At Sotheby’s, Rare Whisky Is Taking Over the Auction Block

The auction house's 2020 Market Report shows exponential growth for spirits

all the bottles in The Macallan Red Collection, sold for a million plus dollars at Sotheby's
The Macallan Red Collection, which sold at Sotheby's for nearly a million dollars in 2020.

Pandemic be damned, spirits auctions had a record year in 2020. Leading the way? Wine and, increasingly, whisky.

According to the recently released 2020 Wine & Spirits Market Report by Sotheby’s, spirits now account for 19% of the auction house’s sale share across Auction and Retail. Four years ago, that figure was 1%.

Some other key findings:

  • Auction sales of The Macallan tallied 7% of all wine and spirits sales at $6.4 million
  • For one producer the numbers were better for wine: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti accounted for 20% of all wine and spirits sales at $19.4 million
  • The average bottle price for spirits at auction is now over 10x the value of the average bottle price for wine ($7,058 for spirits, $686 for wine)
  • There were a couple of world records in whisky last year: A bottle of Karuizawa 52 Year Old Zodiac Rat Cask 51.8 abv 1960 sold in London for $435,273, while bottles of The Dalmore: 62 Year Old The Mackenzie and The Cromarty 40.0 abv. NV, each sold in London for $324,445

In general, wine and spirits auctions are skewing younger: 75% of new buyers at Sotheby’s are under 50, 43% are under 40 and 12% aged under 30, with over a third of that money ($35 million) now coming in online sales. The number of online auctions also jumped from six to 20 last year; as well, over $60 million of wine and spirits were sold to online bidders in 2020 versus $28 million in 2019.


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