The Most Expensive Wine Auction Ever, Featuring 25,000 Bottles of the Rarest Vintage, Could Fetch $50 Million

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How serendipitous that the largest and most important wine auction ever to come to market, the Epicurean’s Atlas, happens to follow the release of Drops of God on Apple TV+. The smash-hit Japanese manga series about wine—and the quest for mythical drops of the stuff by rival brothers—is uncannily prescient about the industry, sparking sales of rare vintages across Japan and other parts of Asia and increasing tourism to wine regions around the world.

Assembled over 40 years, the 25,000 bottles of wine coming to Sotheby’s are just a fraction of the vast collection held by Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen. They’re expected to fetch up to $50 million at five auctions beginning in Hong Kong (November 24–25), followed by London, New York, Paris (where he’ll soon open his first restaurant, Le Restaurant Blanc), and Beaune, considered the wine capital of the Burgundy region. In 2021, Sotheby’s sold items from Chen’s wine collection in a dedicated Hong Kong auction, bringing in $11.4 million.

Pierre Chen with a work by Pablo Picasso. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Pierre Chen with a work by Pablo Picasso. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Chen is not only a major wine collector, but also a mega-collector of art. His art holdings—which include works by Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, and David Hockney—are currently on view in Tate Modern’s “Capturing the Moment” (through January 28, 2024). The exhibition is created in collaboration with the YAGEO Foundation, the philanthropic branch of the electronics company Chen founded in 1977, at the age of 19.

Chen made collecting news in 2006 when he purchased Tamsui, an oil painting by Taiwanese artist Tan Ting-pho, for $4.5 million, setting a world record for an ethnically Chinese artist. Other high-profile works in his collection include Five Nudes by the Chinese artist Sanyu, which he repurchased in 2019 for $39.1 million following his initial purchase in 1993, and Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome) (1971), purchased from Christie’s in 2004 for $5.4 million, according to Artnet’s Price Database.

His wines, too, are the rarest of the rare, some from vineyards that produce only a handful of bottles a year. Together, they represent the most valuable wine collection ever to come to the market. Among the highlights are two six-liter Methuselahs of Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti La Tâche 1985, estimated at up to $190,000 each. Two magnums of 1985 Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin could reach as high as $32,000 each, and six magnums of 2001 Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1er Cru—produced by Henri Jayer, known as the Godfather of burgundy—could fetch $70,000 each.

Imperial of Petrus 1982 (estimate $45,000–$65,000. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Imperial of Petrus 1982 (estimate $45,000–$65,000. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

A single, exceptionally rare imperial—equivalent to six liters, or eight standard bottles—of 1982 Pétrus, widely considered one of the greatest of Bordeaux wines, could reach $65,000, and assorted vintage Krug and Dom Perignon champagnes could reap $5,000 and $7,000 a bottle.

Wine is “to me, the ninth art,” Chen has said. “It is the only art form one can consume, using senses that other art forms don’t typically involve, such as taste and smell—and it requires creativity on the part of the owner.”

 

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