MW Wines is in the midst of its largest auction to date, with more than 12,000 bottles up for grabs. Among these are the '51 Grange and a sought-after selection of Burgundies. Here we chat to Nick about the offer.
What's the most expensive and affordable wine on auction? We’ve got the ’51 Penfolds Grange at the top end for $47,000 – the first vintage of Grange ever made, signed by Max Schubert and re-corked by Max Schubert and Peter Gago. That’s an amazing bottle. The cheapest would go down to a dollar for our mixed lots.
What are some of the most exciting wines up for grabs? In addition to the ’51 Grange, there’s a 1990 Armand Rousseau Chambertin, a 1990 Krug Clos du Menil and a six-litre bottle of 1983 Chateau d’Yquem. There’s an extraordinary range of high-end wine – there are five different vintages of the Krug Clos du Menil, all in their original presentation boxes, so that in itself is exciting. The estimate on those is $1200 a bottle – that’s the hammer price, minus buyer’s premium. Another great one is the 1996 Bollinger VVF Champagne. VVF stands for vieilles vignes Francais, which translates to the ‘old vines of France’. Those are some of the very few vines in France that weren’t replanted post phylloxera, so that’s a pretty rare wine from a small vineyard of those original French vines.
What styles of wine always get snapped up quickly at MW? Lots of Australian collectors are after the local icons, so we have a very high clearance rate on wines such as Penfolds Grange. The wines of Burgundy – there’s been a run of poor-yielding vintages in Burgundy, so whenever there are good red Burgundies on offer they get snapped up quickly as well. The current catalogue is about 50 per cent Australian and 50 per cent international wines.
What are the benefits of buying wines at online auctions? It’s very convenient – you can do it from your desk, your phone, or wherever you are. With our auction, which is online for a week and closes on Wednesday night at 6pm, you can bid at anytime, entering your maximum bid secure in the fact that you’ll only pay the next increment above the other bidder. We also disclose what the reserve is and set that as the first available bid, so you’re not ever bidding against an unseen reserve and therefore wasting your time. Online gives us the ability to put all sorts of wines up for grabs – from dollar mixed boxes to rare collector wines. If you want to do an in-person auction, you’d be lucky if you got through 200 lots in an evening, whereas we have almost 5000 lots up for sale in the auction that’s running right now.
What’s your main buyer demographic? There’s a surprising over-representation of teachers and doctors, which is interesting. There are a lot of professional people who love wine and enjoy seeking out the unusual and the rare, others that just want to snag a bargain, and mad, passionate people looking for the best of the best all of the time. We also have restaurants and retailers buying every now and again. The majority would be male in the 35- to 55-age bracket, but women are increasingly present in the mix.
What’s the most memorable auction purchase you’ve ever made? A number of years ago when the prices of Rousseau Chambertin were very reasonable, I picked up some great bottles of 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2005. The price of those has probably gone up five times since I bought them. I had a bottle of the ’01 last weekend for my wife’s 40th birthday and it was absolutely magnificent.
Any disaster stories? There’s always the terrible taste of TCA taint in an excellent bottle of wine. I took a bottle of Rousseau Clos St Jacques – I’m unfortunately exposing my tendencies here – to lunch with a prominent Burgundy-loving winemaker, who was as excited as I was to see the bottle, and it was horribly corked. It was one of those cases where if you wanted someone to understand what cork taint looks like, it would have been a perfect demonstration bottle.
And the best bargain? Some of the great white Burgundies with a little bit of age on them – everyone is scared to death of those wines because of the unfortunately real threat of premature oxidation. As a result, prices are quite low. I picked up a bottle of 2002 Bouchard Chevalier Montrachet La Cabotte, which is a wine that sits just below Montrachet, at a very cheap price because people would assume 2002 is no good, but it was one of the most delicious white wines I’ve had in a very long time. I’ve also had many amazing vintages of Penfolds Grange, because at auction you can pick up excellent back vintages for well below the retail price of the current vintage. My favourite vintage is probably the 1996, which sells for around $500 plus buyer’s premium [the current 2012 retails for $850] – a stunning wine that any wine lover should ignore at their peril.
Next article: read James Halliday's take on the latest release of Penfolds