Gradually establishing itself as a popular auction category, wine is enjoying an increasing global demand in the last few decades. It is considered not only an enjoyment but also an investment, thus it is important to know how wine is valued, in order to buy and sell at the right price. Not every vintage wine is collectible and a rare bottle doesn’t necessarily mean it is valuable. We got together a list of attributes that determine the price of a wine.
Sales history is the most important data that experts look at. To get a good understanding of the market, you should look through realized auction lots. Free and user friendly, Mearto’s price database gets together an extensive range of bottles. Make sure you find the prices for lots that are the most similar to what you want to sell or buy. There are four attributes you should include in your search for most accurate results.
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- Grape Type: e.g.: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and so on
- Region: e.g.: Bordeaux, Napa Valley, Costa Brava, Hawke’s Bay New Zealand and so on
- Brand or Vinery Name: e.g.: Dom Pérignon, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Château Mouton-Rothschild and so on
- Year: The year is important not only because it shows the age of the vintage wine but also some years are famously known to be better than others among the experts and that could greatly influence the price and investability of a wine.
After these denominators are considered, the condition, provenance and number of bottles in a lot influence the price.
The condition of the bottle, filling level and preservation history is essential in wine valuation. Low levels and signs or any evidence of weeping will indicate a significant risk, thus reduce the price. In order to determine the condition, following details are checked:
- Label condition: Soiled, stained, cellar scuffed or worn label. Usually a cosmetic concern but could give clues of the environment the bottle was exposed to. For example a stained label might indicate the bottle was stored in damp conditions, which is usually good for wine preservation. So although the bottle might not look new, the wine might be exceptionally well preserved.
- Capsule and Seal Condition: The capsule is the protective sleeve covering the neck of the bottle and can be made of foil, plastic, tin, aluminium and in some older bottles lead. Sometimes sealing wax is used to cover the capsule. This wax can sometimes crack when the bottles are moved and cracked wax doesn’t necessarily indicate a problem with storage conditions.
- Original Unopened Packaging: If the wine bottles are in their original casing (cardboard or timber), then the experts wouldn’t open the box. In this case, you should take the provenance of the wine into account when determining the risk and value.
- Ullage or Level: Ullage means loss of liquid by evaporation or leakage. In wine terms it refers to the fill level in a bottle, the space between the bottom of the cork and the wine when the bottle is standing upright. It is normal for some loss to occur from the bottle over time but it can also indicate a degree of risk with drinking the wine due to easing of the cork or exposure to detrimental environmental conditions. It is evaluated in the following levels:
BON = Base of Neck. Good for any age and excellent for any bottle 10 years or older
VVHS = Very, Very High Shoulder. Normal for any bottle older than 15 years and very good for bottles 35+ years
VHS = Very High Shoulder. A good level for any wine 15+ years and older
HS = High Shoulder. This is considered a normal level for wines 20 years or older
MS = Mid-Shoulder. This level suggests usually some deterioration of the cork and therefore some variation and is usual for bottles 50 years or older. This is a high risk category and should be valued accordingly if you are planning to drink this wine as opposed to obtaining it as a collectible.
LS = Low Shoulder. A highly risky proposition for any age and values should be significantly lower to account for the risk.
BS = Bottom Shoulder. Possibly a very interesting and rare wine with a low estimate.
You will find the ullage level defined in the lot description, for example: (u. 3hs) means 3 bottles ullaged to high shoulder. For Burgundy, German and other wines in bottles with sloping necks the ullage is shown in centimetres, measured from the base of the cork. Example: (u. 2x5cm) means 2 bottles ullaged 5 centimetres.
Similar to art, the provenance of a wine is a combination of its purchase and storage history. Some auction houses provide verified provenance guarantee or they might check the provenance of the bottle by sending an expert. Sometimes you will see a “Sample Tested” mark, which is the utmost guarantee about a bottle and also provides definitive taste description.
3. Number of Bottles:
There is only a small chance of finding someone willing to buy a single bottle of wine, unless it is a highly interesting and rare example. If you have only one insignificant bottle of wine, it is best to prepare a nice dinner and enjoy it.
The price of a bottle increases if it is possibly an investment wine. For example, the lot on the right, 2 exquisite Château Lafite-Rothschild sold for € 3,600 against an estimate of € 2,600 because 1982 was a special year for Bordeaux wine and this vintage was labeled an “outstanding wine that will get even better over the next 50 years” by prominent wine critics. For further information, stay tuned for our guide on wine investment!
Sotheby’s Wine Department
Cover image courtesy of Sotheby’s.