Factors Determining Value and Salability of Older Bottles of Wine

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GrapevineI hosted a large fundraiser last week at which several guests approached me with questions concerning the value and salability of older wines. I decided this would be an appropriate juncture to reprise an earlier column addressing this subject.

Herewith, that column:

“My dad was an avid collector of wine, but I don’t know much about fine wines. He passed away recently. How do I know if the wines in his cellar are valuable?”

“I found several bottles of wine stored in my aunt’s cellar. She asked me if they are any good. They were gifts received many years ago. How much are they worth?”

“I purchased a bottle of expensive French wine a number of years ago as an investment. I think it may be valuable. How can I sell it?”

How many of us have asked similar questions? Many of us have pondered over that bottle of older vintage French wine that was in your grandparent’s wine cabinet, on your father’s basement shelf, nestled on your aunt’s wine rack over the refrigerator or kept under lock and key in your uncle’s custom-made wine cellar.

Attempting to determine the drinkability, not to mention the value, of an older bottle of wine can be fraught with uncertainty. If only there were guidelines one could follow or an empirical procedure one could employ that would unequivocally answer these questions before we reach the decision point of drink, sell or pour down the drain.

My recommendation: Consider the standards employed by auction houses in evaluating the viability of wines for auction. While your one-off bottle of vintage wine is likely of little interest to the premier auction houses, applying their standards and criteria to your wine will likely determine its value and salability.

For an auction house to consider your aging bottle of wine, you and the bottle must meet strict standards.

The foremost criterion is provenance. Do you know the journey the wine has taken before coming into the current owner’s possession? How many owners’ hands did the wine pass through? Was it purchased upon release from the winery and immediately stored in a temperature- and humidity-controlled location? If not, how long was it sitting in grandma’s cabinet or on dad’s shelf?

The death knell for any bottle of wine is being imprisoned on top of a hot refrigerator motor, exposed to bright kitchen lights. In the absence of a verifiable wine cellar, wines will nevertheless tolerate a number of conditions. The key is minimal disturbance. A permanent resting spot, with constant temperature and dim light, is critical.

If your wine has met the provenance criterion, you are well on your way to meeting the next set of criteria, which are primarily market driven.

  1. How rare is the wine? The natural law of supply and demand dominates the fine wine market. A shrinking supply coupled with increasing demand results in rising prices.
  2. Was the wine’s vintage stellar? Mediocre? There is a wide disparity in price between a coveted vintage and a lesser one. However, there are many buyers seeking out lesser vintages, thus stabilizing market prices.
  3. How old is the wine? Unlike other commodities, wine is in a constant state of change – and presumably improving (to a point). As it improves, its value naturally rises. This anticipated increase in quality and commensurate price is often factored into the market price of a wine.

If you are not able to determine empirically a wine’s origin, its value and salability will be seriously compromised. In which case revert to Plan B: drink the bottle(s). Serve your special wines(s) alongside a backup wine purchased at a local wine shop. In the event the aged wine is spoiled or past its prime, you will be able to salvage the overall wine experience with the backup wine.

As I typically advise those who ask about the quality, value and salability of their cherished older wines – do your research, seek out a willing buyer, but be prepared for disappointment.

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at

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