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Valuing Old Wine

The most frequent question I receive from readers, says Peter F May, concerns an old bottle of wine that they have acquired and they want to know how much it is worth. So what makes an old wine valuable?



Many people have gained the impression that old wine is valuable because it is old. The news media reports on an old bottle fetching an astronomic sum at auction. But such winess are rare.

So suppose you are clearing out your grandparents’ house and you uncover a cache of old bottles. What should you do to value them?

Firstly, if you can, leave them where they are and take some pictures showing how you found them. If you must move them transport them upright and store them in a cool dark place on their sides.

Make a detailed note of everything that is on the label. Take a clear picture of the label of each wine and the neck.

A wine is not valuable because it is old. A wine is valuable if someone is willing to pay for it. These are the main reasons people buy old wines:

It is a famous wine that has a known value
It is particularly rare
It has some historical significance
It has some added value, for example autographed by a celebrity
It has a vintage of the birth year of the purchaser or their loved one

The chances are that if the wine is not from France, Germany or California it will not be valuable.

Enter the name of the wine and its vintage into www.wine-searcher.com. That should give you an idea of the retail price. If you get no hits on the vintage try without any vintage. Make sure you get the name right: If Mouton is followed by Rothschild it is valuable but if followed by Cadet, it is not. Chateau Latour is valuable but Chateau Latour St Bonnet isn’t.

If you do not find any wines with the same name on www.winesearcher.com then it is almost certainly not valuable. But just to double check try using www.cellartracker.com – you have to register first but that is free.

If you have found the wine and it seems to be valuable, for instance similar wines are selling for – say $250 a bottle – don’t get too excited because that is the retail price from an established merchant. It is unlikely that you will realise that price. A merchant needs to cover their costs and why should a customer pay you the same as they can buy the some wine from a trusted merchant?



Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Peter F May. All rights reserved.
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