How to Determine the Value of That Older Bottle of Wine

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

“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?”
Over the course of the last 10 years that I’ve penned this column, these questions have been posed to me on numerous occasions. How many of us have asked similar questions? Many of us have pondered that bottle of older vintage French wine that was in your grandparents’ wine cabinet, on your father’s basement shelf, nestled on your aunt’s wine rack over the refrigerator or resting comfortably in your uncle’s custom-made wine cellar kept under lock and key.

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 may be 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. Absent these, I suggest you revert to a Plan B. Serve your special wines(s) alongside a wine purchased at a local wine shop, as a backup. 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.

The foremost criterion is provenance. Do you know the journey the wine has taken before coming into your 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 of 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 tolerate a number of conditions. The key is minimal disturbance. A permanent resting spot, with constant temperature and dim light is critical.

If you are unable to empirically determine a wine’s origin, its value and salability, it will be seriously compromised. Revert to Plan B.

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

As I 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 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 20 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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