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Singapore wine auction nets $5.8 mil, as valuable whisky fails to sell

Bloomberg • 4 min read
Singapore wine auction nets $5.8 mil, as valuable whisky fails to sell
The value of the lots had been estimated to be $7.5 million. Photo: Bloomberg
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The oldest wine merchant in the US held its first live auction in Singapore on Saturday, seeking to capitalize on Asia’s increasing interest in big ticket vintages.

Instead, the sale by the wine auction house Acker fell short of projections, bringing in just $5.8 million. (Results were not announced until Tuesday.) The value of the lots had been estimated to be $7.5 million.

The auction featured more than 600 lots that included magnums of such esteemed wines as a 1995 Domaine de la Romanée Conti; 14 vintages of Bordeaux first-growth Château Latour dating back to 1982; 2008 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon from California; and 14 vintages of Krug Champagne. Rare spirits on offer included 46-year-old Bowmore and 52-year-old Macallan whiskies from Scotland, and a 34-year-old Karuizawa Japanese whisky. 

Around 250 people attended the in-person event, which took place at the Koma restaurant at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Initial interest was so high that potential bidders in Singapore had to join a waitlist to try to get into the auction room, fueling expectations of frenzied bidding. But the results were mixed as some of the top lots attracted little interest. A 72-year-old Macallan single malt in a Lalique decanter went unsold, as did a 35-year-old Karuizawa single malt in an emerald geisha cask.

Screaming Eagle fared better: 12 bottles of 2006 Screaming Eagle went for $53,125, a new world record per bottle for the vintage. And a 2005 Domaine de la Romanée Conti sold for $37,500, notably above the $25,000 low-end estimate.

Acker, which began as a package store in 1820 and held its first auction in 1998, has had a presence in the region for years. Its first Asia sale took place in Hong Kong in 2008.

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“We have great core in Hong Kong,” said John Kapon, chairman of Acker. But “the focus is definitely Singapore and the surrounding regions like Malaysia, Indonesia, even Thailand.” 

The Acker sale precedes a highly anticipated Sotheby’s auction that will take place in Hong Kong starting in November. Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen will sell around 25,000 bottles, worth an estimated US$50 million ($68.5 million), in a series of five auctions around the world that will take place over the coming year.

Some of the offerings in the Acker sale came from a collector Acker referred to as “the Golden Bull,” who has “an astute eye for the utmost quality with pristine provenance” and whose cellar is “like the Fort Knox of fine wine collections,” the catalogue trumpeted. “Grab the bull by the horns and be bullish bidding on this goldmine of a collection!” 

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Buyers weren’t limited to cash and credit for their purchases. Acker accepts cryptocurrencies as well, including Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Ethereum and Dogecoin. 

Years ago, the company was behind the sale of bottles from California-based Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian wine trader who was later convicted in the US in 2014 of selling millions of dollars of counterfeit bottles. The saga was later chronicled in the 2016 documentary movie, Sour Grapes. More recently, its New York wine store was fined US$100,000 for selling fake bottles of a bourbon brand. 

“When you are a victim and you lose a lot of money because of a fraud perpetuated against you, you learn a lot very quickly,” Kapon said of the Kurniawan episode. “We've bolstered up our inspection team. Our inspection department hired experts from all over, and I think now we have pretty much as robust, if not the most robust, inspection process in the entire industry.”

The chairman saw a bright spot in this week’s auction: 55% of the buyers at auction were new.  “Our commitment to expanding our reach and our presence in the region remains steadfast, and we eagerly anticipate our return in 2024 for another promising auction in Singapore," said Kapon. 

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