A HALLOWEEN treat for wine lovers -- and a long-overdue first for Washington -- Christie's has announced its second wine auction in America will be held at the Madison Hotel on Oct. 31. The first was in Chicago in April. Legal wrangles continue to block an auction in New York and Christie's has again looked elsewhere for a venue for its biannual sales.
Now that Washington has been confirmed, preparations for the auction are moving ahead rapidly. David Shiverick, of Christie's New York wine department, was in town a couple of weeks ago to check the condition of wines that have been offered for sale from Washington's private cellars. It was thumbs down for a fleurie from the early '50s, ("the wine died long ago and it's not a collectors item"), but he did accept a '52 chablis permier cru from the same Georgetown cellar.
All the wines for auction have been collected from private cellars around the country and are being stored in the Christie's temperature-controlled warehouse in New York. And there they'll stay. There's no pre-auction tasting and it is thought that the only wines on display will be from the 50 outsize bordeaux bottles on offer. These date from 1919 on.
Jacqueline Quillen, Christie's wine specialist in New York, says there'll be over 500 lots for sale. Leaning heavily toward bordeaux, with large selections of classed growths from the '59, '61 and '66 vintages, there will also be a collection of burgundies and special bottlings of the Stag's Leap Wine Cellars cabernet sauvignon, from the Napa Valley. The oldest wine will be an 1806 Lafite, a somewhat controversial item in American auctions. One of three remaining bottles in the world, this one has never been on auction before.
The catalogue will be available by the end of September, from both the New York and Washington offices. At $5, or $6 by mail, it is fairly priced and should make palate-tickling reading for the armchair wine collector. The auction is open to the public, and details on how to participate will be in the catalogue, or can be obtained from Christie's.
A weekend of wine enjoyment is being planned. The Madison Hotel is offering a special weekend rate for out-of-towners and has mailed 20,000 letters and registration forms through Christie's world-wide mailing list. The weekend starts with a seminar and tasting on Friday, Oct. 30, from 5 to 7 p.m. Here, the major attraction will be Michael Broadbent, director of Christie's London wine department. With places available for a maximum of 250 participants, the hotel's special weekend guests will have priority, and thereafter it's first-come, first-served, said a public relations spokesman.
Washington area residents can have a head start by sending their checks right away, even though they won't receive confirmation of their booking until mid-October. (Send $25 to the Madison, payable to "Madison -- Wine Seminar," and a card with your name, address and phone number.)
The auction itself is divided into morning and afternoon sessions, with Broadbent holding the gavel. Christie's expects sales to bring in more than $350,000.
Unlike the New York retail trade, Washington merchants are pleased with the news. Said one, "The auction will bring wine lovers into the city. They won't all buy at the auction. Many will visit our stores to see what we have." And given Washington's deserved reputation for being one of the nation's best wine markets, few will be disappointed.
However, some nervousness is being felt about the notorious American auction fever. Will it strike Washington? Will buyers from states without access to fine wines force prices higher than the local value?
With this first opportunity for Washingtonians to take part in a wine auction on home ground, there must be a few who will be hoping for the excitement of a record-breaking bid for a very rare wine. But for most, there will be some anxious moments as they watch the bidding for those wines that can be found on our own shelves from time to time. If those prices are stable and the auction merely functions as a useful place for the exchange of wines from one private cellar to another, then auctions will have come of age in the United States and we can look forward to holding them regularly in our city.