Guide to Online Wine Auctions
If you’re looking to get some of the rarest wines out there, a wine auction is probably your best bet. Although real-life auctions definitely do exist, especially in California, there are online alternatives that can be just as good.
Maybe you’re a seasoned wine bidder looking to get into the world of online wine auctions, or perhaps you’re just a beginner. In any case, get ready to learn everything you’ll need about online wine auctions. Plus, we’ve also rounded up some of the best online wine auctions currently available.
Is an Online Wine Auction Inferior?
You’re probably thinking that online auctions can never beat the more traditional auctions. But current world trends dictate the need for adequate online alternatives.
Now, if you’re into the in-person thrill and if that’s what gets you excited about an auction, an online wine auction isn’t quite the same experience. There is definitely thrill involved, but nothing beats that real-life feeling.
However, if you’re like most wine bidders, you’re all about the end product – getting a bottle or case that you want to become a part of your collection.
Then, there’s the factor of not having to get off your couch. Instead of having to visit to the actual auction spot, you can bid for the wines from the comfort of your home.
So, no, online wine auctions are definitely not inferior to regular wine auctions. Especially with the current global situation.
The Long Game
Regular wine auctions work like your typical auctions. They take place at a particular location, and they typically last less than a few hours. If you’ve ever been in an eBay bidding “war,” you can forget about this kind of deal in live auctions.
With online wine auctions, however, playing the long game is back on the menu. In fact, typically, online-only auctions tend to last a couple of days, and even longer.
There’s usually a period of browsing prior to live bidding.
This attracts a completely different kind of crowd. The people who enjoy the aforementioned long game.
Everything starts with research. With real-life auctions, you have limited time to place your bids, and things can get out of hand quickly. But, for some, this is all part of the thrill.
This is retained in online wine auctions. However, you get to do a lot of research. First of all, there’s the browsing period before the auction goes live. Here, you’ll be able to get informed regarding the wine auction items and add the ones you’re interested into your personal watchlist. During this period, you’ll be able to do proper research and compare prices.
Most importantly, however, you’ll get to set your tap-out point. The tap-out point is the point above which the price gets too high. It is crucial that you carefully set this point during your auction preparations. If you don’t, you’re running the risk of making an impulse purchase, which isn’t how things should be done at auctions.
When coming up with your tap-out point, keep in mind that the asking price isn’t the end of it. You need to think about the buyer’s premium, as well. There are also extra delivery costs and extra sales tax to consider. So, do your research. Even the best online wine auctions will have some additional payment requirements.
Online wine auctions are online account-based, of course. You start by registering an account with an online auction house.
The best online wine auctions allow you to set a maximum bid limit, just like you would on a live sale. This helps ensure that you don’t go past your tap-out point. But another cool benefit of setting this limit is that it allows you to go into “autopilot” mode. In other words, the website (auction house) itself will keep gradually increasing your bid. This will keep you just ahead of the pack. This is a tremendously useful feature, as you won’t have to manually add a new price every time you increase your bid.
Of course, you’ll be able to adjust this maximum at any point, which is why it’s important that you keep your tap-out price in mind at all times.
When Do They Bid?
Naturally, you’ll want to know when most people tend to bid. Seeing as how these bids last for days, they don’t occur on the same level, each day. As a matter of fact, the peak of bidding activities during online wine biddings is at the beginning of an auction and close toward the end.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that seasoned bidders will participate only in the last couple hours of an auction. They’ll occasionally take note of their target items and plan their bids ahead. Then, they’ll enter the bidding war toward the end of an auction.
You should keep in mind that some auction houses tend to extend auctions for a couple of minutes. This is usually the case when a rival places a bid very close to the end. Keep that in mind whether you take on that role or not.
Are They Trustworthy?
The main pitfall of the internet is probably all the scams going around. The internet is a cold, impersonal world. With that in mind, are all online wine auctions trustworthy? Absolutely not. You need to do your due diligence and research about the auction house in question. Ask around online, take a look at various forums, and use your own online experience.
Stick to reputable auction houses and trustworthy merchants.
Also, make sure that you find out all there is to know about the previous owners of the wine in question, as well as its condition. Pay special attention to past storage.
Here’s a great idea: look for independent valuation advice on the item or items that you’re currently looking at. You can never be too safe.
Collector Wines vs. Drinking Wines
If you think that auctions are all about collectors, you’re mistaken. You’ll find drinking wines at some auctions, as well. The thing that sets the two apart is the price point. Collector wines tend to cost at least $150 and can easily get into the thousands of dollars while drinking wines are typically cheaper than $150.
Bear in mind that some people will buy collector wines and drink them. Alternatively, some drinking wines will be bought solely for collection purposes. Still, the two categories need clear separation.
Should You Get Collector Wines from Online Auctions?
Yes, you can browse, bid for, and win bids on collector wines on online auctions. But is this the smart way to go?
Well, typically, your traditional, real-life wine auctions are the better way to go when it comes to collector wines. This is where you can inspect the bottles in person and get as much information as possible.
But with the current global situation, things have moved to the online world, at least for the time being. If you want to get your hands on some collector wines, make sure to check in with the auctioneer. Ask about everything in detail, don’t be afraid to ask for more photos. The best online wine auctions will do everything they can to meet your needs.
Should You Get Drinking Wines from Online Auctions?
Absolutely. In fact, online auctions excel in the drinking wines department, compared to real-life auctions. How come? Well, there are two major advantages of getting drinking wines through online auctions. The first is that you can get single bottles of quality drinking wine at low prices.
The other reason is that online auctions tend to boast solid selections of non-collector wine. This means that you’ll get to choose from ranges that are much wider than those at real-life auctions.
Things to Keep in Mind
There are a few things that you should pay attention to before getting into online wine bidding:
Wines are sold as-is
Every reputable online wine auction house will rigorously evaluate the wines before including them in an auction. This includes how they were stored, where they were stored, the condition of the bottle. In fact, they’ll even factor-in stuff like the shape of the label and how full the bottle is. Still, there’s no way to know how the wine will drink. You won’t know how it’s aged or whether it’s corked or not. In this respect, as a bidder, you accept to purchase a bottle as-is.
Old wines are an acquired taste
There is no tasting with online auctions, obviously. You won’t be able to give that old expensive wine a taste before making a purchase. So, instead of blindly bidding considerable amounts of money on very old wines, make sure that you’ve tried a similar varietal before. Old wine drinks very differently compared to current releases. With a quality aged wine bottle, oak will have folded in, tannins will have softened, and the fruit flavors will have become more mellow. If your palate isn’t used to this, don’t go with old wines.
Don’t be afraid to email the auctioneers
The fact that we’re talking about online auctions here doesn’t mean that the staff doesn’t take things seriously. A reputable online auction house will have educated staff, as well as wine specialists on board. These professionals are fully capable of providing you with answers to any wine-related questions you might have. Your questions don’t have to be concrete, either. Feel free to email the auctioneers with questions such as “What do German Rieslings from 1987 taste like?”
Delivery may take time
For those used to getting your Amazon Prime orders within a day, don’t expect things to happen this quickly in the world of online wine auctions. In fact, you shouldn’t expect your delivery to arrive within the week. Some auction houses might take a couple of weeks to ship the wine that you’ve purchased. Don’t blame them – it’s better to have the bottle delivered to you securely than having your order destroyed or damaged.
Best Online Wine Auctions
Knowing where to start with wine auctions is absolutely essential. You don’t want to join a scammy website and end up getting ripped off. With this in mind, we’ve outlined the top three online wine auctions available out there. That’s not to say that these are the only ones around that are reliable, but starting off with these three is likely to be your best bet.
This is definitely the most popular wine auction organizer. Sotheby’s holds more than 20 wine auctions, both online and live, each year. Sotheby’s is definitely not the cheapest wine auction option, with their premiums. However, if you’re looking for reliability and if you’re buying expensive old wines, you’ll want to check out Sotheby’s online wine auctions.
Christie’s specializes in international real estate, but their Wine & Spirits department is known to organize a lot of online sales around the year. The company’s auction catalogs for wine include Burgundy Pinot Noir, Bordeaux blends, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and a whole range of others. Christie’s has been holding wine auctions since the 18th century, so they know their way around.
This company, also known as Acker, for short, holds more than 15 live wine auctions per year. They also hold tons of online auctions each month. What sets this company apart from the two already mentioned is that this is a wine-centric name. If you’re looking for the rarest wines out there, you’ll be most likely to find them at Acker auctions.
Zachy's is a famous wine retailer based outside New York City. They have been running successful in-person wine auctions for a number of years. These auctions have always tapped into wine bidders outside of the immediate area, so they had a history of managing remote locations. With the onset of COVID, Zachy's has developed a hybrid wine auction model that they call "Studio Sales". There is a live auctioneer, but the bidders are all remote.
Zachy's has a growing presence in important wine markets like China. They are also expanding their presence in Europe with London-based auctions.
Introduction to Online Wine Auctions
Hopefully, this entry has helped you wrap your head around online wine auctions and destigmatize the whole thing.
Although online wine auctions aren’t ideal options for collector wines, you’ll still be able to find the most expensive bottles. As the world is quickly moving to the online environment, you should start adapting your wine bidding needs to the online world. If you don’t feel confident buying collector-tier wine online, at least start by bidding for quality drinking wine.
Welcome to the world of the best online wine auctions.