08:30 17 June 2022
Nick Cooper, newly appointed wine expert at Keys Fine Art Auctioneers, explains why the auction room can be a great place to find something unique to put in your glass.
Supermarkets have done an excellent job of democratizing wine: educating us, introducing us to new grape varieties, new regions and new countries, and generally expanding our knowledge of wine. Meanwhile, independent wine merchants, who tend to know their customers better – and whose customers tend to be savvier and more open to new ideas – do a good job of helping wine lovers experiment, cajole us and generally lead us to new avenues of wine. pleasure.
But if you’re looking for something completely different, a rare bottle that can’t be found on a retailer’s shelves, or just a fully ripened vintage from a leading producer, one place to find it is in the auction room.
I’m not talking about the rarefied London auction houses where collectible bottles change hands for six-figure sums, but about those select regional auction houses that have specialist wine experts and where there are more bargains and oddities to find.
The real benefit of buying wine this way is the rarity value: you’ll find bottles in the auction room that are just too unique (in every way) to even make it onto a retailer’s list.
It is also at auction that the true value of the wine is determined. Those of us who work in the world of wine auctions have access to information on current auction prices, and just as importantly, prices paid in trade, and so we are able to offer realistic valuations to sellers, and good indicative pre-sale prices for buyers. Although ultimately it is the bidders themselves who set the actual market price.
And you might be surprised how much these prices can move. I know a wine lover who bought six bottles of Clos Vougeot 1999 Bourgogne from leading producer René Engel; in 2002 he paid £37 a bottle. After telling me how much he had enjoyed one of these bottles with a fish and chips supper mid week he was a bit surprised when I told him the market value had risen to £3,800 a bottle .
But there are still great deals to be had at auction. I know another wine lover who bought a case of Port – at Keys – from his birth year four years before he turned 50, and hid it in his cellar until the big day. By then, its value had more or less quadrupled due to the demand for 50-year-old wines to celebrate Lan Mark’s birthdays. He told me knowing that made every bite even more delicious.
There are some things to keep in mind if you’re buying wine at auction. Most importantly, you can’t take it back, so this is definitely a case of warning – buyer beware.
It is important to inspect any lot you plan to bid on, looking for signs of the cork drying out, such as a leak or a low level in the bottle. And while the condition of the label doesn’t necessarily reflect the condition of the wine in the bottle, generally a well-preserved label suggests that the wine has at least been stored in an ideal location.
It’s easier to do this if you’re an “in the room” bidder, in which case my advice is to get there early and take the time to look at all the bottles you’re thinking of buying. If you are bidding online, carefully review the photos of the bottle and contact the auction house if you have any doubts.
Another tip is to do your research. While this doesn’t always work for rarer wines, there are plenty of resources online that can help you gauge how much you should pay for a given wine.
Finally, remember that the price you bid is not the price you pay – there is always an extra buyer’s premium to pay. This usually adds about a quarter to the hammer price, so it’s a good idea to determine in advance how much you’re willing to pay, then calculate your maximum bid accordingly.
But the best advice is to dive in and try. The auction house can be an exciting place, you can end up with a real bargain, and as long as you don’t get carried away, the worst thing that can happen to you is that you come back thirsty.