Sotheby’s to auction the ‘most valuable wine collection to come to the market’

Bottles from Château Pétrus and La Tâche form just a fraction of the collection of Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen, expected to achieve $50m

One of the most important and valuable wine collections “ever to come to the market”, featuring bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1985 and Château Pétrus 1982, is to be sold with an estimated guide price of as much as $50 million.

The 25,000 bottles from the cellar of Taiwanese billionaire Pierre Chen, titled the Epicurean’s Atlas, will be sold by Sotheby’s at five dedicated sales around the world starting in Hong Kong this November.

Bottles on offer represent just a fraction of Chen’s collection, but nonetheless are “a defining moment for the market at a time when interest in, and demand for, wine is at an all-time high”, according to catalogue notes.

Sotheby’s has seen wine sales triple in the past decade, with sales rising from $58 million in 2013 to a record $158 million last year, supported by new bidders from the Asian market. Buyers from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Singapore now account for about 43 per cent of sales. What is interesting is the age profile of these buyers, with the auction house stating that some 60 per cent of new buyers in wine sales are now aged in their 30s and 40s.


It was assembled over 40 years by “epicurean and aesthete” Chen, whose cellar Sotheby’s describe as ranking among the greatest in the world. “This is a cellar in which every bottle has a story, and in which every wine is the best you could wish for and enjoy,” says Nick Pegna, global head of wine and spirits at Sotheby’s.

The collector, entrepreneur and philanthropist – who is ranked as Taiwan’s 10th richest person by Forbes, with an estimated fortune of more than $5 billion – chairs Yageo Corporation, an electronics component maker he established in 1977. He began collecting wines from Bordeaux in the 1970s, before expanding to other regions.

The five sales will take place over the next year, each focusing on different regions and types of wine. Starting this November with a sale in Hong Kong, sales are also planned for New York, London and Beaune in France, considered the wine capital of the Burgundy region. There will also be a sale in Paris, where Chen will soon embark on his first foray into the world of fine dining, as his new Le Restaurant Blanc, where wines will come from his personal collection, is expected to open shortly.

Chen also owns the regarded Grand Cru Musigny vineyard in Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits wine district. He describes wine as “the ninth art”, and the “only art form one can consume, using senses than other art forms don’t typically involve”.

The auction comes less than five years after the Taiwanese billionaire sold off about $15 million of wines through Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, where his daughter Jasmine worked in the art department.

These tipples that form what the auction house describes as the “most broad ranging, valuable cellar ever formed” will require deep pockets to acquire, as some bottles are expected to fetch up to $200,000/€191,000 apiece.

Highlights include two methuselahs, or six litre bottles, of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1985, estimated to sell for $120,000-$190,000 (€114,000-€181,000) each. The La Tâche appellation is widely recognised as producer of one of the world’s most brilliant wines, revered for longevity, quality and scarcity.

There’s also a 1999 vintage, with a higher estimate of $130,000 (€124,162), and a three litre 1971 jeroboam (or double magnum) of the same red burgundy ($140,000/€133,712).

Incidentally, a bottle of Romanée-Conti leads the list of the most expensive bottles of wine ever to have sold at auction. In 2018, a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grand Cru, 1945, sold for a world-record-setting $558,000 (€532,915) through Sotheby’s New York. Though this was a particularly rare wine, as only two, from the 600 bottles ever produced, were available at auction.

Expected to attain about €65,000 is an exceptionally rare methuselah of Chateau Petrus 1982 – widely considered one of the greatest of all Bordeaux wines and “having legendary status among collectors”, according to the auction house. Two magnums of Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1985 are expected to go for up to $32,000 (€30,5614) each, and six magnums of Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux Premier Cru 2001 produced by Henri Jayer, known as the “Godfather of Burgundy”, for up to $70,000 (€66,853) per bottle.

Irish art

A wine’s importance is often judged by three criteria: quality, rarity and provenance, much like the art world itself, and Chen also has quite the collection of artworks which he began collecting as a student. A number of his important works are on loan to the Tate Modern in London, forming the core of a big exhibition Capturing the Moment. The exhibition, featuring Picasso, Paul Rego, Jeff Wall and Andy Warhol is in collaboration between Chen’s Yageo Foundation, and runs at the Tate until the end of January 2024.

When asked to pick his favourite works in his art collection, the billionaire told Artnet news that the two that rank at the top are American painter Cy Twombly’s Untitled (Rome) 1971, and Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud by the Irish-born Francis Bacon.

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle

Elizabeth Birdthistle, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about property, fine arts, antiques and collectables