In a separate post, I wrote before about buying your wines aged and ready to drink rather than heading to your local retailer and buying some “fresh” stuff. There are several online retailers that specialize in these older gems which have a great selection of ready-to-drink age-worthy wines for you to grab today and enjoy at your next special dinner.
Now, they don’t buy young wines and lay them down for many years, waiting for the peak of drinkability either. Usually, these vendors specialize in buying larger cellars from big collectors of wine. Sometimes this happens when a collector shifts their tastes over time or sometimes it happens after they pass on and their estate is liquidating a very large liquid asset. I’ll talk about selling some of your collection in a future article. In either case, you are the beneficiary of these amazing collections, lovingly gathered and carefully aged.
The good news is that part of the value provided by the retailer is a careful inspection of the bottles to ensure they are not fakes and that they are in reasonable condition. They can’t certify the wine isn’t corked, that is the buyer’s risk – but that’s always the case. They usually know the collector and sometimes check the storage conditions to make sure that the wines have been properly cared for during their aging process. If there has been deterioration of the wine level or the label, they will usually note that in the description.
There are two basic business models that are used in this space, retail and auction. In the retail model, they buy the wines and mark them up to appropriate levels for the age and condition of the wines. There is a secondary market for most wines, so they can’t get too crazy as you can check more than one site to ensure the price is fair. If you want the bottle, you pay the price and it is yours.
In the auction model, the bottles are usually consigned to the seller and they promote the wines in regular sales, attracting lots of buyers. Christies and Hart Davis Hart are two of the larger firms that do auction style. The buyers bid up the price to whatever level they choose until the sale closes. Usually, there are online bids with maximum prices they are willing to offer and these are matched against the people at the live auction on the day of the sale. Whichever stays longest and highest, wins the wine. The auction house will then add a buyer’s premium of 20%-25%, which is the margin for the auction house for all their work, so factor this in when you bid.
Some of these houses specialize in full cases with the original wooden cases. While these are great looking in your cellar, they do come at a slight premium. If you are only about the wine, you will buy a little cheaper for partial cases.
Christies – www.christies.com – New York & London
A broad-based auction house that sells everything from Warhols to wine. They have specialists that curate the wine they sell and verify the pedigree. They specialize in European wines and ancient vintages.
Hart David Hart – www.hdhwine.com – Chicago, IL
Auction style house with premium wines. This is the place to go for epic wine in old wooden cases. If you want first growth Bordeaux or premium Burgundy or legendary Napa Cabernets – this is the place. It attracts interest from around the world, so there aren’t many bargains, but the selection is great. It’s almost worth registering to get the catalog – as it has incredible wine photos.
The Chicago Wine Company – www.tcwc.com – Wooddale, IL
The Chicago Wine is a blended business, offering retail and auction sales. They have more partial cases of wine, which tend to go a little cheaper than 12 bottle cases in original wooden cases. They also have a regular email if you have a particular style of wine you like to drink, alerting you to new acquisitions.
Benchmark Wines- www.benchmarkwine.com – Napa, CA
Benchmark buys cellars from collectors of fine wines. Later in life when they find it time to dispose of their collections (or perhaps their estate is doing it). They will come in and value and buy the entire cellar. As a buyer, you have them representing the bona fides for the wine, including condition and storage of the bottles. They have a great interface and a newsletter that will alert a buyer of particular types of wines.
K&L Wine Merchants – www.klwines.com – Redwood, CA
This California retailer has been serving collectors for more than 30 years. It’s like having an amazing wine store in your neighborhood with a great web interface and real-time inventory data, so you know they have the bottles you want. They drink all the wine they represent and give comments and knowledgeable insight. Deeper in Californian wines, they have a good selection of Europeans and direct purchases as well.
Flickinger Wines – www.flickingerwines.com – Chicago, IL
Flickinger retails fine and rare vintages of great world wines with excellent selection, provenance, price and service. They have an extensive inventory of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Italy, California, Lebanon, Spain, Vintage Port, and Australia. They have very competitive pricing. They have solid interface and a regular newsletter for alerts.
Domaine Storage – domainestorage.com – St Louis, MO
Domaine started as a storage firm for private collections and have morphed into a seller of private collections as a service and now a business. They sell retail and have a wide selection of collectables. They also offer other services around wine including storage, insurance, selling, buying and shipping.
If you want to build your cellar and drink some amazing wine, give one of these places a try. They have big collections of aged and ready to drink wines.