Perhaps you received a special bottle of wine as a gift. Or you found one at your aunt’s house. Or have one remaining from that case you flew home from Europe after a wine-happy trip 10 or 20 years ago. “What’s that worth?” you wonder when you notice it on the rack. “Should I sell?”
Whether rare or simply important to you, every bottle has value. It’s hard to know when it’s the right time to uncork or sell, but we can help you figure out how much it’s worth.
Step One: Read the label
The first thing you’ll need to evaluate in your wine should be no surprise: its details. The year, the producer, the type or variety, the size of the bottle, where it was made, etc. You should be able to find this information on the label.
Step Two: Search online
Does anyone else have your bottle for sale? Word of the day: comps, short for “comparables.” Comps demonstrate what your bottle sells for today, which could differ from tomorrow or yesterday. The value of your wine is determined initially by its fair market value, the price a buyer is willing to pay an existing seller.
Search online for comps. If you can’t find your exact bottle, that may be a very good problem. Get as close as you can. Sites to check include wine-searcher.com, winemarketjournal.com, wineauctionprices.com and wineowners.com/valuations.
Step Three: Ask a professional
You found a number. That’s great. But don’t get excited or disappointed yet. Past sales, provenance and physical condition—from label to cork and everything in between—are part of a bottle’s evaluation. If you think your bottle is worth at least $250, talk to a professional.
What matters most, says John Kapon, chairman of Acker Wines, is that the person who appraises the bottle understands the wine market, as well as pricing for specific producers and vintages.
Kapon estimates Acker, a retailer and auction house, has appraised 10 million bottles in the 20 years it’s held auctions. Like other big houses, it generally deals in quantity, or collections that range from 30 to 3,000 bottles. Single bottles it considered recently include a 2017 Roumier Echézeaux, a 2017 Screaming Eagle magnum and a 2006 Château Pontet-Canet magnum. The pricing of these bottles hasn’t been made public.
Shaun Bishop, CEO of JJ Buckley Fine Wines, recalls a client who wished to sell a bottle of 1963 Quinta do Noval Port, worth about $250. After examination, Bishop says, “it turned out the bottling was actually the much-rarer label called Quinta do Noval Nacional Port. Its value is around $3,500. The client was very happy.”
An appraiser may determine a wine’s value based on questions like where it was bought, receipts from the sale and how it’s been stored, says Charles Antin, head of auction sales and auctioneer for Zachy’s Wine Auctions. And, of course, they’ll want to inspect the wine.
“Wines are multiples,” says Antin. “Assuming they are in the same condition, one bottle of 1982 Lafite is priced the same as another, with lots of caveats. The better the provenance, storage and condition, the more valuable a wine can be.”
Leila Dunbar is chair of the board of trustees for The Appraisal Foundation, a nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to create standards for appraisers. She says that appraisers look for loss of liquid, a sign that the wine may have oxidized beyond drinkability. They also want to see if the capsule, or foil sleeve at the top of the bottle, has been damaged.
Dunbar also runs an appraisals and consulting firm that specializes in memorabilia, wine and spirits. There are forgeries in the market, particularly of high-value Bordeaux and Burgundy, she says. Appraisers will examine the label to see if it is original, and if the characteristics of the bottle match.
Whether rare or simply important to you, every bottle has value.
Like her peers, Dunbar charges for written appraisals of valuations for insurance coverage and/or claims, estate tax determination, planning or gifting, non-cash charitable donation, divorce settlements and so forth. Rates for these types of services may be included in the purchase, selling price or storage cost, and could be calculated hourly.”
Antin says you should never pay to have just one bottle appraised. “There’s simply not enough value in most single bottles to make it worth it,” he says.
Auction estimates for potential sale can be free, however. And Zachy’s will appraise and discuss options to sell clients’ wine without charging a fee, but only extremely valuable bottles.
Step Four: To Auction?
Dunbar is a big fan of auctions. Because they charge a seller’s commission and a buyer’s premium, she says, fees are lower than if you sell to a wine dealer. Dunbar suggests sending photos and information to auction houses and dealers to get the best offer.
Most bottles, however, “are worth very little, so I suggest drinking them,” she says.
Every industry expert we consulted agreed: If you have one bottle and it’s not a 1990 Romanée-Conti, drink it, gift it, or contact your local wine shop.
If you do decide to try to sell your wine, keep in mind that a permit is required to buy from private individuals in many states, and wine retailers may not have it. If they can, a retailer may make you an offer or help broker a sale.
Occasionally, says Kapon, “restaurants might be willing to purchase a single, exciting bottle to which they otherwise might not have access.”
You can also take your bottle to the internet, and we don’t mean eBay, where you’d need to be a licensed alcohol shipper and seller. Instead, online retailers like JJ Buckley Fine Wines buy from private parties and have a wine storage facility, too. Storage clients can sell any bottle of any value they wish. If you’re not a storage client, single bottles must meet a $500 minimum.
Good retailers will coordinate shipping, but you’ll still want to keep costs in mind.
Another option is an auction site like WineBid. It’s a good place to look for comps, too. It has a $2,500 minimum per consignment. Acker, Benchmark Wine Group, Christie’s, Heritage Auctions, K&L Wine Merchants, Spectrum Wine Auctions, Wine.com, Zachy’s and other major players have online sales and have minimums between $10,000 and $15,000.