The Wine Whisperer:

The other day I received a call from a woman who wished me to find a buyer for her cellar of wine. I connect folks from time to time and see if they can work things out by themselves. Sometimes I go to the cellar or find a way for the person to give me a list of what is in the cellar so that I might tell them an approximate worth of what they are looking at as far as assets or liabilities in the cellar as a whole. Let's look at the worth of a cellar of wine from Mrs. A, a collector of wine, wishing to sell her bottles on the open market or to a wine shop or restaurant. Here are the things to look for if you are in the market to purchase wines from a personal cellar:

1) Where the wines were purchased. Wines purchased by a cellar owner to go back on the open market (secondary market) should have a pedigree which is researchable. In other words, we need to find the lineage of wine, especially if the wine is older or very expensive from a great house. Just because the wine might be from a "great winery" does not mean that the wine is drinkable or even good enough to command large amounts of money.

Some wines which end up in cellars have a dubious background, shifting from place to place, where no one knows or remembers what kind of storage the wines were kept in or if they were standing up for a great length of time or tossed around like a ship in high seas. Verification is essential if big bucks are being spent for cellars. Reputable wine shops ferret this kind of information out for the buyer so that the likelihood of the wines having been mistreated over the years will come out. Conversely, the fine storage of wines will also be known and easily documented to whoever wants to know what happened to bottles in this secondary market. If Mrs. A has no documentation, her prices will be well reduced.

2) Understand vintage dates. There are many wines floating around out there from very good wineries that are from only satisfactory or marginal vintages yet try to command high prices. Just because a wine comes from a fine winery does not make the wine a good value. It could be that Mrs. A got bamboozled years ago and wants to unload these marginal vintages. Watch out! I remember some years ago hearing about this great cellar in Ashland and, after being invited to the cellar, seeing hundreds of great winery bottles of wine, most of them from very marginal vintages. Yes, this person had fine labels (looking impressive) from great wineries but the vintages were not age-worthy and some past their prime. (This was a smart guy and I always wondered why he had not been more careful.)

3) Look at current vintages of a certain winery you wish to buy in the marketplace and compare the price of them against the older vintage from Mrs. A's cellar. Many times it is best to buy the superb, current release of a winery, hold the wine yourself and then enjoy it years later and save the jump in price. Besides, you know how the wine was stored and will benefit in saving the cellared (aged) price. A quite good example of this is the purchase of older Bordeaux reds. Many times the new release of great wine is far less than a 10-year old Bordeaux from the same winery.

If you have the willpower to sleep on the wine for a few years, the value will most certainly go up, the wine will mature well and when you consume the wine you will have the knowledge that you paid a fair market (non-inflated) price on the wine at the time of purchase. This is compared to what that same bottle would be sold to you at the time you (years later) are purchasing it from Mrs. A's cellar. This is the great value of storing wine yourself instead of buying an accelerated-priced wine someone else has cellared. Besides, you will cellar exactly the kind, vintage and winery of your choice, not someone else's idea of what should be cellared and aged! This is why so many folks are starting their own cellars and being patient. They will be well rewarded! See you next week!