A guide to buying wine at auction

Charles Ashton, Director at Cheffins, shares his advice on buying wine at auction

How to buy wine at auction
Published: December 9th, 2021 at 4:16 pm
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The joy of buying wine at auction is that you can often find lots of rare vintages and unusual wines, usually at lower prices than retail.

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In fact, wine auctions can present some of the most exciting opportunities for wine collectors, with rare bottles which have spent decades gathering dust in cellars across the country seeing the light of day for the first time in years.

We often sell large scale collections which come from some of the UK’s most important country homes or on behalf of Cambridge colleges, both of which can yield some really fabulous bottles which would be difficult to find on the open market.

Another great thing about buying wine at auction is you can find some really unusual single bottles, or bid for multiple cases of the same wines or even mixed cases which can feel a bit like a lucky dip.

What wine sells well at auction?

Of course wines with famous producers attached and popular vintages always sell well at auction and magnums and large format bottles are consistently popular, partly as they tend to mature more slowly than regular sized bottles, as well as of course having the wow factor when opened.

Champagne also sells well at auction, partly because it ages so well but also the older vintages from the leading champagne houses found themselves in the hands of some of the very wealthiest of collectors and can be a rarity to the open market. The auction here at Cheffins also regularly sees ports, cognacs, rare whiskies and other spirits available too.

How to buy wine at auction
Chateau La Garrique, Moulis en Medoc 1997, 11 bottles; Chateau Latour-Martillac, Graves Grand Cru Classe blanc 1996, 1 bottle (12) sold for £200 at Cheffins' Carats & Clarets - The Wine Sale

Things to remember when buying wine at auction

When buying at auction, it is a good idea to request the condition reports from the auctioneer, which will give you an idea of the condition of the bottle and where it has been stored.

Similarly, it’s a good idea to do your research on current values for any particular lot you might be interest in, there are a number of online search tools which can help with this, such as wine-searcher.com which gives a broad brush view of the market.

Also, it is important to remember that most auctioneers will charge a buyers’ premium plus VAT, so the hammer price is not the total which you will need to pay.

How much does it cost to buy wine at auction

At Cheffins we host our annual wine sale in the run up to Christmas, which is perfect for people looking for something a bit special for the festive period. We have found there has been an increase in private buyers coming to the auction who are all looking for something to impress on Christmas day, or to add to collections.

The past couple of years we have also seen a growth in investment buyers who have been turning to wine as an alternative investment as the stock market continues to fluctuate. These buyers are now competing against the traditional trade purchasers and helping to push up prices.

Some recent highlights from our most recent wine sale which took place on 1st December include £2,800 paid for 11 bottles of Penfolds Grange 1981 and £1,500 paid for six bottles of Penfolds Grange from 1980.

How to buy wine at auction
11 bottles of Penfolds Grange 1981 sold for £2,800 at their most recent wine sale

Port is also often found at auction too, and in the most recent sale we saw £900 paid for 12 bottles of Cabral vintage port dating back to 1871 and which was bottled in the 1970s, whilst 10 bottles of Warre’s vintage port from 1963 sold for £1,100.

However, for those out for a special champagne bargain, six bottles of Boizel Joyau de France from 2008 made £260, which will really add something special to the Christmas table, and 13 mixed red wines in one box, including a magnum of Chateau Fonneuve 2009 made £110, another great buy and something fun for the holidays. But perhaps the rarity of the sale was an 1842 bottle of Xavier de Lestapiscognac at £1,600.

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You can see the full Cheffins calendar here.

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