New Asian buyers thirst for fresh wine tastes

Wed Jan 25, 2012 4:46pm EST
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By Andy Ho and Cathy Yang

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The bubble may have burst in the Bordeaux market, but new Asian collectors are seeking diversity and in some cases even choosing second growth Bordeaux for value, said Robert Sleigh, head of Sotheby's Asian wine department.

Global economic uncertainty has hit the Asian wine market, with demand falling for top Bordeaux at the auction house's first Hong Kong wine auction of the year in mid-January, leaving many bottles unsold.

Though the auction overall raked in sales of more than $5 million, it failed to match its pre-sale estimate and only 85 percent of the lots found buyers.

"Some of the prices are a little bit softer than the end of last year. That adjustment is really on the back of the historic price increases we've seen over the last three years," said Sleigh, referring to the top Bordeaux.

Those wines, including the prized first growths, have seen historic price rises from 2008, up to 400 percent at their peak, Sleigh said. But they'd come off those highs by some 5 to 20 percent by the end of last year.

Sleigh attributed some of the cooling interest to a growing thirst among investors for a far broader array of wines, and increasingly sophisticated tastes.

"You're seeing a growing diversification of the market. Burgundy is very, very popular," he said, although he added that the supply of top quality Burgundy remains quite limited.

"People are trying to get everything they can, and second growth, which has been undervalued for the last three years -- they're moving up as well. So I think it's the signs of a more sophisticated market and ultimately a healthier market."   Continued...

<p>A visitor tastes wine at Vinexpo Asia-Pacific held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre May 25, 2010. REUTERS/Bobby Yip</p>