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“A new era for fine wine and spirits”: interview with Lionel Cuenca, co-founder at iDealwine

No one has their fingers on the pulse of the fine wine industry quite like iDealwine. With offices in Paris, Bordeaux, Beaune, Hong Kong, and Singapore, it has become the website of choice for connoisseurs seeking to buy wine at auction. Founded in 2000 by Cyrille Jomand, Angélique de Lencquesaing and Lionel Cuenca, three wine enthusiasts who, perhaps unsurprisingly, met at the Paris Stock Exchange, also known as Euronext. It’s very much a fine wine destination for collectors and enthusiasts who are trying to find ‘unfindable’ wines. With twenty plus years of online auctions under their belt, iDealwine partners with producers (over 900 of them) and acquires private collections to offer a curated fixed-price selection in recent and mature vintages to their auction clients. Speaking with Lionel Cuenca, we dove straight into this year’s auction records and emerging trends in the world of fine wine and spirits. 

How would you describe the fine wine market in 2023?

2023 was not an easy year in fine wine: prices fell across the board, with some regions and names hit harder than others. The first tremors in the market appeared in the last months of 2022, but it wasn’t until early 2023 that there was a true shift in prices. The “Big Eight” wines from icon winemakers were all affected: Leroy, Auvenay, Rousseau, Roumier, Bizot, Lachaux, Rayas and Grange des Pères. Let’s take a concrete example: Musigny from Domaine Leroy, star of the auction world. In 2022, a bottle of the 2006 vintage went under the for €34,100.  The year before, the same wine in the same vintage was sold for €28,240. In 2023, the 2011 vintage of this cult wine was auctioned at €22,444. The same was observed at in DRC’s Romanée-Conti 2015 which was sold for €31,620 in 2022, while last year the same wine sold for €22,911, a drop of 27.5%.

“A new era for fine wine and spirits”: interview with Lionel Cuenca, co-founder at iDealwine on auction market in 2023 and 2024.
Ph. iDealwine

Why have prices fallen?

2023’s price drop can be explained by the current macroeconomic climate and global geopolitical situation. The fine wine market has been negatively impacted because of three factors: inflation, which is mainly responsible for the drop in wine purchases; interest rates, which are constantly rising and are pushing collectors to look to return to more traditional forms of investment; and finally, the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro. In this totally uncertain context, wine connoisseurs tend to be more price sensitive when bidding. 

What’s the outlook for the first quarter of 2024 for the fine wine market?

The fine wine market is stabilising, or I might even go as far to say that it is self-correcting. The record-breaking bids of 2021 and 2022 are a thing of the past. We won’t see the likes of those prices for several years to come, that is for sure. However, this is not to say that collectors and enthusiasts have stopped in their search for the world’s most coveted wines, far from it! They are simply more price sensitive and a little hesitant when it comes to bidding on rare ‘unicorn’ wines with corresponding prices. It’s also important to note that lower prices for the Big Eight do not reflect the entire fine wine market. Prices skyrocketed in the first half of 2022 prices have largely returned to pre-pandemic levels (which is still high!). On the whole, private collectors and enthusiasts’ preferences haven’t changed – they’re still looking for the same regions, the same high-quality producers and the same vintages. The biggest change came from trade customers who are naturally more price sensitive. 

“A new era for fine wine and spirits”: interview with Lionel Cuenca, co-founder at iDealwine on auction market in 2023 and 2024.
Ph. iDealwine

Can the same be said for the spirits auction market?

The market for fine spirits, just like that for fine wines, came to a standstill during 2023. Again, the uncertain macroeconomic climate resulted in collectors paying close attention to fluctuating prices. Despite this, we sold 10% more spirits in 2023 than in 2022 (volume), and there were many very happy whisky lovers who snapped up very rare bottles at reasonable prices. At the highest level however, the ultra-rare whiskies from Macallan, Springbank and Dalmore continued to break records, the only category that performed so well in 2023. Very niche high-end spirits emerged as a trend in 2022, which the likes of Caroni and Demerara rums bottled by Velier doing very well at auction. A passing trend in the end as it did not continue into 2023, the vast majority of hammer prices for spirits were for premium and super-premium whiskies.

“A new era for fine wine and spirits”: interview with Lionel Cuenca, co-founder at iDealwine on auction market in 2023 and 2024.
Ph. iDealwine

What’s new with iDealwine’s partner wineries? 

In addition to our weekly rolling auctions, iDealwine works with an array of incredible partner wineries. Naturally, their wines are sold at fixed prices rather than at auction. We are lucky to have great relationships with wine producers all over France and scattered throughout the world too. Our network is a careful curation by our experienced buying team who travel the length and breadth of France (and Italy and further afield!). The wines we offer at fixed price are like the “stars” of tomorrow, hidden gems and more established multi-generational vineyards doing great work to produce top quality wine. We are so proud of our growing network and our ability to bring exciting names to wine enthusiasts all over the world.

Back to spirits, tell me more about FSA. First, what exactly is it? 

We sell wine at auction on iDealwine, and at FSA or Fine Spirits Auction, we do exactly what it says on the tin – FSA is an online platform specialising in the auction of fine spirits and liqueurs. It was founded in 2020 in partnership with French spirits retailer La Maison du Whisky (LMDW). It really brings together two complementary areas expertise – iDealwine’s in the auctions space and LMDW in their knowledge of fine spirits. A true partnership by two industry leaders, it’s thriving!

“A new era for fine wine and spirits”: interview with Lionel Cuenca, co-founder at iDealwine on auction market in 2023 and 2024.
Ph. iDealwine

Apart from the Grands Crus of Burgundy and Bordeaux’s First Growths, what is sought-after at auction? 

Let’s get into the nitty-gritty! Rare vintage champagne has always been highly prized, and nothing has changed there. Cool climate, organic and natural, super-niche wineries by famous winemakers might be more unexpected to the uninitiated, they tend to be in the Loire, Jura, and Savoie. Less of a surprise is the success of Italian fine wine at auction, coveted by wine lovers all over the world. If we look at an auction catalogue of non-French wine from, 61% is Italian (compared to 39% the previous year). We are still analysing the figures for 2023 but given the success of Italian fine wines in our recent auctions, I am confident that Italy has also set some nice records in the past 12 months. 

Without a doubt, the most significant trend we have observed in the past year of auctions is that there is a growing appetite for Vin de France wines. It’s becoming more and more accepted in the French wine scene to leave the structure and tradition of the regional appellation system, and to classify part or all production as Vin de France.  There is a new wave of winegrowers moving away from the restrictions imposed by the appellations in order to produce wines in a more environmentally friendly way and using natural winemaking methods. It seems to be both what the winemaker wants and what the customer wants.  

At auction, it is in the same niche regions (Jura, Savoie and Loire) that are most successfully sold as Vin de France. Examples include Richard Leroy, Bernaudeau, François Chidaine, and Dagueneau for the Loire ; Domaines des Murmures, Domaine des Miroirs, Labet for the Jura ; and Jean-Yves Péron for Savoy. In our opinion, this is a trend that we will see more and more in the coming years. 

The outlook for 2024: what’s ahead of us at auction for fine wine and spirits? 

I remain rather optimistic.  Last year, we saw prices self-correct and a return to ‘normal’ for certain elusive wines. Barring the few names that do attract some speculation at auction (generally quite isolated cases), it is certainly a healthier perspective in the fine wine world for the prices of certain wines. In this beginning of 2024, we are back to a ‘healthier’ trend, characterised by more reasonable prices.

Ph. iDealwine