Reports 20 March 2020

Karuizawa becomes the most expensive Japanese whisky sold at auction

A 52-year-old bottle of Karuizawa fetched £363,000 at Sotheby’s on Wednesday

Words by Richard Woodard

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A bottle of 52-year-old Karuizawa has become the world’s most expensive Japanese whisky sold at auction, fetching £363,000 (US$435,273) at Sotheby’s in London.

Against what the auction house called ‘a backdrop of extraordinary circumstance’ with the coronavirus outbreak, more than half of winning bids were placed online during the Finest & Rarest Spirits sale on Wednesday, and bidders from 21 countries in Asia, Europe and North America took part in the twin wine and spirits sales.

The bottle of Karuizawa 52 Year Old Cask #5627 Zodiac Rat 1960 sold to an Asian private collector for roughly twice its pre-sale estimate (£160,000-220,000). One of only 41 bottles produced and identified by a netsuke or wooden carving taken from the cask in which it matured, it is the oldest bottling from the closed Japanese distillery.

Results from the two sales defied the mood of global fear and uncertainty, fetching a combined total of £3.7m

Results from the two sales defied the mood of global fear and uncertainty, fetching a combined total of £3.7m (US$4.4m), versus a pre-sale combined estimate of £2.8-3.8m (US$3.3-4.5m). More than 50% of wine lots and 45% of spirits lots beat their pre-sale high estimates.

Another whisky lot, The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection – comprising six crystal decanters of single malt aged for between 50 and 65 years – sold for £423,500 (US$507,819). Meanwhile, The Macallan Lalique Genesis Decanter 72 Year Old – the oldest whisky yet bottled by the Speyside distillery – fetched £84,700 (US$101,564), well above its 2018 release price of US$60,000.

The top wine lots were 12- and 11-bottle cases of Château Cheval Blanc 1947, considered by many the finest Cheval Blanc of the 20th century, which sold for £242,000 (US$290,182) and £229,900 (US$275,673) respectively.

Château Cheval Blanc 1947
Château Cheval Blanc 1947
The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection
The Macallan in Lalique Six Pillars Collection

‘Against a backdrop of extraordinary circumstance, the persistence and commitment of collectors came through in [these] sales, where a bottle of Japanese whisky became the most valuable ever sold, accompanied by strong prices for Scotch whisky,’ said Jamie Ritchie, worldwide head of Sotheby’s Wine.

‘Collectors also continue to compete for the world’s greatest wines, and when there is an opportunity to acquire the very best the market has to offer, as with the two cases of the legendary Cheval Blanc 1947, they are willing to stretch to the highest level.’

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