El Bulli restaurant, Spain
Legendary: The now-closed elBulli restaurant in Spain. Photo: Supplied

Seventy-one bottles of Australian wine from the now-closed Spanish restaurant elBulli have fetched just under $17,000 in Hong Kong at the first of two Sotheby's auctions of the legendary restaurant's wine cellar.

The highest bid for Australian wine at the first auction, held this month in Hong Kong, was for 10 bottles of Penfolds Grange 1996, six of which were signed by elBulli co-owners Ferran Adria and Juli Soler. The set sold for close to HK$44,100 ($5530 or an average of $550 per bottle).

The second part of the auction will be held in New York today.

Spanish chef Ferran Adria gives a press conference at Madrid Fusion, the annual international culinary conference focussing on the cutting-edge in haute cuisine gastronomic fair, on January 26, 2010 in Madrid.
Raising funds for his elBulli Foundation: chef Ferran Adria. Photo: AFP

A set of six bottles of Penfolds Grange 1998 signed by Adria and Soler sold for HK$41,650 (more than $5200, or about $870 a bottle) – two-and-a-half times the pre-sale estimate.

Wine writer and industry consultant Peter Bourne said the bidders who took home bottles of Penfolds Grange would be very pleased.

"We've just seen both the 1996 and 1998 Grange being sold for basically current release prices. Particularly the 1996 went for cheaper than the 2008 vintage, which is just hitting the market now at $700 a bottle," he said.

"A very good buy. Both 1996 and 1998 are strong vintages in the Grange."

The Age wine critic and writer, Ralph Kyte-Powell, said great wines were frequently sold for bargain prices at auction.

"Unfortunately most Grange won't ever be opened and consumed - it's a speculative commodity market," he said.

"These price results for two of the great vintages confirm that auction is the best place to buy Grange these days."

The elBulli restaurant in Spain maintained its three-Michelin-star rating for more than a decade and topped the British Restaurant Magazine list of the world's 50 best restaurants five times. Famous for its elaborate 30-course meals, it closed in 2011.

Sold in seven lots, the Australian wines in the collection included 70 reds by Penfolds, Henschke, Clarendon Hills, Torbreck, Petaluma, Dalwhinnie, Cullen and Yering Station, and one chardonnay by Lake's Folly.

"A lot of the Australian wines were the iconic and well-known labels, but I was interested to see labels I consider to be somewhat cult wines, like Torbreck or Yering Station and Dalwhinnie – wines not necessarily recognised in the iconic or everyday area," Bourne said.

"The sommelier had obviously dug deeply rather than just gone for the big names to gloss up the list, and you see that with other wines, including the European wines. It wasn't just a tick-the-box list."

Part one of the auction raised $HK14.1 million, exceeding the pre-sale estimate of $HK9.2 million.

An exclusive dinner for four with world-famous elBulli chef Ferran Adria at his brother Albert Adria's Barcelona restaurant, Tickets la Vida Tapa, was sold for $HK220,500 to an unnamed online bidder.

When the legendary elBulli closed, a degustation menu cost more than $300 a person.

All 445 wine lots were sold in the auction, with the highest bid going to a set of three bottles of Romanee Conti 1990 that sold for HK$563,500, exceeding the pre-sale estimate of HK$380,000.

A chef's jacket signed by Ferran Adria was sold for HK$11,025.

At the second phase of the auction, in New York, more than 8800 wine bottles will go under the hammer.

Bourne says the wines to watch include Vega Sicilia Unico 1989 (pre-sale estimate $US3000-$US4000), which he describes as "Spain's most revered red", and the Krug Collection 1985 (pre-sale estimate $US2000-$US3000) of "the perfect champagne".

All money raised will go to the elBulli Foundation, a project that aims to transform the restaurant into a not-for-profit experimental think-tank exploring culinary innovations.