Sales of fine wine at auction house Christie's fell this year, as the global financial crisis dragged down prices and made consumers more selective.

Christie's global fine wine sales for 2008 totalled US$50.7m (EUR41m), still the third highest figure on record but lower than sales of nearly $72m (EUR53m) last year, the auction house said.

The slide, which could not be offset by Christie's return to Hong Kong after a seven-year absence, provides further evidence that an increasingly global economic crisis has stemmed a boom period in fine wine.

"2008 has really been something of a rollercoaster ride," said David Elswood, head of Christie's international wine department.

"The first half of the year was marked by substantial sales of top quality Bordeaux from exceptional private collections and record sales figures in both London and New York."

Since then, and despite some lucrative individual sales, prices for fine wine have dived.

Value on the Live-ex 100 Fine Wine Exchange, the London-based fine wine stock market, has fallen to its lowest for 18 months.

Simon Staples, fine wine director at UK merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, told just-drinks this month that prices for top Bordeaux have slumped 20-40% in the last few months. Berrys took the "unprecedented" step of issuing a three-day promotion this month, offering GBP50 off to anyone who spent more than GBP250.

Both Staples and Elswood said that top wines would continue to sell in 2009, albeit in a challenging market.

Staples said this was particularly true for Bordeaux's 2005 vintage, which he described as containing "some of the greatest wines we have ever seen". He added: "People who are wealthy enough to afford these things will always want the best."

Christie's said that around 60% of wines sold at its Hong Kong auction this autumn beat the group's pre-sale price estimates.