The worlds of auction and wine were destined to collide; both embrace a spirit of connoisseurship, a sense of adventure, the thrill of the chase, and a certain amount of whimsical gratification. While they might feel intimidating at first, wine auctions are great fun. This wine buying guide offers six brief strategies to get you started on what I hope will be a thrilling lifelong pursuit.
1. Know Yourself
Knowledge is the key to success in the auction world, and it all starts with knowing yourself.
What wines interest you and what are your reasons for buying? Are you interested in collecting varietals, such as Cabernet Sauvignon from around the world; or is it wines from a specific region or maker that intrigue you? Maybe you are buying wines to complement a festive holiday meal or to celebrate a special occasion. Perhaps you’re a beginning collector, and you’d like to start with one great inspiring bottle; or you could be a seasoned veteran looking to fill out your cellar.
Whatever the case, identifying what you want will help focus your collecting strategy and put you in a good position to make better choices come auction day.
2. Set Your Budget
The savviest auction buyers determine their budgets in advance. This simple discipline will enable you to hone in on the wines that you really desire and prevent you from getting caught up in an auction frenzy (albeit fun to do at least once) and the attendant risk of paying more than you’d planned for one or two lots. Along with your budget, determine the general number of bottles you wish to take home, eliminating the feast or famine result. With this one-two approach, you will be able to harness your buying power and be satisfied with the hammer results.
3. Cultivate a Desire for Learning
Sophisticated wine buyers are the ultimate educated auction consumers and with good reason: knowing about the history, geography, culture, sociology, and the vinification of wine gives context to what you pour into your glass and makes drinking the wine ever more gratifying. There is no need to become a wine scholar, but cultivating a desire for learning will spark a passion which will carry you through a lifetime of collecting. A few good reference books will speed you on your way. One of my favorites wine resources is The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. Another, which I admire for sheer gorgeousness and voluminous content, is Andre Domine’s Wine.
4. Find a Space for your Wine
Great wine is dependent upon proper storage – why risk everything that has occurred in the life of the wine by subjecting it to iffy storage? Before you buy, make sure you have adequate wine storage so your investment is protected. If you don’t have your own climate controlled space or an ideal natural cellar, an off-the-shelf wine cooler is a good alternative. For larger purchases, seek out a licensed, climate-controlled wine storage facility that provides easily accessible storage.
5. Enjoy the Auction Catalogue
For wine lovers, browsing a great wine auction catalogue can be nirvana, so be prepared to spend some time narrowing down the choices. There are the solid “must-haves,” the “very-likely’s,” and the little-known wines that intrigue and pique your interest. Once you have this potential bid list in hand, do some research on the wines with which you are less familiar. Ask friends, consult known critics, read print and online reviews. Again, here’s where a small but utilitarian set of reference books, such as those mentioned above, will be indispensable.
6. Ask Questions
Whenever possible, attend any pre-auction tastings or events. And, on auction day plan to attend and watch the bidding for a while on the auction floor if your schedule allows (if not, participating online is a suitable alternate). But seeing this live marketplace in action is the best way to get a sense of how it all works and thus how you may step into it. I also recommend speaking to the wine specialist or department head prior to the auction. Let these auction experts be your guide through the process. They’re there to answer questions you might have – either on the wines you’ve selected or on auction mechanics.
As a devotee of both auctions and fine wines, I invite you to join in this exhilarating experience at the Fine Wines auction on November 8, 2011. There’s always room for one more paddle on the auction floor. Make it yours.