I’ve recently been able to pick up some old wine at what I consider affordable prices (1946 Rivesaltes for 200 from Mission Fine Wines, 1955 Albala Convento for 120 from B-21). I’m wondering if anyone else goes searching for wine of this age at reasonable prices, and if so, where do you look and what do you look for? I seem to have the most luck looking for sweet wines that aren’t port or sauternes.
I still see older Italian wines from the 60s and 70s from cellar purchases by Chambers St. and Sommpicks at fairly reasonable pricing.
I don’t know how it is in the US, so it’s difficult to give any suggestions for places to shop. However, as I rarely buy any +100€ wines, those prices seem quite expensive to me - I’ve bought dozens of wines going back to the 1930’s and very rarely I’ve paid anything above 50€.
Of course it depends on what you’re buying - certainly a no-name Piedmontese or Roussillon producer goes for less than a similarly aged First Growth or a famed Burgundy producer.
I have a similar approach to Otto, sniffing around the fringes, but also less likely to buy older wines now that my own cellar is pretty mature.
That said, I have had some surprising bargains in the auction scene, away from the big name auction houses, including a couple of bottles of a stunning 1969 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru in a modestly priced mixed lot, and 23 bottles of a good 1998 cru Barbaresco for less than £5 a bottle!!!
Some tips if you do decide to play the auction scene (most of these learnt from a friend who traded wine as a business):
- Ideal to be there in person, looking at colour, fill levels, late additions / changes to the list etc. Go rummaging in mixed lots especially, as they tend to be less accurate in listing them.
- Price up everything that is remotely interesting before the auction, then stick to your pricing & don’t get carried away in a bidding war. The wider you cast your net, the more chance of snagging a bargain (that’s really how I came by that Burgundy lot). Don’t be afraid to set your price at a ‘bottom feeder’ level on stuff you’re mildly interested in - it might be that few others are interested and it gets hammered away for very little money
- Linked to pricing stuff up - learn to mostly ignore auction estimates. Sometimes they’ll put a ‘come and get me’ low estimate in to drum up interest at intervals in the auction, and sometimes they’re a bit clueless. Where they are useful is in guessing where a reserve price might be set, but also in seeing others put misplaced faith in those estimates.
- Mixed lots are valued less by the traders who dominate auction purchases, so a focus on these can pay off, but do check individual bottles
- Be very aware of buyer’s premiums, which grew from ~ 5-10% when I started taking an interest, to more like 15-25% now
- Be aware that auction houses can turn a blind eye to dodginess and even indulge it themselves. I’ve seen people bidding on wines they themselves were the seller of, plus bids being taken from the back wall where there was no person. I’ve heard Latour a Pomerol called out by the auctioneer as “Latour”, and was aware of bottles where one of the vintage label numbers had been intentionally removed so the seller could say “vintage unknown - believed to be 1982” (when it was actually something less valuable like a 1984). The phrase ‘buyer beware’ is very relevant to auctions and as such I’d recommend pricing such that you’ll include a 15-30% ‘risk’ discount to equivalent retail. Don’t expect an auction house to take any faulty bottles back, and even getting them to take back fraudulent bottles can be a real battle.
I haven’t been to an auction for years though, as it went through a phase where people were buying above (the then) retail prices, and I never went back later to catch up with where pricing was
Thanks for the advice, looks like I need to get more creative.
Sadly not many auctions in Denver. I may have to start looking through the online auctions and see if I can catch something of value. Those buyer premiums definitely throw me off…
From what I’ve seen, a very different situation in the US, or it could just be the area I’m in. I can’t seem to find much pre-1990 for under $100. I did manage to get a beerenauslese from the 70s for $85, but that was definitely an exception rather than the norm.
I’ll keep an eye on Chambers. They seem to be out of anything interesting right now, might just be the time of year.
Winebid always has random stuff from the 80’s for 30-50 bucks a pop.
Here’s a random example that may or may not even be drinkable.