Whether you’re after a birth year wine to celebrate an occasion, a great value, or a rare, unicorn wine that you’ve been dying to try, wine auctions both online and in person have traditionally been the best source for snagging gems. But buying wine on the auction circuit is no easy task. Tricky verbiage, surcharges, and a less-than-friendly return policy make this one of the least consumer friendly spaces and can lead to disaster if you don’t know what you’re doing. As the Wine Director at PRESS Restaurant in Napa Valley, I am constantly on the hunt for hard-to-find wines for our list and have compiled a few helpful hints for assessing bottles and deals prior to placing your bid.
Online or in person? If it’s your first time buying wine at an auction, I highly recommend doing it in the comfort of your own home. In-person wine auctions like Sotheby’s and Bonham’s are incredibly exciting to go to, but they can also be a little intimidating and can lead to stress-bidding, competition between your neighbor, and leaving with a way more expensive bottle than you had intended. Sites like KL Wines and WineBid make it very easy for you to get your feet wet and keep you away from that fast talking auctioneer.
Assessing the bottle ahead of time is really the key to mitigating losses. You’ll want to note the two most important factors:
Provenance: Where the bottle came from and how it was stored
Quality of the Bottle: Fill levels, cork quality, etc.
Last but not least, remember, most auctions have what is called a “Buyer’s Premium.” This is an additional percentage (generally between 15%-20%) tacked on to the winning bid and paid for by YOU, the buyer. Always consider the ENTIRE price of the wine including the premium, tax, and shipping charges when calculating how high you want to bid.