Buying at auction

My limited experience buying older wines from online auctions has been very hit or miss - much more miss, I would say. Do others have the same experience?

I have bought bottles at auction to round out my growing collection with some older wines. Anything 20 years or older has been crap. For instance, a 1997 Aldo Cortorno Colonello was bad, and so were a 2000 Guide Al Tasso and 1997 Peter Michael Chardonnay.

I shifted to focus on “newer” bottles, thinking it’d be safer in that I was buying too old. But I had a 2013 Sottimano Pajare Barbaresco and the tannins were intact but there was no fruit. It was the strangest thing. All I can figure is that maybe it was improperly stored.

I was wondering what others’ auction experiences are, and if wine storage is an issue.

For example, too, are auctions filled with the following: Collector goes to his cellar where he has a 6 bottles of a wine, tastes one and finds it is cooked, and then he puts the other 5 at auction? Or does someone find after Grandpa died that he had a case of wine from 30 years ago cooking in the attic at 80 degrees, and they sell it at auction?

Much more fine bottles than miss.
Important to select not only interesting but bottles in good (looking) condition: fill, colour, proveniance, also where they come from - easier in Europe than US.
US slip lsbels are a red flag, torn “wet” labels are positive (but not for resale).


What is a slip label? And why is a torn or wet label a positive thing?

I would never buy a bottle that was not completely full. I’d be concerned that it was coravined, and I’ve seen many “shoulder fill” bottles.

Slip labels indicate (US) importers, usually below or above the main label. In Europe it means “back from the US”. Torn/wet labels are a sign for long humid storage, together with a good fill a positive sign.
Had a Chassagne-M. rouge 1985 the other week, from auction for less than 30.00, fill 2cm below cork, very fine, could have been a Volnay 1erCru …

People who sell wine at auction are wine people, and tend to be just as fussy about their storage as people who buy at auction. Of course, some wines are just bad wines or age badly, even if well-stored.


The re-circulation of faulty bottles between sellers and buyers via auctions is one of the worst problems of wine collecting. Some auction houses are known for having lower standards in what they will accept to sell. If you do some research, you’ll know which houses to avoid as a buyer. And if you want to sell some questionable bottles, you’ll know which houses will take them on consignment with little questions asked.

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I recall a good bit of concern around “Katrina bottles” and although I never encountered one it did put me off for a while and I was much more selective than I had been. I still wonder if that was more myth than reality, but wherever there is money to be made, you’ll find unscrupulous people taking advantage.


What I wrote on this other thread apples here as well: Buying Old Wine - #46 by Nathan_V

Probably just a closed down wine, specially because it is a 2013.


Why do you buy only OWC or OBC?

You have probably just been unlucky, since buying at auction today is a lot less hazardous than in the past, when in order to see the bottles, you actually needed to go and look before the auction started! There are plenty of tips in this thread and the other about buying old wines.
Most auction houses tend to split up lots of five or eleven, so check all the lots to make sure this hasn’t happened, as it can be a bad sign.

Several things for you.

  1. Where you have been buying?
  2. How closely are you reading the condition notes?
  3. To your last point, auction houses almost exclusively get their wines from collectors. They are not dealing with small collections like you describe (at least not at the major houses), and they are vetting this stuff through photographs the best they can if it’s a one off.

Things like a 1997 Peter Michael Chardonnay I wouldn’t expect much out of at this point. Sadly, 1997 Aldo Conterno was a rough era for the winery with a lot of faulty corks, and a US importer that didn’t use temperature controlled shipping to bring wines to the US (also true as recently as 9 years ago too!, though Aldo Conterno changed importers with the 2004 vintage). I wouldn’t expect much out of a 2000 Guado Al Tasso. It probably tasted like dried out prune juice if I had to take an educated guess.

I work with many of the auction houses on a day to day basis, so feel free to DM me if you have any specific questions or looking for more guidance.


I had similar experience with that very wine, but mine bought at retail in the UK. Sadly I suspect the vendor knew the wine was problematic and hence put it into auction to sell to an unsuspecting stranger :frowning_face: Definitely one of the risks of buying at auction (see also White Burgundy).

The Sottimano sounds more like low-level TCA, or Nebbiolo’s tendency to close down.

I’ve had some wonderful wines from auction older than 20 years, from 1954, 1962, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1973 etc. plus similar joy from wines bought at retail in UK, Italy and Portugal. Some duds as well, plus lots that are obviously fading, but still with genuine interest.

We call those strip labels. Indicates a purchase in the EU imported to the US. If purchased in the US, it means a gray market seller, which can indicate less than ideal shipping conditions because they are looking for the cheapest way to get the wine. Or it can mean a savvy US buyer that buys in the EU and imports himself, which can mean someone who is obsessed with provenance. So it really doesn’t mean anything.


For example, I won’t ever buy from Acker. I believe their past actions tend to suggest they don’t give a shit about whether they are selling you compromised wine, and I further believe their past actions suggest they don’t give a shit if they’re selling you fake wine. They are - in my eyes - criminals, and it amazes me that anyone who knows this continues to give them business. YMMV.

If you don’t immediately know what I’m talking about, do a search for “Rudy Kurniawan”, and find what is probably the most important thread ever to exist on this board. Read it. It’s appalling and enlightening.


To be quite frank, I would have expected none of these wines to be very good… It’s true that you take a bit of a gamble with storage and condition, but in my experience that seems to be a low percentage of auction buys.

May I ask why you would not think a Guado Al Tasso or Aldo Conterno would still be good?

I haven’t had those specific wines, but IMHO Aldo Conterno is an underperforming producer with too much oak and not a great vintage. Gaudi Al Tasso too ripe and rich for my taste, I find those wines don’t age well, they just become sweeter and pruney…

YMMV of course

Eric, I posted some very specific detail above about the 3 wines you mentioned and why they would not be good.

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