Bonhams’ international wine director, Richard Harvey, M.W., has been down to scope out many memorable cellars, but there’s one in particular that he’ll never forget: “It was a hidden cellar under a town house in Belgium, where the deceased owner’s children had no idea of the interest and value.” Having lain undisturbed since the death of the consigner’s father in 1970, the cellar was incredibly dusty to the point that it was described as being like the ruins of Pompeii, rendering the wine labels completely unreadable until they’d been properly cleaned.
Against an estimate of £75,000 (US$988,600), the collection was eventually sold in February 2007 for £125,000 (US$1.64 million), with the highlight being a set of nine bottles of La Tache Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 1955, which went for £12,100 (US$15,950), surpassing an initial estimate of £4,500 (US$5,930). Since then, of course, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises during Bonhams’ wine auctions, which are held seven times a year in London, along with four sales a year in the United States, and two in Hong Kong.
Besides offering a diverse range of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, wines from the Rhone, and Port, Bonhams also auctions wines from Australia, Italy, Lebanon, Madeira and Spain, providing plenty of interesting opportunities for both sellers and collectors. Their most recent Fine and Rare Wines sale in London on 28 September 2017 saw a total of £794,841 (US$1.05 million) worth of wine being sold. A dozen bottles of Chambertin Clos de Bèze 1999, Domaine Armand Rousseau from a private cellar in Germany emerged as the star lot, eventually going under the hammer for £17,625 (US$23,231).
Despite – or perhaps because of – the frequent number of international auctions, Harvey maintains that the timing and location of a wine auction is “not really a factor” when it comes to ensuring that your wines perform well on the auction block. Instead, as he tells us, what you need to keep an eye on are your storage conditions, documentation, and your wines’ ullage.