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How To Buy Wine At Auction And Why You Should

Wine auctions can seem intimidating, or simply unapproachable. They shouldn’t be.

Actually, anyone can go and anyone can find some special wines at special prices – whatever your budget. Don’t be afraid. Know what you like and your budget and go for it. Paddles up.


Maybe you’ve been put off by the numbers. When 10 bottles of 1945 Château Mouton Rothschild go for $343,000, it can feel as though a wine auction is a wee bit … inaccessible.

Or maybe you think buying wine at auction is a stuffy process, involving sitting on uncomfortable chairs in bland boardrooms, raising paddles out of sheer boredom. Wine auctions, you figure, are not for you.

Well, you’re wrong. Wine auctions are no longer just one thing. I’ve been to raucous live sales where collectors battled for expensive bottles while sipping Krug champagne and savoring food by Daniel Boulud. But you can also bid online while hanging out at home in your sweats and eating pizza from a box, or even while flying from New York to L.A. (unless Gogo-in-flight conks out, as it did for me when I tried bidding on some wine this year).

The biggest reason to bid at auction is to get rare bottles and old vintages that aren’t readily available in retail shops. (If you’re not drinking older wines at least some of the time, you’re definitely missing out—but that’s another, more expensive, column.)

Live auctions are where you’ll find the splashiest of the splashy, which means case lots of Château Pétrus, grand cru Burgundy, Krug champagne, Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. Putting together a live sale costs a fair amount of money in and of itself (think of those lavish catalogs), so auction houses focus on what will bring in the biggest bucks.

You can bid in person, by phone, or online in advance or in real time, following the sale via audio and video wherever you are. One Russian recently bid from Western Siberia using an the new mobile app launched by the auction house Hart Davis Hart.

But attending a live auction is a great way to get a feel for how it all works. You can just drop by, but to bid, you have to register in advance on the auction website.

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