Learning about Aged Wine Can Be Costly. The Solution is WineBid

wine auction 2One of the consummate pleasures that wine offers is tracing the changes a wine undergoes as it ages in the bottle. Of course, some wines do not age well but the ones that do repay patience with glorious aromas, satin-like textures, and the intrigue of discovering the sometimes surprising trajectories of individual bottles.

But that glory comes at a cost. Some bottles will turn out to be expensive vinegar. And drinking aged wines requires you have a temperature controlled storage area or the wherewithal to purchase expensive commercial storage space. Although you can find properly aged wine at some wine shops and online, these will be pricey largely because only the priciest wines will provide sufficient profit to make it worthwhile for retailers to carry them.

These obstacles are a challenge to new wine drinkers, especially if they’re on a budget. Yet, you really can’t fully enjoy your wine journey or gain  a wine education without exploring the aging process.

The solution to this dilemma is WineBid. (I thank Tom Wark for suggesting this solution to me.)

WineBid is a wine auction site where people with excess wine on their hands, or who seek to unload wines from an estate, sell their wares to the highest bidder. I have been tempted by wine auctions in the past but my own cellar seems to have a way of growing autonomously so I have always refrained. But thanks to Tom’s encouragement, I decided to take the plunge and see what WineBid had to offer. Was the process easy? Was bidding on wines fun? And, most importantly, were the wines any good? How do you know if the wines have been properly stored?

The respective answers were yes, yes, and you really don’t know for sure (which is true for retail shops as well) but WineBid helps put the odds in your favor.

WineBid has been in business for 25 years so they know how to make the process as seamless as possible. Signing up to become a member is a breeze and you can choose your membership tier. The crus level is free. The collector level is $49 annually which gives you more storage, a discount on shipping, and the opportunity for early bidding. And the Pro level for $99 gets you even more storage and a larger shipping discount.

Once you sign up, you have the option of buying wines, just as you would with any online retailer, or joining an auction.  Currently there are some intriguing, affordable wines on the “buy now” side starting at $11.99 but these tend to be relatively young wines and the selection is much greater on the auction side.

To bid on a wine in the auction, use their search engines to find something you want. There are several sorting options that help you home in on what you’re looking for. Each wine has an offer price which is the minimum bid. You enter your maximum bid for that wine. The site tells you how many bottles of the wine you’re bidding on are available. That is important information. The more supply there is the better your chances of getting the wine for the minimum price. If someone submits a higher bid for your wine, and there are no bottles available at the price you bid, you are notified by email and given the opportunity to increase your bid. The auctions close on Sunday evening at which time you’re notified by email if your bid was successful.

Once the auction closes and you’ve purchased the wines, they are moved to a storage site. At the lowest membership tier you get one month of free storage with storage at $.50 per bottle per month after that. You can then schedule shipping or pick up the wines. The shipping rates are standard. I had three bottles shipped from Napa to San Diego for $21. [Update: Thanks to reader JG for reminding of the 17% buyer’s premium. If you buy inexpensive wine as I did, this won’t amount to much, but on pricier bottles it adds up.]

Currently there are 5221 wines offered for auction. The selection is enormous. There are wines on offer right now from Lebanon, San Marino, and Hungary as well as most of the better known regions in the world. There are interesting wines for as little as $10. For wine geeks this could be an enormous time sink.

I was concerned about whether wines bought at auction would be in good condition. Of course, there is no way to know for sure. But WineBid reports on the condition of the label and any other visual evidence of damage such as signs of seepage.

As a test, I decided to bid on three wines that were inexpensive and very old. Thus, there was a good chance they might be damaged. The wines were as follows:

1990 Anderson’s Conn Valley Valhalla Vineyard Pinot Noir $25

1989 Chateau Fabas Minervois Cuvee Alexandre $23

2003 Schloss Schönborn Hattenheim Nussbrunnen Riesling Kabinett $11

To my surprise, each wine was still enjoyable. To be sure the Pinot Noir and the Minervois were past their prime. But they both were satisfying to drink with plenty of fruit persistence and aromatic complexity. The Riesling was simply gorgeous, a delicious blend of orange zest, apricot, and diesel fuel with a seamless yet explosive midpalate. You simply cannot find a wine like that elsewhere for $11.

Needless to say, I’m quite enthusiastic about WineBid. I suspect my wine cellar will start growing again.

4 comments

  1. Dwight, I am a big fan of Winebid but I think there are some important caveats to keep in mind:
    1) All auctions close at the same time Sunday night. This has created a culture of sniping auctions in the last few minutes, and if you lose an auction at hammer and need to fill out a shipment (say, 6 or 12 wines) then you have to wait a week to try again. It seems like the way they want customers to operate is to buy wines on a whim, build up a few cases of inventory in storage, then ship out boxes at a later date. Very different mindset from retail.
    2) There is a 17% buyer’s premium. That would add $10.03 to your example, but there’s more…
    3) WineBid has high shipping fees. Within CA this week shipping a case of wine was either $40 for ground (2-day) or $107 for overnight air. I ended up choosing air since my order included some fragile wine. Oof.

    I too have enjoyed some real gems on WineBid though prices are not as low as they seem when you start adding in the buyer’s premium. Winebid requires loads of patience to maximize your return.

    1. Thanks for your comment JG. I forgot about the buyer’s premium which wasn’t much on my order but would add a lot to a large order of expensive wines. I didn’t think the shipping was out of line with other retailers. Wine.com charges about $40 for a case as well.

  2. Dwight,
    I’ve had success with Benchmark (they’re 15 minutes from my home), Vinfolio (about 30 minutes). Have ordered older Brunello vintages (2006 and 2007) and wine was cool, and in good shape.

    Cheers!

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