Going Once, Going Twice….SOLD!

23 May

Have you bought wine at auction? I have. An exciting, energetic process, the thrill of bidding against others for items in demand can be invigorating. I’ve bought many things at auction over the years. Perhaps the best was a set of ten Biedermeier dining room chairs. That success was a keen eye paired with luck. The worst item I’ve won at auction was a time-share family vacation. It was a promising win that soured on us when it expired before we could take it. In the middle of those extremes are all kinds of things, from Yankees tickets to vintage microphones to, you guessed it, wine.

Purchasing wine at auction has highs and lows of its own, and I’ve been on both sides of that bottle as well.

When buying wine at auction, you MUST know you have a chance of buying wine that’s bad. Corks go, bottle seep, and while they may proclaim “removed from professional storage,” that doesn’t mean the bottles were always cared for, that cellars didn’t have problems, that a collector didn’t leave a case in the sun just for a few hours. The wine can’t tell you its history even when it’s in your mouth. We can only guess at the truth.

When looking at auction lots, though, it is easy to get excited in the bidding process. There are classic vintages of top Chateaux, very rare finds, multiple bottles, mixed lots, unusual sizes…the chance to get a great deal on something missed by the others.

Wine auction buyers seem to forget what they stand to lose and focus on the positive. I think you have to focus on the positive to actually buy at auction, as reluctant buyers can get lost in the sea of paddles. But a savvy shopper realizes there will be some quantity of merchandise lost or discarded in a lot. For example, the differences in shoulder level alone in the pictures here demonstrate that the bottles will have differences. If that much air or seepage occurred in storage, how has it affected the product within?

Not until the bottle is received and opened do you have any idea how you fare with an auction purchase. Unlike the ’07 Bordeaux I recently reviewed , a corked auction wine is NOT going to be a $12 wasted investment and easy to forgive. I have experienced extreme highs, amazing Chateaux, Sauternes and Burgundies from auction, as well as some real disasters.

I have watched as the cost of auction wines have skyrocketed as the Asian wine markets do battle with the North American and European buyers. Many auctions are now based in Hong Kong or “Internet Only,” in addition to the classic Sotheby’s and Christie’s Fine Wine Auctions across the globe.

The latest trend has been interesting to watch as buyers have passed on expensive lots en masse. Lots that start in the tens of thousands of dollars go without a single bid, and the auction house sends out an e-mail the following morning, offering the lot at a reduced reserve price.  Some are snatched up, some ignored and back to the cave, and others quietly sold to buyers at a later date.

Has the vintage market reached its zenith? I’d like to think so, but as new collectors increase their wealth and older collectors find wines they loved and want to experience again, possibly not. Limited vintages will always be desirable. Too, there are only so many bottles of the 1982 Mouton Rothschild, although the recent discovery of high level wine forging has brought a new focus on qualifying lots and soured some collectors on ‘holy grail’ wines that are too good to be true.

Are there plenty of new wines within reach? Yes, but new wines that can be drunk young may be something entirely different after maturation, and a bottle bought at auction may be perfect right now. New wines are more promising each year, with new terroir and wines from all across the world competing with historic powerhouses. The only thing they lack is age.  The extraordinary 2009 and 2010 seasons have demonstrated another huge push in wine prices from classic chateaux. But after experiencing fewer purchases of expensive wine futures, some vineyards are promising a reduction in wines starting 2011.

Auctions offer the wine lover some rare opportunities, but the path can be littered with potholes. If you bid, be a savvy shopper and be prepared for some loss in every lot. I have a great story about this… but I’ll save it for another time.

Á votre santé!

http://www.christies.com/wine/

http://www.sothebys.com/en/departments/wine/overview.html

http://auction.morrellwineauctions.net/

Bottle photo credits from Morrel Wine Auctions: wines I bid on…and lost.

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One Response to “Going Once, Going Twice….SOLD!”

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  1. Wine Fraud/WineRant: When Drinking What You Like Is Impossible | jvb uncorked - May 15, 2017

    […] for me, and now makes my blood boil when I see an advertisement from this house. I can recall blogging about how much I was enjoying auctions five years ago…exactly six months before I opened my cooked bottles from […]

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