• Live-Ex reaches record highs
  • Christie's, Sotheby's report record sales
  • Asia drives demand
Fine wine market hits record high on Live-Ex

Fine wine market hits record high on Live-Ex

The value of fine wine has raced to its highest level on record, as Asia's thirst for prestigious bottles has helped auction houses to shake off their hangover from the global recession.

Fine wine prices are close to reaching an index value of 400 on the fine wine stock exchange, Live-Ex, for the first time. Live-Ex, which tracks prices paid for the ten most recent Bordeaux vintages, has risen by 55% over the last 12 months and this week saw its index reach 395.6.

The heights represent unprecedented territory for Bordeaux wine and the rise adds to evidence from the world's top auction houses that the global fine wine market is as buoyant as it has ever been. 

Sotheby's has predicted that 2010 will be a "record year" for its fine wine division. "We have found superlative cellars and collections to sell this year and our clients worldwide have snapped them up," said Sotheby's wine business head, Serena Sutcliffe.

The group's main rival, Christie's, said today (16 December) that its fine wine sales at auction have risen by 46% in 2010, to US$71.5m. That is close to Christie's all-time record of $72m, set in 2007.

"This was a memorable year for Christie’s global wine department, marked by increasing demand, multiple new auction records for the finest Bordeaux and Burgundy, and a remarkable influx of new buyers from all over Asia," said David Elswood, head of international wine sales at Christie's.

Fine wine collectors in South East Asia, many of whom have escaped the worst of the global economic downturn, are driving the upsurge in demand. Both Christie's and Sotheby's have focused on building their presence in Hong Kong, which has styled itself as the region's wine trading hub since scrapping excise duty on wine in 2008.

At an auction in Hong Kong in October, Sotheby's sold 2,000 bottles of Chateau Lafite from vintages dating back to 1869 for US$8.4m.

However, while sales for several prestigious names have surged in 2010, some observers argue that this hides frailty elsewhere in the market.

"The disparity in performance between the major brands is really quite significant," said a report published last month by Wine Asset Managers, owners of the Fine Wine Fund. In Bordeaux, the group said: "Asian demand is so heavily focused on the Medoc that the likes of Cheval Blanc and Ausone have temporarily become backwater stocks."

Agreeing a definition of the term 'fine wine' has proved complicated. Earlier this year, the suggestion that the term should mean any wine over GBP10 or US$25 per bottle provoked a row at the London International Wine Fair.