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Food & Dining // Vino Sense
Roberto Viernes

A Few Tips For Online Wine Auctions

If you cannot find a particular wine you are looking for locally, chances are you have to go online or look for it at auction. This is especially true for more mature wines and wines that are collectables. Buying wine at auction can be tricky and daunting. Here are some tips and strategies to help you feel more comfortable before diving in.

1) Know what you are bidding on. There is much more to know than simply the producers and the quality of the vintages. Any auction that you participate in should have a description of the wine including any bottle conditions that you should be aware of. You should familiarize yourself with all the different abbreviations commonly used so you are not surprised at any of the conditions of the bottles when you receive them. The pictures in the catalogues are often of highly valued items up for auction, but the pictures are certainly not exhaustive. Some online auctions do not have photos at all. If you are early enough prior to the start or end of the auction, you can request photos of the items you are going to bid on. Most auction houses are happy to send them to you via email.

You should also learn as much as you can about the provenance of the wine. Who owned them is somewhat a matter of privacy, but knowing how they were stored and how they were obtained is critical. Counterfeit wines are a major concern so verifying sources is essential. Asking any questions you have about the wines should be welcomed by any reputable auctioneer and essential for the bidder before plunking down any money.

2) Know the Market Value and what you want to spend. Unless you are swimming in more money than you know what to do with, you probably do not like to overspend or get ripped off. Do some research to know what the market value of the wine you are bidding for. There are multiple websites that track not only retail prices for wines but also auction market values on wines that are commonly sold at auction. You should use this information to form an idea of how much you want to spend on the wine. As a rule, do NOT over-spend. Are there occasions when you get into a bidding war with someone or you just have to have something because it is an anniversary wine? Perhaps, but if you have done your research and found out how much others are selling the wine for, chances are that the wine is still available. Do not let your emotions get the best of you. Set a budget for each wine or lot and stick to it.

3) Be aware of associated costs. Bidding is a lot of fun, especially when you win something at the price or below what you wanted to spend. But do not forget about associated costs such as the Buyer’s Premium. This is a percentage of the hammer price (price that you bid) which ranges anywhere from 18 to 21 percent. This goes to the auction house for its services. There is also the commensurate shipping that you should take into consideration. I would recommend shipping everything overnight (and only during colder months), which is not cheap but anything slower opens the opportunity for the wines to get cooked. It will not make sense to try to save a few dollars only to have the larger investment get destroyed or diminished in transit.

4) Caveat Emptor. There is a lengthy legal explanation for this at the back of every auction catalogue. But all auctions are “buyer beware,” which basically means that the bidder is responsible for the wine once they bid on it. It also means that the auction house is not responsible for the quality of the wine you buy. If it is corked/cooked/tainted in some way, the house is not liable. Unless the wine is proven to be counterfeit (which is very difficult as even experts can be fooled) it is yours. Conversely, even if the wine comes from the best source and looks perfect, the wine inside could still be a flop.

With a little research and due diligence you will have more fun at auction. May you have the winning bid and may all the wine you buy be sound.

Recommendations: 2010 Roumier Chambolle Musigny ‘Les Cras’ ($165) Roumier proves that he is one of the best with this gorgeous 1er Cru. This wine sings with clarity of fruit and terroir, and has loads of class and sex appeal.

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