A year ago, I was having dinner at one of my favorite wine bars in town when I noticed that the owner looked a little morose. I’d known him for two years, and he was usually boisterous and optimistic–that night, he seemed distracted and cranky. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, “I’ve been on the phone with an auction house all day. They’re idiots!” He told me that he had bought three cases of Spanish Rioja at auction because he thought he could get them for a steal. When his cases arrived, he found that two of them were cooked, so he called the auction house to complain. They told him that there was nothing they could do, and that the bottles were all final sale.
Buying a bad wine at auction is inconvenient and stressful, especially when you don’t know what your rights are as a buyer. If you recently bought a bad wine at auction, these are the steps that you can take to remedy the problem.
Identify the Problem
There are four main problems that might require you to contact an auction house: old wines that have expired, young wines with serious flaws like oxidization, cooked or otherwise damaged wine, and fake bottles. Each of these issues requires you to take different sets of steps to remedy it.
A Wine Past Its Prime
This is defined as an older wine that critics said would last another five years, but that you found to be past its prime already. The wine doesn’t have any serious flaws; it’s simply too old to drink.
Step One: Contact the Auction House
Since the auction house likely had no way of knowing that the wine was already past its prime, be friendly with them and remember that this problem isn’t their fault. Your goal is to make them aware that this vintage might have some unexpected issues.
Step Two: Ask for Compensation, But Don’t Expect It
It never hurts to ask for a refund or special compensation (like a certain percent off your next purchase). In this case, since you can’t prove that the auction house knew about the problem, you can’t expect them to refund you in full.
Step Three: Follow up
Any compensation you get will be a bonus, but you should still require your auction house to take your complaint seriously. Call them again, and make sure they checked their other bottles for the problem, or made a note of it, or pulled remaining bottles out of future auctions.
Corked or Oxidized Wine
Unlike an old wine that’s reached its expiration date, a corked or oxidized wine is a sign of a more serious problem, since it impacts young wines that can appear perfectly healthy. You might not notice this problem until years after you buy the bottles, which complicates the refund process.
Step One: Present Your Receipt
When you first contact your auction house, give them your receipt of purchase. It’s easy to unthinkingly throw away receipts before trying the wine, so it’s important to keep those, and stash them in a safe spot (even if it means storing them somewhere for years).
Step Two: Ask for Some Compensation
Once you prove that you bought the wine from the auction house, politely ask for compensation. However, as with the first issue we discussed, you can’t expect it. Premox is usually considered the winery’s fault, not the auction house’s. Great sellers will offer you a full refund anyway, but this isn’t required.
Step Three: Send the Wine Back to the Winery
If you’re determined to make every effort to recoup your losses, your best bet is to send the wine back to the winery itself, with your receipt, and ask for either a new case or other compensation. You won’t always get it, but most quality wineries will try to be as accommodating as possible.
The following steps apply not just to cooked wine, but to any wine that has been damaged during storage or shipping.
Step One: Document the Problem
First, take detailed photographs of the damage, including whether the cork is raised or where the label has been damaged. Show this to the auction house and ask for compensation.
Step Two: Request a Full Refund
Since this is either the auction house or shipper’s fault, you can be more forceful in your request for compensation. Unless there’s a buyer beware clause in your contract, you can insist on a refund. If it was the shipper’s fault, request that the auction house uses a different shipping company in the future, or that they revise their shipping policy.
If you buy a wine at auction that you believe is fake, it is essential that you contact your auction house immediately. Out of the four most common auction problems, fraudulent bottles are the most serious.
Step One: Ask for Proof of Provenance
Become an investigative journalist. Ask your auction house where they received this wine and get to the original source. Your auction house should help you with this process.
Step Two: Get Your Money Back
In this case, it’s appropriate to demand a refund. Wine fraud is false advertisement. Unless you signed a buyer beware contract, the auction house is ultimately responsible for selling authentic bottles. That’s why the best sellers inspect their bottles for authenticity before putting them on the market.
Step Three: Involve the Authorities, If Necessary
If your auction house is ignoring your calls, contact a lawyer and the Better Business Bureau. They will help you get the compensation that you deserve, and they will warn your fellow collectors about the auction house’s unprofessional practices.
You can’t always avoid buying a bad wine at auction, but using these steps, you can get at least some money back, or prevent future collectors from experiencing the same problem.
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.