in French auctions every year. In small village auctions, people bid on wines for Christmas and their families’ birthdays. Larger auctions, taking place in big cities, are mainly for professional dealers at the top of the distribution chain, selling mainly to export, wholesalers and eventually to restaurants and retail shops. Supply to auction houses comes from many sources: from restaurants reducing their inventory, institutional wine investors and private collectors.
The most sought-after châteaux and vintages from Bordeaux and Burgundy tend to surprise the world for the high bidding prices they usually reach, however there are still many value trades. For instance Aymeric de Clouet believes some off-vintages are completely undervalued for good reason. 1986 would be a fine example. It’s one of the greatest vintage for Médoc but their prices have been hampered for decades due to the poor quality of Pomerol and the subsequent criticism of an influential wine journalist….
So, there could be a price advantage in sourcing wines from auctions, but what about wine quality and authenticity, in particular given the increase in wine forgeries? In France, the wine auctioneers are bound by law to compensate for a loss incurred due to fraud. Because of this, the wine auction houses employ the services of an independent wine expert to assist the auctioneer. The wine expert examines all the bottles and suggests a prospective pricing in the auction catalogue, based on quality and how each wine has been kept. Aymeric de Clouet is not only one of the few wine experts working with French auction houses, he is also the sole wine expert appointed by the Paris Court of Appeals since 2011. When it comes to a legal dispute, the judge bases his decision on De Clouet’s judgement on a wine.