Sotheby’s recently announced it will sell what it hopes will be the most valuable wine collection ever to come to the auction market, encompassing 25,000 bottles from the private collection of Taiwanese businessman and art collector Pierre Chen. Though only a portion of Chen’s collection, the bottles hold an estimated top value of $50 million, according to Sotheby’s.
“To me, wine is the ninth art,” said Chen, the founder of the Taipei-based electronic component manufacturer Yageo Corp., in a statement. “It is the only art form one can consume, using senses that other art forms don’t typically involve, such as one’s taste and smell, and it requires creativity on the part of the owner.”
To maximize value, Sotheby’s is selling the collection—which Chen assembled over roughly four decades—in five sales spread across Asia, Europe and North America, each with a particular focus; these sales are known collectively as “The Epicurean’s Atlas,” a testament to Chen’s culinary passions. The first auction, subtitled “The Encyclopedic Cellar,” will be at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Hong Kong from Nov. 24–25.
Events for the auction begin Nov. 23, and special wine-and-food tastings will accompany it at several restaurants, including Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner 8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana. Sotheby’s will also host accompanying panel discussions with wine industry leaders. Following the Hong Kong auction, the next sales will take place in 2024: in Beaune (“Live in the Vines”) and Paris (“The Ultimate Champagnes”) in July, then New York (“Around the Globe”) in September and in Hong Kong for a second time (“The Zenith”) in November. A Sotheby’s sale in London will also feature some Chen wines, along with some from other consignors.
“Throughout my career in the wine trade, I have never seen such a comprehensive collection of all the highest reference points in fine wine,” Sotheby’s global head of wine and spirits Nick Pegna told Wine Spectator. “From the key vintages of the 20th century, including in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s, to every estate a collector might wish for, this is the ultimate cellar to come to the salesroom.” The current known high total for a private cellar auction is the 2016 sale of 20,000 bottles from Florida billionaire and energy executive Bill Koch, which brought in $21.8 billion. Of course, that was in one sale, not five.
Chen’s collection is, indeed, packed with rare and highly collectible gems made by leading wineries. Just a few of the standout wines from the auction include six magnums of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 2001 (auction estimate $50,000 to $70,000 each), a magnum of Château Latour Pauillac 1961 ($12,000–$16,000), a 6-liter imperial of Pétrus Pomerol 1982 ($45,000–$65,000) and three magnums of Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 1971 ($6,000–$8,000 each).
Burgundy lovers should also keep an eye out for multiple vintages of Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti La Tâche in several bottle sizes, Domaine Leroy Musigny 1991 and two vintages of Armand Rousseau’s Chambertin. “Burgundy, no matter red, white or aged, matches perfectly with seafood,” said Chen. “I personally find that mature red Burgundy is a great choice for grilled or tempura seafood.”
That’s not to mention choice white Burgundies from the likes of Domaine d’Auvenay. Bordeaux lovers can look to lots such as two magnums of the famed Château Lafite Rothschild 1959; and beyond Salon, Champagne is represented by acclaimed names like Krug and Dom Pérignon.
This auction comes at a time when, according to Sotheby’s figures, the wine auctions market is at a record high, reaching $158 million in sales in 2022 (a 20 percent increase over the previous year). Sotheby’s attributes this growth both to an influx of younger buyers, as well as the growing bidding pool in Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and China. Rival auction house Acker will hold its first auction in Singapore this month.
But who is the man at the center of the cellar? Chen is the chairman and CEO of Yageo Corporation, the electronics component manufacturer he founded in Tapei in the 1970s. An engineer, he is one of the wealthiest people in Taiwan, as well as a devoted lover of food, cooking and wine.
He’s also a leading collector of art, having purchased his first piece in 1976 (works from his collection appear in well-known museums like London’s Tate Modern). This was about the same time be started collecting wine, beginning with Bordeaux and moving on to Burgundy. Chen also has been a Burgundy vintner since 2015, when he purchased a parcel of the Musigny grand cru, which Domaine Faiveley managing director Erwan Faiveley oversees and makes wine from. (“The Epicurean’s Atlas” includes five vintages of Faiveley’s Musigny bottling as lots, beginning with 2015.)
Pairing wine and food is also, in itself, a passion for Chen. This is set to be a focus at his upcoming Paris restaurant, Le Restaurant Blanc, where he will be providing the cellar and leading the wine program as chief sommelier. “The combination of wine, food and company at any one moment makes each encounter totally unique,” said Chen. “But every memory of every encounter brings a smile to my face. I suppose that is the magic of wine to me: the power to relive moments through a single sip.”
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