Financial crisis hitting sales of top wines

Tue Nov 11, 2008 12:43pm EST
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By Svetlana Kovalyova

MILAN (Reuters) - Prices of the most expensive wines have plunged in recent weeks, showing that not even the swish sectors of the economy are immune to the global crisis, top experts said on Tuesday.

The so-called great or fine wines, predominantly French Bordeaux, are often considered to be safe investments because their value grows with time as quality improves, while quantity drops as it gets drunk.

"We had extraordinary high prices in September, but afterwards ... we've seen in October the descent from the absolute top," Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's International Wine Department, told Reuters at a wine event in Milan.

Top label wines saw prices fall 10 or 20 percent at auctions in New York and London in the past few weeks. But exceptional bottles which used to command four- and five-digit prices on the back of Russian and Chinese demand were hardest hit, she said.

"We see the biggest correction in the market in categories which went the most wild in price -- that's contemporary art and some very, very top Bordeaux Chateaux," Sutcliffe said.

A Sotheby's auction called "An Evening of Exceptional Wines" in New York at the end of October raised $2.2 million -- well below expected $3.2- 5.1 million. The top lot, 12 bottles of Romanee-Conti 1990, sold for $151,250, falling short of an estimated price range of $170,000-240,000.

At another auction in Chicago this month Romanee-Conti 1990 fetched $6,500 a bottle, 67.5 percent down on just over a year ago.

Sutcliffe said there were fewer bidders as people were "more preoccupied with sorting out their financial situation."   Continued...

<p>A woman tastes red wine in the Millesima cellar in Bordeaux, southwestern France, November 6, 2007. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau</p>