Collectors accustomed to buying Bordeaux straight from the producer only “en premier,” or as futures, ahead of their release into the market, revel in the chance to buy aged bottles that never left the château’s cellar.
Château Lafite Rothschild, perhaps the most celebrated of the Bordeaux first growth producers, is providing that opportunity in an extensive live auction of 692 lots, all direct from the cellar of Lafite and other properties owned by Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite). The New York wine retailer and auction house Zachys is conducting the sale on March 30 at Le Bernardin Privé in New York.
The star of the auction, which is being held in honor of Baron James Mayer de Rothschild’s purchase of the famed property in France 150 years ago, is a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild 1868, produced that same year. The offering, which includes a dinner for four at the château, is estimated at between US$13,000 and US$20,000. The wine was produced just over a decade after the classification system ranking Bordeaux’s château from first to fifth growths was established.
The eventual buyer of the 1868 will acquire “an exceptional piece of history,” says Jean-Guillaume Prats, Lafite’s president and CEO. “You are buying the only machine that goes back in time that works.”
That’s because the 1868 vintage—of which Lafite has only five bottles left—was among the great vintages of Bordeaux. At Lafite, these wines, which are clearly old, complex, and velvety, “taste like a fairly young wine,” Prats says—almost as if it was still 1868.
The sale also includes Château Lafite Rothschild 1870, also considered an exceptional vintage, that’s estimated to sell for between US$12,000 and US$18,000, as well as nine other bottles from the 19th century. There are also wines being sold directly from the cellar of other Lafite properties, including Château Duhart-Milon, considered “the small brother of Lafite,” which is popular in Europe, and Château L’evangile, a small property on the right bank of Bordeaux, that is popular with North American collectors, Prats says.
More than 500 large format bottles will be offered, too, including several imperials (equal in volume to eight bottles), that were signed by Baron Eric de Rothschild and his daughter, Saskia de Rothschild, who has been chair of Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) since last year.
All the bottles were labeled for the auction before being placed in custom-made wooden boxes.
Lafite sold bottles from its cellars 10 years ago at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. This auction, although available to bidders globally, is deliberately centered in the U.S. because, “we wanted to send a strong signal to the market that we don’t want to forget the American wine collectors,” Prats says.
Burgundy, today, is dominating fine wine market sales in price, notably with the US$558,000 sale of a bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, or DRC, from the cellar of Robert Drouhin at Sotheby’s in New York. To Prats, that makes sense, given Burgundy’s quality and the French appellation’s tiny production levels. But Burgundy requires a special collector, one who is willing to become educated about the region’s producers, many of whom make wine from the same storied vineyards.
“Bordeaux has a substantial advantage,” Prats says. “Not only are the wines great and fantastic, but they are produced in much larger quantities, and they are easy to access because of the volumes and the way the wines have been sold.
“Château Lafite has the same mystical reputation as Romanée-Conti and a few others, but it remains substantially cheaper than these wines,” he says.
Despite eye-popping prices for a couple bottles of Burgundy, Bordeaux remains the cornerstone of the fine wine market, says Charles Antin, a senior international specialist at Zachys, and the auctioneer for the Lafite sale. But what matters is not that Lafite is from Burgundy or Bordeaux, or Italy’s Piedmont for that matter.
“These are works of art,” he says. “This is an opportunity to buy 1870 Lafite, widely considered the greatest Bordeaux of all time. My experience is whether it’s art or jewelry or wine, that sort of provenance and rarity transcends the market, especially on a global level.”