In the Land of the Rich, There’s Opportunity for the Persevering

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

In my two most recent columns, we’ve explored the rarified air of the high-end wine auctions for rare wines. Typically the domain of the one percenters, it might seem that these auctions are the playgrounds and/or the battlefields of the rich. Auction houses carefully curate their offerings; the average price of a bid lot typically tops $3,000.

It would seem these stratospheric prices exclude anyone seeking to purchase and enjoy wines beyond those available in their local wine shop. For some wine consumers, who have developed a fine palate and wish to enjoy finer wines, the concept of attending an auction is intimidating and beyond their credit card limits.

Fear not, all ye who live vicariously through the checkbooks of those you silently envy.

Cast aside your trepidation. Step into the world of wines otherwise hidden from view in the catalogs and sales sites of auction houses. Expand your palates and your appreciation of older wines. Delve into the world of fine wines – at prices not much more than a mortgage payment or a student loan installment obligation.

So, if you can rationalize a splurge or two, follow me down the path of the new age of bidding on wines not found in the brick and mortar world – the digital world of electronic auction bidding.

Just as the Internet has democratized most goods formerly entrenched in shoe leather sales, so too with wine.

Yearning to avail yourself of an older bottle of Bordeaux or Burgundy? Ever wondered what the taste and aromas might be of your favorite California Cabernet Sauvignon after a few years of aging?

Look no further. Your furtive quest may be satiated through digital technology. The Internet has advanced the ability of procuring wines from the comfort of your home, office, coffee shop or anywhere you can find a Wi-Fi connection.

Here’s how.

Open an account with an electronic auction house. Several brick and mortar houses have established collector-friendly sites. Simply create an electronic account and you’re ready to delve into the world of wine auctions.

One of the earliest virtual auction houses is Many of its offerings are small lots, even single bottles; some may be won for under $50.

Most of the high-end houses offer Internet bidding, which tend to be of lesser cost. A favorite among bargain seekers is Heritage Auctions.

A few hints:

  1. Decide which regions or vintages you’re interested in beforehand. Auction houses offer online catalogs you should browse before the auction begins. You’ll avoid the stress of the fast-paced atmosphere of more aggressive bidders.
  2. You don’t have to bid in the live online auctions. Perfectly acceptable are pre-auction bids that set the maximum you wish to bid on select lots. Let the auction house manage the bidding for you.
  3. Price-check retail prices of wines you plan to bid on at the website It’s a fine reality check of reasonable market prices.
  4. Don’t be overly concerned with vintage ratings. My maxim: there are excellent wines from poor vintages and mediocre wines from great vintages. Many fine wines are hiding right in front of us in full view, obscured by a critic’s blanket assessment of a vintage.
  5. Perhaps the greatest bargains (relatively speaking) are wines that are noted as having torn, stained or faded labels. They may not be trophy wines, but they will afford you the opportunity to taste a rare wine at a reasonable cost.
  6. Remember that online auction sites are in the business of generating profits for themselves. Be sure to factor in the mandatory buyer’s premium and, oftentimes, shipping charges. These may add an additional 20 to 25 percent surcharge to your purchase price. Your $300 to $400 purchase may ultimately cost you up to $500.

Are online auctions the panacea for forlorn wine consumers, envious of high-end investors? You decide. As for me, a brief encounter with an aged nectar of the gods is a sublime experience, even if infrequent.

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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