Friday, January 21, 2011

Wine Buyers Advice: WineBid Revisited

We interrupt the flood of backlogged reviews to bring you some actionable advice on getting some great deals on wine you're not likely to find at your local retailer.

A lot of you got a good laugh from last summer's cautionary tale 'Be Careful What You Wish For' at the end of which I said: "Here's what I'll do differently next time:

  • Bid only on wines I've had, know, and love. Everything else is speculation.
  • Bid only on wines that are either uncontested or whose bids are ridiculously low.
  • Factor the premium, insurance, and shipping overhead into every bid before hand."
Before revealing just how much of this sage advice I've taken to heart, it's worth mentioning that the wines from the last shipment that we've uncorked have all been in superb conditionProvenance, perhaps the greatest risk factor in sourcing wine this way, appears to be very good in most cases.  What a pleasant surprise.  Another pleasant surprise is the very low shipment costs (<$2/bottle!) we paid.

Well, curiosity got the better of me last month and, while I chucked the first guideline above, I stuck to the other two pretty well.  Some might call it bottom feeding, and I suppose that's what it is.  Whatever.  When you see what I paid for some of these wines you may call it smart.)  Thankfully, Winebid's interface provides an excellent search function where you can filter by appellation, varietal, ratings, etc.  But more importantly, you can filter by my three favorite criteria: Uncontested single bottle lots with low reserves. 

Now, you do need to know what you're shopping for.  The bottle of Frexinet of unknown age is not a bargain, even if you do score it for $5, for example.  But with literally thousands of wines at auction at any given time, chances are you'll find something you recognize as a good deal.  Clearly some of the buys above are larks.  Who knows what the Biale Sangiovese will be like, or if the 96 Santa Emma is vinegar, but there are also some solid wines here, all of them incredible deals at these prices.  Case in point: the Windward Pinots, which I've described as worth raiding the college fund for, normally retail for $48.  I paid $10 each for a 1998 and 2000.

Is buying wine at auction for everyone?  No.  But the discerning bottom feeder can definitely do a lot better on some selected bottles than at the local retailer.

Happy bidding!


  1. While you're definitely rolling the dice with regards to some of those older wines, if that Biale has been stored properly, you'll love it. It's a fantastic wine.

  2. Thanks, Craig. I almost opened it last night, but maybe now I'll save it for a special occasion - with a backup, of course :-)

  3. Provenance? How is it any riskier to source wine from someone else's cellar than it is from your local retailer?

  4. Hey Ed,

    You bring up a good point. Winebid does indicate where the seller said the wine came from prior to being in Winebid's warehouses(temperature controlled cellar, passive storage, etc.), but who knows where a wine's been before then? Did the seller get it directly from the winery? A retailer? Another auction?

    Lots of questions and gaps. Sotheby's it is not.

    BUT, when you buy wine at retail, a few things are almost guaranteed:
    1. The wine was not in a temperature controlled truck while being transported.
    2. The wine was not in a temperature controlled warehouse while waiting to be ordered by a retailer.
    3. Retailers don't leave the AC on during non-business hours in the summer time.

    In the end, it's all a bit of a crap shoot. But I agree with you - it's not any riskier. If I had to choose which avenue is going to offer a better chance at proper storage over an extended period, I go with Winebid (and its sellers) over 99% of retailers any day.



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