You might not have given it a great deal of thought but wine auctions are big business. A single bottle can go for hundreds, even many thousands in some instances (a bottle of Burgundy fetched over £3,000 a few years ago, for instance), with cases going for sometimes ridiculous amounts.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you can make a killing in the wine market, or even find some remarkable wine bargains. You need to know wine, and not just as an amateur, but as a professional, in order to compete well at auctions.Many experts suggest that you begin by learning about specific regions, with Bordeaux and Burgundy the choice of many serious wine collectors. Bordeaux is probably the best starting point; it has large estates, which means the novice can learn about the winemakers more easily.
How It WorksA wine auction works exactly the same way as any other auction, although they tend to be run by auction houses that specialise in wine. In most cases you’ll begin by filling in a form with your name and address and produce valid identification, after which you’ll receive a bidding number (those who can’t be present can register bids for specific lots with the auction house).You need to become familiar with the language of viniculture and wine auctions. At an auction, for example, a wine lot that doesn’t meet its reserve is “bought back” by the auction house. Ullage is the amount of wine in the bottle lost to evaporation, generally expressed in a measurements (x centimetres) or a term like “mid-shoulder” as an indication. More recent wines, especially those bottled in the last five years, should definitely not show any ullage.Obviously you bid, and the person with the last, highest bid is the winner. There are a few tricks that can help you along. Keep your money until later in the auction, by which time many other buyers will have already run through their money. At that point you can sometimes pick up a bargain.
Additionally, if two similar lots follow each other, go for the second. That can be very valuable if one bidder pays a high price for the first lot – once he’s out of the way, the second lot might well be knocked down for a much lower price.
Many buyers will go for the big names and major vintages – the kind of wines that are the stuff of legend, if you will. The chances are that you can’t compete for them, or even for the smaller names that are fashionable. This is where knowledge comes in handy. Cult wines that have fallen out of fashion can be snapped up, and so can some lesser-loved vintages. With a Bordeaux vintage, try bidding on a ’94, a ’97 or a ’98 – all of which sell for much lower prices than the big vintages, but are often just as good.