I have known you for a long time now, and I should make it clear: you are a real friend! You have held several roles in the colourful world of wine, becoming the only wine auctioneer in Italy. Tell us about your transformation.
I have been in the world of wine since I was born, thanks to the family wineries in the Marche and Tuscany, who have introduced me to – and made me fall in love with – the field of oenogastronomy, to the point that it’s become the fulcrum of my entire life.I felt a bit like Obelix, having been dragged by my feet and dunked in the magic potion cauldron, and since then it’s been my greatest strength and biggest weakness. I have known and lived it in all its nuances, starting off as a producer, also managing foreign trade and public relations for over 15 years. An adjective to describe it? One is not enough. At least three are needed: wonderful, compelling, complex.
Since my family sold the Wineries, I’ve become a wine communicator, but I’m struggling to come up with a label for myself: I don’t feel like a journalist, or a blogger, let alone an influencer, wine-maker or food and wine critic, but I’m actually a mix of all that. Basically, I’m really happy. And that’s because communicating about wine and everything around it is the part I like and always wanted to do.
In parallel, I take care of a variety of projects that always revolve around oenogastronomy. In particular, I deal in collectible and rare wines for the Roman Auction House Ansuini. It’s a very interesting job because it allows you to get in touch with a special and entertaining wine industry where producers and wines have made history, or have become a legend, a dream, an exclusive item, sometimes even bona fide collection pieces.
How and why did you decide to dedicate yourself to auctioning precious and rare wines? What sparked the idea? Has anyone influenced your choice?
All the credit for my entry into the world of fine and rare wines goes to Andrea Ansuini, owner of “Ansuini Aste 1860”, one of the oldest and most prestigious luxury companies, and one of the very few in Italy involved in Wine and distillates. He’s the one who sought me out and trusted me with this job.
How many types of wine auctions are there today? How do they differ?
There are actually several types of auction, since the Expert, in the act of compiling the Catalogue for that specific auction, can decide to focus on a particular sector (e.g. wines only, no distillates), on certain products (such as Collection Only formats, or limited editions), on special vintages (only pre-1990 vintages, for example), on a single manufacturer and so on.
What are the characteristics of the auctions you organize periodically? Is it true that you can easily participate online? Do you still get those austere characters who, without apparent emotion, raise the palette to relaunch the offer?
The auctions we organize are set up in such a way as to make purchasers’ participation as simple as possible. In addition to being physically present in the House, you can also bid by mail, by phone or online, from all over the world, because auction houses also have special facilities to ship to any country, which is usually unthinkable for a private citizen. I have to admit, however, that seeing a customer raise the bid gives me a special satisfaction. And once more I’d like to thank Andrea Ansuini for allowing me to become an auctioneer, which is a very hard job to reconcile with my usual position as an expert, and as a result I’m now one of the very few female Wine Auctioneers in the world.
What are the types of wine that show up at auctions and which wines are most sought after by collectors? Which types of wine fetch the highest prices?
Some well-defined types of wine that are auction mainstays have a great market. There are, of course, a number of producers who have over time become a true qualitative point of reference for their area, denomination or typology, which have maintained credibility and consistency, increasing their market value over the years and whose bottles have become real cult items and targets for investment. Some Italian examples? From “Barolo Monfortino di Giacomo Conterno”, to “Brunello di Montalcino Biondi Santi”, from the Supertuscans “Masseto” to “Sassicaia” and “Ornellaia”, from the Amanone “Dal Forno” to “Quintarelli” ,to name a few. French wines have reached the highest prices for some of their products such as Romenée Conti or Henry Jayer or their five Premier Cru cruises including Chateaux Lafitte Rothschild, Chateau latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Mouton Rothschild , without forgetting the Petrus which, although not classified, remains at very high values. Great attention is especially paid to the vintages, because the values of great wines oscillate considerably depending on the vintages. Special sizes are also highly prized, as are limited edition products. Distillates shouldn’t be underestimated either, as Whiskeys are particularly sought after and sometimes reach interesting figures. They also have the advantage of not aging in the bottle like wine, which gives them more longevity in general.
Who are your selling and buying customers? I’m not asking for names, just some general features of both categories.
Customers who sell can be of various types: the main ones are wine shops or restaurants that, for some reason, need to lighten or dispose of their cellar: these almost always have the best kept products. Another typical profile is the collector, or more often their heirs, who decide to give away the whole collection at times. Again, in this case, such wines are the object of almost maniacal attention. Not only that, there are professionals who have received a lot of bottles over the years but dare not open them, opting instead to sell them, or they simply want to clear up some space, perhaps for a home change or family extension. Reasons can be many, sometimes even just the curiosity of seeing how much your product will fetch at the auction. Also in attendance are the wineries themselves, often aiming to affirm their presence in a prestigious context, obviously with older vintages or special sizes: I must say that these are among my favourites, because they obviously guarantee the optimal preservation of the auctioned products.
Those who buy are more or less the same as the sellers, but with completely opposite needs. We therefore have wine shop owners and restaurateurs, as well as collectors and great enthusiasts. There are also many traders who buy and resell, since auctions often offer the opportunity to make great deals, and the private individuals who approach auctions are still few.
Do fine wines have a future? Do you think they can be considered a safe investment?
There are products, such as those mentioned above, which certainly represent a form of investment. Many collectors buy them for this very reason. I would say that they have a great future, especially if they can be linked to big vintages. In order to choose an investment wine, it is necessary to give priority to the typology, to the producer, to its market positioning over the years, to the vintage, to the bottle conservation status at the time of purchase and to the originality of capsules and labels. Having said that, even if you’ve chosen the best possible investment, it must always be borne in mind that wine is still a perishable good and needs care and attention to ensure optimal conservation.
Is it true that auctions are frequented by sheikhs and Russian and Chinese billionaires? What was your highest bid, what wine did you sell and who was the buyer?
Auctions are frequented by anyone, because having the opportunity to participate online from all over the world and in complete anonymity, anything goes. Obviously, the most prestigious bottles are bought by very wealthy people, but they are not always sheikhs, Russians or Chinese, by any means. Our Auction House, being the only one in Rome, has a large audience of Italian buyers. One of the finest bottles I ever sold was awarded to a Roman collector.
Where does Italian wine rank on the international market in terms of intrinsic value? Bluntly speaking: will we ever be able to fill the gap in average bottle value with French wines?
I must admit that the gap in average value between Italian and French wines is still very high. Between the French and the rest of the world, in fact. Our next door neighbours can count on a series of labels that rack up figures above thousands of euros for 750 ml bottles: levels that are unreachable for other wines. We Italians are next in ranking, and truth be told we’re making great strides. There are several of our wines that are able to maintain important values and have grown a lot in recent years, such as Masseto for example. There are also producers who, thanks to special sizes and limited editions, have been able to raise the value of Italian wines, such as Ornellaia with its “Artistic Harvests”.
Tell us a curious anecdote about running your auction. Or even some curious customers or a kind of wine you did not think you could ever sell and instead …
During the auctions it’s always fun. You never know what can happen and it is difficult to predict how much a wine will be sold for. I once had a piece I’d been dragging behind me for several auctions, being unable to sell it no matter what. Its value kept falling to the point where I considered it a lost cause . All of a sudden, during an auction the participants literally fought over it and its value rose to the stars, recovering and far exceeding its initial value. The thing surprised me and gave me a lot of satisfaction, though it’s been known that sometimes a lower starting value item will attract more customers: and at that point, when the challenge starts, all rules are thrown out of the window!
I guess you’re always guarantor of the privacy of both sellers and buyers …
Yes, privacy is very important and 100% protected. The seller is always anonymous unless they choose to reveal themselves, and the same applies to the buyer. The two subjects also never meet, and none of them ever knows the identity of the other.
What important wine did you see pass by, for an auction, and felt like biting your nails because you wanted it for yourself?
I really want to bring home most of the wines that pass by the auction because they are all amazing, but the one who really put my nails to the test was a 1985 Henry Jayer Richebourg Gran Cru! But for me, a great wine lover, especially of old vintages, I must say that directing a wine auction – precious and rare, to boot – is always a temptation!
Thanks so much Chiara and have a nice job with great wines!
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