The Real Deal New York

A healthy pour

Sipping Bordeaux with the connoisseurs at Zachys’ wine auction and a look at the top sales of 2016
By Christopher Cameron | November 08, 2016 01:00PM

A bidder checks his catalog, top left; another attendee smells the bouquet, bottom left; and Zachys auctioneer, Charles Antin, at the podium

A bidder checks his catalog, top left; another attendee smells the bouquet, bottom left; and Zachys auctioneer, Charles Antin, at the podium

grey-haired man puts down his auction paddle. In front of him half a dozen empty wine glasses form a semi-circle around a plate of fish in wine sauce. He’s won a few magnums of Burgundy and spent around $10,000. And he leaves — halfway through a $150 multi-course lunch at one of the best restaurants on the planet. His seatmate sends the next course in the extravagant meal straight back to the kitchen. The departing diner wasn’t there to eat.

In October, Zachys Wine Auction flogged the second half of “The Vault,” a single-owner collection of rare wines worth some $12 million. The sale was a special addition to New York’s booming auction calendar where the finest wines are sold throughout the year at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Acker, as well as Zachys. Last year, wine sales in New York gained 27 percent in value over 2014. And experts say the market is only getting hotter.

“This auction [The Vault] was a unique thing. So, prices were very, very good,” Zachys auctioneer Charles Antin explains, adding that the single-owner sale was held in four parts  — one in New York, one in Hong Kong, and two online. “In general, the demand for fine wines is high. We’re offering a selection of wines from Nath. Johnston & Fils, a Bordeaux Négociant, including a 1924 Pétrus, on December 2, and we expect that to do spectacularly.”

Last year, wine sales in New York gained
27 percent in value over 2014. And experts say
the market is only getting hotter.

At the October event, about half a dozen elegantly set tables fill the upstairs room at Le Bernardin Privè, the three-Michelin star restaurant’s private event space. Men, mostly older, fill the seats, facing a stage at the far side of the room. There are a few women mixed in and a few young people.

If you’re like me and are just there to observe the action, this is a great way to try top-tier wines. A sommelier comes by regularly to refresh our glasses with Pétrus 1982 and other such extravagances. The bidding is leisurely. There is salmon tartar on offer and beautiful fresh baked breads.

I ask my neighbor if he is a collector. He shakes his head “no,” looking slightly annoyed and still staring intently into the auction catalog. He tells me that he owns Crush Wine & Spirits, a shop peddling rare and high-end vintages on East 57th Street. “I’m probably the only retailer in the room. Most of the people here are consultants,” he says, setting me straight. “They are bidding for clients.”

That would seem obvious if the consultants didn’t do such a good job of looking and acting like their well-heeled clients.

After watching the 50th lot sell, I start to do math. One imperial (six-liter bottle) of Chateau Latour 1961 sells for $91,875. Let’s call a sip a teaspoon. There are about 200 teaspoons in a liter, so about 1,200 sips of Chateau Latour. That’s $76 a sip!

I continue calculating, and most of the other lots sell for a few thousand. Those people are paying a more humble dollar or two per sip. But I doubt anyone else in the room is concerned with the price-per-sip economy. It’s a thirsty room.

To see just how much connoisseurs are really paying for the rarest wines on earth, LLNYC brings you the top New York wine sales of 2016 via Zachys.

1990 Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti1990-Romanee-Conti
Appellation: Romanée-Conti
Region: Burgundy
Quantity: 12 bottles (750 ml)
Price sold: $205,484
Price per bottle: $17,124
Price per sip: $113
Tasting note: You’re tasting scarcity in a bottle. Only 450 cases of Romanée-Conti are produced each year. Rare Burgundies have become hugely popular among Asian collectors, who find the label easy to identify. “It’s the closest thing that Burgundy has to a brand,” Robert Sleigh, senior director of wine at Sotheby’s, told Barron’s.

1961 Pétrus
Appellation: Pomerol
Region: Bordeaux
Quantity: 12 bottles (750 ml)
Price sold: $140,875
Price per bottle: $11,740
Price per sip: $77
Tasting note: “Colour ‘black as Egypt’s night,’ opulent, ‘rich, rich, rich,’ spicy, even peppery (alcohol), chunky yet velvety, with soft, ripe mulberry-like fruit, fleshy, ‘almost cloying’ … you wallow in it; and you have to have that sort of wealth to have it in your cellar, let alone to order it in a restaurant. But I must stop being condescending. It is a superb, almost unbeatable mouthful.” —  Noted blind at Wolf’s tasting of ’61s and ’59s in Aschau, Germany, November 1994 via Christie’s.

1985 Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanee-Conti1985-bottle
Appellation: Romanée-Conti
Region: Burgundy
Quantity: One six-liter bottle
Price sold: $118,548
Price per sip: $97
Tasting note: “The Romanée-Conti is utterly mind-blowing. The heady, intoxicating bouquet delivered penetrating and sublime aromas that were even more intense than those from the La Tâche. [La Tâche is another highly regarded burgundy of the Romanee Conti estate]. On the palate, there is a veritable smorgasbord of earthly and heavenly delights. Needless to say, it is very rich, very opulent and very concentrated. Red burgundy and red wine do not get any better than this.” — Robert Parker of “The Wine Advocate”   

1982 Le Pin
Appellation: Pomerol
Region: Bordeaux
Quantity: 12 bottles (750 ml)
Price sold: $110,646
Price per bottle: $9,220
Price per sip: $61
Tasting note: “The nose, with its cherry pipe tobacco, floral, mint, oyster shell, wet earth, cherry and mocha, was an easy hook. But the sexy, silky, exotic textures, purity of fruit, and velvet finish brought it all the way home. Fully mature, if you have extremely wealthy friends with a bottle or two, have them pull a cork, as there is no reason to age this any longer.” — Tasted June 7, 2016, by Jeff Leve, founder of “The Wine Cellar Insider”

1961 Chateau Latour
Appellation: Pauillac
Region: Bordeaux
Quantity: One six-liter bottle
Price sold: $91,875
Price per sip: $76
Tasting note: “1961 Latour was a remarkably viscous, huge, intense wine that is one of the biggest and richest wines I have ever tasted from Latour … A phenomenal bouquet of walnuts, cassis and cedar inundates the nose … The 1961 Latour has the potential to last 100 years. Anticipated maturity 2000-2050.” — Robert Parker in the book, “Bordeaux”

1988 Bonnes-Mares, Vieilles Vignes Georges Roumier1988-Bonnes-Mares
Appellation: Bonnes-Mares
Region: Burgundy
Quantity: Six 1.5-liter bottles
Price sold: $91,875
Price per bottle: $15,312
Price per sip: $76
Tasting note: “Resolved, clear, minerally, aromatic; the Vieilles Vignes, served blind alongside the regular bottling, was years younger, beefy, closed, impenetrably dark, but clearly made of great material. It remarkably aged in-glass as the evening went on.”  — Adrian Cheong for the “I heart wine” blog

1999 Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux, Reserve Henri Jayer
Appellation: Vosne-Romanée
Region: Burgundy
Quantity: 12 bottles (750 ml)
Price sold: $85,750
Price per bottle: $7,145
Price per sip: $47
Tasting note: “It seems that this has barely budged since it was bottled; an expressive, ripe and elegant nose of Vosne-style spice, moderate oak and a mix of earth, minerals and violets leads to rich, round and impressively precise flavors that deliver serious punch and excellent depth. I very much like the overall sense of harmony and fine balance here … It will require at least 20 years for this to be at its best.” — Allen Meadows for Burghound.com, March 2008

2001 Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Appellation: Romanée-Conti
Region: Burgundy
Quantity: One six-liter bottle
Price sold: $75,870
Price per sip: $62
Tasting note: The nose starts with a blast of fruit and spice … but closes down much faster. A quarter of an hour with the glass yields a few more floral notes, and then something a little green that morphs into a cedary pencil-lead note. The palate is very round … in fact it’s very understated … What sets it apart is the crystalline purity of fruit in the mid-palate and the faint but haunting finish.” — Bill Nanson, the Burgundy Report, March 21, 2004

1985 Romanée-Conti Domaine de la Romanée-Conti1985-Romanee-Conti
Appellation: Romanée-Conti
Region: Burgundy
Quantity: One three-liter bottle
Price sold: $66,388
Price per sip: $109
Tasting note: “Mid-crimson. Wonderfully concentrated … but still a more transparent wine than some other vintages. Jewely sweet.
Truly gorgeous and lifted. Truffley. Mid-crimson. Mushrooms and violets. Sweet and rich … a real peacock’s tail in that the flavours spread and spread across the palate.” — Jancis Robinson, July 2007

1959 Château Lafite Rothschild
Appellation: Pauillac
Region: Boudreaux
Quantity: One six-liter bottle
Price sold: $63,226
Price per sip: $52
Tasting note: “The 1959 is unquestionably the greatest Lafite Rothschild that has approached full maturity … The super-aromatic bouquet of flowers, black truffles, cedar lead pencil and red fruits is followed by one of the most powerful and concentrated Lafites I have tasted. Medium to full-bodied velvety-textured rich and pure, it is a testament to what this great estate can achieve when it hits the mark. This youthful wine will last for another 30 or more years.” — Robert Parker, “Bordeaux”