Sometimes, sellers will put a bad wine case up for auction without realizing there’s anything wrong with it. Take premox for example; unless you open one of the bottles, it’s not immediately apparent when a case of wine has been impacted. A collector might naively invest in a vintage that’s notorious for premox problems, keep the bottles under storage for a few years or more, then resell that case at auction without ever knowing that he was holding onto a ticking time bomb. His buyer will be the first to discover that disappointing news.
Buying wine at auction can be risky, which is why you need to know the tips for a successful auction, such as spotting the potential flaws your seller might have missed. Even the sellers with the best intentions make mistakes occasionally. Being informed can keep those mistakes in check.
Know Your Risky Vintages
The first tip for a successful wine auction purchase is to have a definitive list of high-risk vintages; that is, wines that you know are notorious for certain problems. Here is a list of common problem vintages that you’ll need to take extra care with when you buy at auction:
White Burgundy from 1995 through 2005
Premox in classic white wines was rampant during this decade, and it’s still something of a problem today. If you’re considering bidding on bottles of white Burgundy from this era, be prepared to ask your seller additional questions about the wine, such as whether the seller has tried any of the bottles himself, and ask whether you hold the bottles up against the light (to check for dark or inconsistent opacity). Read up on your fellow collectors’ tasting notes to determine whether they found premox issues; relying on the experiences of peers will help you choose the best wine from this tricky era.
Bordeaux from 2002, 1997, and 1992
A famous region that’s been crafting wine for centuries is bound to have a handful of misses in its past. One of the recent vintages to approach with caution is the 2002, which wasn’t as powerful as usual. Merlot fared worse than Cabernet Sauvignon, and Margaux was the only subregion that entirely escaped 2002’s poor weather. As for the 1997, winemakers faced rampant grape rot, but they used old technology to fight it, which resulted in a consistently off-tasting vintage. Out of the three, the 1992 is likely the lowest quality, since even First Growths were impacted–too much rain diluted the wine. If you come across any of these vintages, do plenty of extra research and rely on critic and peer reviews before you buy.
German wines from 2000
As with 1992 Bordeaux, in 2000, Germany experienced too much rain for the vines to handle. The only labels that survived were those harvested early in the fall, especially Spatburgunder. Unless you’re investing in this specific varietal, I recommend researching whether the producer harvested early that year. Some off-vintage wines can be delicious; you just need to be more careful with them.
Become an Expert on One Producer
I know nearly everything there is to know about Ridge wines. My family has invested in these wines for as long as I can remember, so I have a solid understanding of the best and worst vintages on this estate. I can usually tell you off the top of my head whether a particular Ridge vintage was any good. Another lesser-used wine auction technique is to develop this kind of expertise with a producer of your choice.
Pick a producer from a region that you want to invest heavily in–perhaps a First Growth-style producer or a rare cult wine producer. Next, read up on the estate’s winemaking techniques over the years to find out whether they made any serious changes in their history. Research what authentic bottles look like, and whether those characteristics have changed over the decades. Finally, learn the best and worst vintages of the past 50 years. You can even use flashcards to test your knowledge.
In the modern wine world, we almost always have internet access to do vintage research, but this isn’t always possible at auction. It’s helpful having a foundation of knowledge beforehand that you can pull out at any moment as you shop for or bid on wine, and it makes the buying process faster. Most importantly, when you know a producer inside and out, you’ll also know which vintages are commonly faked, and how to spot a fraudulent bottle. For instance, your seller might have what he thinks is an authentic estate-bottled 1923 Mouton Rothschild, however you know that the estate didn’t bottle its own wines until 1924. You’ve just caught a red flag that your seller missed.
It’s important to combine your overall regional vintage knowledge with knowledge of your producer of choice. Vintage alone can’t always tell you whether a wine will be of high-quality, since some producers can overcome regional difficulties. Knowledge is your best line of defense against buying flawed wines at auction, and you will never regret knowing too much about your favorite wines.
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 Heidi Strean (Flickr: 1999 Chateau Mouton Rothschild) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons