Sotheby's wine sale draws Asia buyers despite turmoil

By Farah Master

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Plunging global markets, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and deepening fears of another world recession failed to dampen Asian buyers thirst for vintage wines at Sotheby's October wine auction in Hong Kong.

The two-day event held October 1-2 put rare Imperials of Chateau Lafite, Latour and Cheval Blanc and Jeroboams of Mouton and Haut Brion under the hammer, as well as a selection of Lafite from the Rothschild's private cellars. The sale raked in $12.7 million in total.

The wine auctions bode well for the rest of Sotheby's autumn sale that includes fine art, jewelry and rare porcelain, a week-long event that is being closely watched as a barometer of Asian demand for luxury goods at time when economic gloom is spreading globally.

New York-based Sotheby's said its first day sale, the eighth part of the long-running Classic Cellar of a Great American Collector, sold all bottles, fetching a total of $3.5 million, just under Sotheby's highest pre-auction estimate of $4 million.

One of the auction highlights was the sale of 12 bottles of 1990 Chateau Petrus at $43,436.

While Chinese investors have made headlines over the past year paying record prices for fine vintage wine particularly Lafite, Robert Sleigh, head of Sotheby's Asia wine department, said the market was getting smarter and more sophisticated, with

prices leveling out after huge gains over the past two years.

"In 2011 the estimates have caught up with the prices," Sleigh told Reuters, adding that some lots were sold at the lower end of forecasts due to some buyers being more cautious.

"There are people around the world who are looking at the turmoil going on in various markets as well," he said.

U.S. stocks ended their worst quarter since the depths of the 2008 credit crisis on Friday, while major European stock indexes also tumbled.

Auction highlights also included the six-liter Imperials of Chateau Lafite Rothschild from 2000 sold for $20,167.

The second day of the auction raised $9.2 million from the sale of the Finest & Rarest Wines, including The Ultimate Nine from The Bordeaux Winebank Collection, with the auction led by 12 bottles of 1988 Domaine de la Romanée Conti for $116,346.

Sleigh said instead of having a big price discrepancy for selling in Hong Kong, sales had evened out between Hong Kong, New York and London. The two day sale in Hong Kong saw buyers from all over Asia.

"You have people from more sophisticated markets like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, as well as Vietnam and mainland China," he said.

Upcoming highlights during the week long auction, taking place October 1-6, include 90 works of Chinese contemporary art from Belgian foodstuffs baron Guy Ullens which is estimated to raise US$10 million.

Rare Chinese ceramics from a vintage European collection, gathered over nearly half a century by pharmaceutical tycoons, the Zuellig brothers, will also be auctioned. The 40 Meiyintang treasures are estimated to fetch $55 million.

Other highlights include a Golconda Pink 9.27 carat pink diamond estimated to go for as much as $19 million, as well as jewelry and watches from Hong Kong canto pop diva Anita Mui expected to fetch $335,000.

(Editing by Jane Merriman)

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