The Successful Collector – By Julian Hitner ~ TSO Fine Wine Auction – a collector’s delight ~ Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Julian Hitner

Julian Hitner

The highs and the lows:

On Tuesday 13 October, the 21st annual TSO Fine Wine Auction was held at Waddington’s auction house in downtown Toronto. Organized by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra Volunteer Committee (TSVC) to raise money for one of Canada’s most illustrious orchestras, a full house of eager collectors were in attendance to bid on 233 separate lots of (mostly) premium wine.

'75 Château Figeac

So much for the basic information. Chances are, most people are probably just interested in the highlights and lowlights of the evening. Fair enough, but first it should be noted that this wasn’t your typical fine wine auction. Because all money raised was meant for charity, bidders were not required to pay any taxes, such as a buyer’s premium, on their purchases—a direct contrast to other wine auctions, where bidders are usually faced with all sorts of fees when collecting their winnings. A case in point: I attended the Vintages Fine Wine Auction about a week after this one, bringing along a few friends. They successfully bid on an eleven-bottle lot of ’01 Palmer, and it wound up costing them almost a thousand bucks more when the additional fees were tossed in. Makes you think …

‘99 Château Talbot

Now for the highlights of the TSO auction. Come to think of it, there really weren’t that many wines that sold beyond the expected bidding range. Checking my auction catalogue, which I’d retained for purposes of writing this column, the only serious highlights were: a twelve-bottle lot of ‘99 Château Talbot (est. $1,000-1,400) that went for $1,700—ridiculous when considering the mediocrity of the vintage; a two-bottle lot of ’72 and ’75 Château Figeac (est. $150-250) that fetched $400—unbelievable considering how bad a vintage 1972 was; a bottle ’88 Cristal Rosé (est. $300-450) that sold for an astounding $1,100; and a salmanazar (9 litres) of ’88 Pol Roger (est. $400-600) that logged in at an equally steep $1,100.

Cristal Rose

Looks like a few bidders in attendance had their hearts set on these two bottles of dazzling champagne. For my part, I think they paid too much for both.

As for the lowlights, there were too many to count. Either the estimate ranges for most of the lots were greatly exaggerated, or bidders were simply unwilling to write large cheques in this current economic climate. Personally, I am inclined to accept both explanations as plausible: there is no question in my mind that estimates were too high, and with the economy as bad as it is, it should come as no surprise that collectors would be a little less willing to part with larger sums of their (hopefully) hard-earned money.

Chateau Lafite

All the same, I would be negligent in my commentary if I were to omit some of the more shocking lowlights of the auction: 4 bottles of ‘99 Lafite (est. $5,000-7,000) at $3,250; 3 bottles of ’00 Haut-Brion (est. $2,650-3,750) at $2,000; a case of ’82 Léoville-Las Cases (est. $7,500-10,500) at $5,500; a case of ’93 Mouton (est. $7,250-10,500) at $5,000—an extreme example of overestimating; 3 bottles of ’01 Le Pin (est. $6,000-8,500) at $5,000; 6 bottles of ’01 Lafite (est. $7,000-10,000) at $4,500—one of the ultimate steals of the night; 3 bottles of Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti ’86 Grands Échezeaux (est. $2,000-3,000) at $1,400; 2 bottles of Beaulieu ’68 George de Latour Reserve (est. $600-900) at $350; and 5 bottles of Jim Barry ’93 The Armagh (est. $1,100-1,600) at $350. I can name a dozen more if you like.

Still, when adding up the money earned by all 233 lots of wine, the TSVC, one of my favourite volunteer organizations in the city (I always make a point of mentioning this when I write about good volunteer groups), our beloved Toronto Symphony Orchestra should hopefully be well looked after for the next while. Coming up in 2012: Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony (no. 41) at 6:30 p.m. on 11 January; Roy Thomson Hall, of course.

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