Hannah R. Ruehlman had a problem; she needed to find a bottle of wine from 1952 as an anniversary gift for her husband, but she had no idea where to start. She turned to husband-and-wife wine writing team Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher for help. Fortunately for Ruehlman, John Brecher was in the same boat, seeking out a rare anniversary bottle to celebrate his marriage to Gaiter. Brecher’s “greatest bottle ever” was a 1974 Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, yet few wine stores carried the wine anymore. After days of intensive searching, Brecher finally found two bottles of his treasured wine, his perseverance winning out in the end. You have to be persistent if you want to find rare wines for your own collection, seeking out the few retailers that have those precious bottles in-stock.
Trusted Online Wine Retailers
During his search, Brecher called Mondavi’s estate himself to ask whether they had bottles of the 1974 vintage lying around, but to no avail. Instead, he turned to the internet, which became his biggest asset. “The internet is a wonderful thing. I’m not sure how anyone found old wines pre-net,” he says. “Ask most wine stores how to get an older wine and they’ll look at you blankly.” To get his Mondavi bottles, Brecher did an extensive internet search which finally paid off when he stumbled upon a California wine store that claimed to have two bottles for sale online.
However, the internet won’t always be your ally in a rare wine hunt. Counterfeit wine expert Maureen Downey (who worked on the FBI’s case against wine fraudster Rudy Kurniawan) says beginning collectors should be careful. She says, “We are finding wine on the internet almost daily that is completely counterfeit, and most of it is in Europe.” How does a beginning wine collector avoid fraud online? Choose an online wine retailer that checks bottles for authenticity, like Vinfolio. The experts at Vinfolio have strict bottle inspection guidelines that are designed to protect buyers from wine fraud. This is a unique approach to wine sales that many other retailers don’t use.
When you choose a quality online retailer, you also get the best prices on the rarest bottles. Retailers like Vinfolio offer fixed-price sales and open marketplace auctions to give buyers a range of buying options. With fixed prices, the price of the bottle is estimated from current market data, and buyers pay for the bottle as they would in a brick-and-mortar wine shop. Alternatively, an open auction allows buyers to bid on a wine, paying only what they feel the bottle is worth. If the price gets too steep, you can drop out of the bidding without paying a dime. After you buy the wines, Vinfolio offers professional shipping services to ensure that your new bottles arrive to you safely. Only choose wine retailers that offer these three options for rare wine sales: authenticity inspection, reasonable prices, and safe shipments. No matter how rare a wine is, it’s not worth buying if it’s from an untrustworthy source.
Rare Wine Auctions
If you enjoy seeing your wines in-person before you buy them, a rare wine auction is an excellent choice, as long as you have a solid game plan. The Week suggests attending one or two pre-auction dinners before you bid on your first bottle of wine, giving yourself the opportunity to make friends with fellow collectors. The Week’s staff says, “Try befriending the biggest collector in the room by sending over a glass of something truly special.” These new friends can give you information about upcoming wine sales before the information is listed online. For instance, if you’re friends with a collector who owns a case of rare Lafite that he’s looking to sell this year, you might be the first to hear about it.
Although it helps to make friends in the wine world, wine beginners don’t have to befriend wine collectors to make the most out of a rare wine auction. Wine auction success requires knowing exactly which wine you want before you lift your auction paddle. Hand-pick the auctions that are selling a specific vintage that you’ve been wanting to add to your collection. Avoid buying any wine on a whim, unless you’ve thoroughly researched the wine ahead of time. Once you have a wine in mind, gather up all of the market data you can find. Are any online retailers selling this wine, and if so, at what price? Keep this price in mind as you go through the auction; should the auction price exceed the online price, stop bidding. For beginners, it’s a good idea to sit through an auction without bidding first, to see what the process is like. While you’re at your first auction, ask for information about each wine’s provenance. Auction houses that can’t provide authentication for a wine are not trustworthy.
Wine Mailing Lists
Beginning collectors wishing to buy hard-to-find wines might have success with wine mailing lists. It’s notoriously difficult to get on a list for the rarest wine estates, but if you can become a member, you get first access to some of the rarest wines in the world. To get on one of these mailing lists, follow our guidelines for beginners, and wait for your membership confirmation. Being an elite mailing list member means getting access to wines that are guaranteed to be authentic, because you’re getting wines directly from the source. But perhaps the greatest reason to join a mailing list is that you pay far less, on average, for rare bottles of wine than you would buying those same wines on the secondary market later.
However, mailing lists aren’t the ideal choice for beginning wine collectors. To start, most rare wine mailing lists have waitlists that take as long as a decade to clear. Collectors planning on buying rare wines right now will find the mailing list option far too slow. Some mailing lists also require you to buy a certain number of wines, called allocations, to retain membership. You should use mailing lists as supplementary options for your rare wine shopping. Use trusted online wine retailers first, and only move on to auctions if you can’t find bottles for sale online. You’ll rarely get a better price for a wine at auction than you do online, but you might find a bottle at auction that isn’t available anywhere else.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.
Image by Frederik Vandaele – originally posted to Flickr as Château Pétrus, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5145286