Getting Hammered: Wine Auction Guide to Survival


Did you understand that wine auctions are on the rise, each as fundraisers and as industrial methods to purchase and promote your cellar stash?

On this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with you about why auctions are growing in reputation, their fascinating again story, and how one can take part in them with out having a multimillion-dollar belief fund.

If you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s revealed, please additionally be part of me on CTV News as we’ll be chatting about two of the world’s hottest wines, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, together with which of them to purchase now. If you possibly can’t tune in, then be part of my wine-happy group at and I’ll ship you the hyperlink to the movies of those two segments.

Enjoy the episode!



  • Are the sky-high bids we frequently hear about a normal incidence at wine auctions?
  • Why do wine auctions make such good fundraisers?
  • Are wine auctions a contemporary invention?
  • How is society’s elevated curiosity in wine consuming mirrored at wine auctions?
  • How do the outcomes of wine auctions impression the broader wine world?
  • Is there extra to wine auctions than investing and gathering?
  • What is the “movie star premium”?
  • What are the dangers of shopping for wine at auctions?
  • Which points of a bottle’s historical past must you think about earlier than bidding?
  • What must you search for when inspecting wine earlier than the public sale?

Upcoming Wine Auctions

Bonus Wine Auction Tips


  • Lesser-known areas reminiscent of Germany, Barsac, Sauternes, Champagne and Alsace are higher bargains than the extra modern Bordeaux, Burgundy and California.
  • Having mentioned that, your most secure wager amongst mature wines remains to be labeled, mature Bordeaux. Burgundy can produce wines of nice distinction or disappointment, and there’s debate as as to whether Californian wines age effectively.
  • Lesser-known wineries inside the well-known areas are additionally often undervalued, as are the second labels of well-known chateaux. Avoid bottles that Parker has rated over 90 — until, after all, they go for a track.
  • Look for off years. You’ll pay big-time for Bordeaux from 1961, 82, 90, as an example, however much less for wines from 1978, 75, 81, 1983, 85,88 and 89. Ports from 1966 and 1970 can nonetheless be nice, as can Italy wines from 1993 and 86.
  • If the public sale catalogue is shipped out prematurely, lookup the wines that curiosity you on-line. Wine Spectator has a database describing and ranking hundreds of wines, and itemizing current public sale costs. You can even subscribe to the e-newsletter Liquid Assets at 609-683-4222; or an annual guide Wine Price File at 617-323-8745.
  • Mixed tons – a case of various wines slightly than twelve of the identical — typically value much less as a result of collectors need full circumstances. Speculators know this, and that takes them each out of the bidding. But be cautious of 11-bottle circumstances: the proprietor might have tried one bottle, discovered it was off, and could also be now attempting to unload the remaining.
  • Speculators and eating places can’t simply resell bottles with ripped or marked labels, although the wine itself could also be positive. But keep away from bottles with wine-stained labels: the wine might have seeped out as a result of it was overheated.
  • Buy your wine at retail if you will get it on the identical or a lower cost – there’s a stronger assure of high quality, and a return coverage for unhealthy bottles.



  • Make buddies with individuals who know extra about wine than you do, and get their opinions. Even higher, sit beside them throughout the public sale and collude. Bidding with buddies means you possibly can break up the value of rather a lot — and even higher, share the wine at a post-auction social gathering.
  • Attend tastings when attainable to study to determine the overachievers from in any other case disappointing vintages.
  • Take inventory of what you personal as a information to what you’d like to purchase.
  • Attend an public sale or two with out bidding simply to get a way of how they work.
  • Read {the catalogue} fastidiously – there are sometimes hints in regards to the earlier house owners and cellar circumstances. Also learn the errata sheet, which record the last-minute adjustments after {the catalogue} was printed. Bidders typically pay too little consideration to the tons listed right here.
  • Ask the organizers beforehand in regards to the bottles — you could be stunned at to how a lot info they’ll present.
  • Sit the place you might have a transparent view of the auctioneer, and he or she of you, so she doesn’t miss your bid. Don’t fear about bidding by accident – in actuality, seasoned auctioneers know the distinction between a scratch and a sign.
  • If you possibly can’t attend the public sale in particular person, name the organizers prematurely together with your bid. Tell them the utmost quantity you’re keen to pay, they usually’ll submit your bid on the acceptable second. If nobody outbids you, you win the wine at no a couple of bid up from the second-highest bid – you could not even have the pay the total quantity you provided.




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Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 38!

Did you understand that wine auctions are on the rise, each as fundraisers and as industrial methods to purchase and promote your cellar stash? I’m going to talk with you about why auctions are growing in reputation, their fascinating again story, and how one can take part in them with out having a multimillion-dollar belief fund.

In the present notes at, I’ll additionally record some upcoming wine auctions the place you may like to slide right into a again seat to see how these occasions roll.

If you’re listening to this podcast on the day it’s revealed, please additionally be part of me on CTV News as we’ll be chatting about two of the world’s hottest wines, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, together with which of them to purchase now.

If you possibly can’t tune in, then be part of my wine-happy group at and I’ll ship you the hyperlink to the movies of those two segments.

On with the present.

Sitting within the centre row of the public sale room, I barely elevate my forefinger for the 1945 Château Cheval Blanc. All bidders crane their necks to have a look at the mysterious girl who has simply bid the value of a Porsche. “Sold to the gentlewoman within the Prada jacket with embroidered household crest,” the auctioneer says, bringing down the hammer.

The actuality: I’m behind the room blinking wildly, struggling to take away the eyelash from my eye. The auctioneer simply winked again at me — unhealthy information once you’re taking part in the blood sport of the wealthy.

Most public sale discuss is about record-shattering costs paid for uncommon bottles, such because the six-litre bottle of the California cult cabernet Screaming Eagle that offered for US$500,000 — that’s US$12,500 a glass. But most bottles don’t obtain vertiginous pricing, and most auctions don’t generate greater than sixteen-second bursts of pleasure. In reality, their studied calm is extra like that of a tax audit corridor, pierced solely when somebody jumps up with the gleeful information of a nasty return.

Worldwide, final yr’s wine public sale gross sales of greater than $100 million have been solely a small proportion of the entire retail market $16 billion.

However, wine auctions are literally environment friendly fundraisers for the reason that shortest path to social good is gluttony. Appeasing the appetites of the elite has lengthy been an efficient technique to rally help for good causes. Unlike a cheque, a $100 bottle of donated wine can elevate greater than its appraised worth if bidders are keen to help a great trigger. Many collectors have extra wine than they’ll drink in a lifetime, so getting them to donate it’s typically simpler than persuading them to half with money. When the wine is donated, the public sale’s overhead is low and a lot of the proceeds go to the trigger. Gala dinners, against this, incur substantial meals prices that have to be paid first. And if the public sale is registered below the Income Tax Act, the bottle’s appraised market worth is tax deductible, whatever the hammer value. For those that purchase the wine, nevertheless, there isn’t any tax receipt. (No must be avaricious in addition to gluttonous.)

Tonight’s attendees come from one in all three teams: those that help the trigger, however don’t know a lot about wine; those that know rather a lot about wine, however nothing in regards to the trigger; and people who have wandered into the mistaken room from the marriage reception down the corridor. Members of the second group present up at a lot of the metropolis’s auctions, extra typically in khakis than pinstripes. The coin-operated collectors amongst them may be seen balancing the public sale catalogue, a glass of wine and a laptop computer loaded with spreadsheets.

Of course, wine auctions are nothing new. In 1766, James Christie, of London, England, offered a big amount of “Madeira and excessive flavour’d claret, late of the property of a noble personage deceas’d.” Christie went on to discovered one of many world’s largest industrial public sale homes that sells wine for revenue within the U.Ok., the U.S. and several other different nations.

Until just lately although, wine auctions, like wine consuming, have been the area of wealthy, self-absorbed hedonists who might respect and afford the wines offered. Today, the recognition of wine auctions in the present day displays the upswing in wine consuming throughout a broad social spectrum. Increased affluence is one issue, and on the spot gratification is one other: most wine is consumed inside 17 minutes of buy — or roughly the time it takes to drive residence from the liquor retailer.

Such impatience doesn’t lend itself to storing wine for years, however it does bloat wine drinkers’ tolerance to pay for mature wine to drink instantly. Many mature and uncommon wines are not stocked in shops, having lengthy been offered to these now cellaring them. But shopping for them is essential once you need to drink wines made the yr you have been born, married, or, relying on the settlement, divorced.

Few folks can afford a $450,000 Impressionist portray, however many extra can spend $100 on a bottle of wine. Bordeaux, Burgundian and Californian wines from older vintages are sometimes cheaper at public sale than are current vintages in shops – a shocking reality, on condition that mature wines have gathered storage prices, and are sometimes peaking in style. But escalating wine costs within the final 5 years have distorted the standard age-price ratios, and speculators revenue this by reselling the subsequent sizzling wines.

Auctions are the frontal disturbances of the wine world, the locus the place vinous traits acquire momentum. The first stratospheric costs for California cult cabernets have been fetched at public sale, signalling their arrival among the many world’s critical wines. The affect of U.S. wine critic Robert Parker first got here down with the hammer — costs of the wines he scored over 90 have been boosted skyward by the “Parker Effect.” Many vintners use auctions to set the costs of the brand new harvest — probably the most well-known being the annual Hospices de Beaune in France, which units the costs of Burgundian wines.

A phrase of warning: shopping for wine at public sale isn’t all the time a sound funding technique. Prices can swing wildly with vogue: a case of 1945 Mouton-Rothschild that offered for US$81,700 in 1996 went for less than US$51,750 later the identical yr. Of course, if you happen to purchase wines you want, you possibly can all the time drink your liquid belongings if the market collapses.

But wine auctions are about greater than investing and gathering and even fundraising. Smelling and sipping wine might fulfill one’s civilized nature, however solely searching and competing for a bottle can quiet these deeper atavistic urges. It’s the distinction between shopping for frozen cutlets on the grocery retailer and monitoring your kill on the Serengeti.

I’m out for large sport tonight. I laser a shaft of focus between the auctioneer and me. My hand turns into a pack animal with which I hunt, facet by facet, rising and falling. A sizzling, primal fluid swells up into my reptile mind, keen me to grab that bottle and run again to my lair.

Good auctioneers inflame these urges, whipping bidders right into a feeding frenzy. “When you’re down to 2 bidders, it’s about pace – going forwards and backwards between them as rapidly as attainable, utilizing peer strain or reminding them of the trigger,” says Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon makes use of his present of the gavel for a number of native auctions. He hastens so as to add that it’s not all lion-eat-gazelle. “I attempt to begin at an affordable value to get many individuals concerned within the bidding,” he says. “Even if some drop out, no less than they’ve participated — and had some enjoyable.”

The bodily vocabulary of nods, raised fingers, head-to-head consultations and withering appears are the rich gesticular cousins of baseball alerts. The peacock tactic of unfold plumage – leaving your paddle aloft within the air all through the bidding — tells interlopers, “Back off, as a result of I’m not backing down on this one.”

But how do you keep away from a bidding struggle? Well, you could not need to if you happen to benefit from the cut-and-thrust, and for the reason that proceeds go to a great trigger – take into consideration what number of youngsters shall be heat this winter or what number of artists can purchase new brushes since you purchased the Lafite. The finest manner to not fear your legendary financial institution supervisor is to write down down your most bids beside bottles within the catalogue that curiosity you earlier than the public sale begins.

Ah, however once you win the bottle, you’re the Michael Jordon of wine auctions. Other bidders clap. You really feel liked — or no less than your pockets is liked, and also you by extension.

A profitable battle leads to an acquisition story – a prerequisite for dinner events. The story’s even higher if a celeb beforehand owned the bottle. At a 1997 Sotheby’s public sale, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cellar of 18,000 bottles went for greater than US$6 million — the inflated value now often known as the “movie star premium.” (Of course, this doesn’t assure good style — simply the identical style as the person who gave us Phantom of the Opera.)

The solely disadvantage to wine auctions is that you could be find yourself shopping for an costly bottle of vinegar. Unlike jewellery, positive artwork and vehicles, wine is a residing substance that adjustments relying on the way it’s been saved. Organizers can’t assure the bottle’s provenance – its storage circumstances earlier than it was put up for public sale. “Provenance” from the French provenir, means to come back forth – the story of the wine’s origin, who owned it and the way it was saved.

Pristine provenance would imply the wine was consigned to the public sale from a vineyard the place it was saved at about 13oC, 70% humidity, no gentle, with the bottle on its facet to maintain the cork moist. The subsequent finest origin could be wine from a late, large-cellar proprietor whose wines have been consigned to public sale by the ungrateful, uncultivated heirs who need to spend the property holdings in dissolute methods.

But in truth, many mature wines have had a number of house owners and ranging storage circumstances. While some public sale organizers ask donors questions on storage and even go to the cellars, they’ll’t assure the wine shall be in fine condition. And in contrast to the liquor retailer, they received’t take again a nasty bottle.

So simply as you may return to the stables to have a look at the horses earlier than a race, take a look at the wines on preview earlier than the public sale begins. If wine has been saved in overheated locations – kitchens, automotive trunks, attics – the easiest way to inform visually is ullage — the air house between the cork and the wine. Recently bottled wines have gaps of lower than a centimetre.

After about 15 years, some wine will evaporate by the cork, and a fill degree to the bottle’s high shoulder is suitable. But a degree under the bottle shoulder might imply extra oxidation. And if the bottle or label is stained with wine, it might additionally imply the storage was too sizzling, inflicting seepage.

In each public sale, someplace between the center and the top, there’s a turning level when most individuals withdraw, drained and spent. This is when veteran hunters stand up from the comb to pounce on the remaining tons. Tonight, I scamper off with a meaty second-growth château on the vulture-picking value of $75.

Wine auctions are not Old Money gatherings the place everybody buys life-style moments and belongs to the identical membership. Today, they open up a brand new world of shopping for mature wine at nice costs, whereas supporting good causes and making your cave-dwelling ancestors proud.

Well, there you might have it! You’ll discover hyperlinks upcoming wine auctions, together with Ottawa’s Music and Beyond on September 27 within the present notes at in addition to extra tips on taking part in auctions and donating to them. These auctions happen yearly, so even if you happen to don’t catch them this time, you possibly can put them in your calendar for subsequent yr.

Did you understand that you would be able to now hearken to this podcast in your sensible speaker? Just say: “Hey Google” or for Amazon’s Echo, use her title that begins with A … I received’t say it now because it’ll set off your machine and mine.

So I’ll say Madame A as in “Madam A — play the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.” I’d love to talk about wine with you whilst you’re peeling grapes, dozing within the hammock or altering the furnace filter … it’s all the time wine time.

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I can’t wait to share extra wine tales with you.

Thank you for taking the time to hearken to this one. I hope one thing nice is in your glass this week, maybe one thing you received at an public sale!



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