Learn about quality wines by attending a top-flight auction

January 9, 2017

My new year’s resolution should be easy to keep. Try to make 2017 as happy as 2016. With the exception of a few pals who have departed, 2016 was a terrific year. Losing friends is one of a few downsides to a long life. Another is weeding out your wine cellar and selling off those speculations you thought were investments. Following is some information speculators may wish to have. Keep in mind you can also buy. Acker, Merrall & Condit auction house is accepting lots for future auctions. Deadline for the February auction in New York is Friday, Jan. 13, and for March in Hong Kong is Friday, Feb. 10. There is a complete schedule on their website, If your lot is sufficient, they will appraise it for you as well. Be careful when accessing this type of site. My current list of auction houses names 217 wine auction companies worldwide. Some have no phone or address attached. There are many phishing sites that employ email addresses similar to auction houses. I prefer phone calls to start.

If time permits, attending at least one top-flight auction is very enjoyable. My first was 1976 in Baltimore, Md., put on by Chateau & Estates. The highlight was the opportunity to sample a Chateau Laffite (old spelling of Lafite) found at the bottom of Charleston harbor in the hold of a sunken wooden sailing ship. The bottles were at constant temperature around 55 degrees due to water depth and the layers of mud that had sealed them from light and oxygen. The lead caps and the corks were still intact. The provenance claimed the lot was being sent to Thomas Jefferson. Lading bills and etching on the bottle seemed to confirm. The bottles had Lafitte, the initials TH. J and 1787 etched into them. Barbara, my former partners in the Garden in Ocean City, and Terry Adriance, our bartender, as well as their significant others, took the trip. This was the first time I sampled very old, perfectly stored wine. It was the hook that brought me to learning and later writing about wine. I still remember the pale brick-red color, the legs, and the flavor.

Due to the wine’s age there was little discernible nose. The flavors were barrel flavors, roses, old leather, spice and vanillin. All dissipated quickly. We stood in line and each had a thimble of the wine. It sold at auction for $13K/bottle, big bucks in 1976. A later cache of 1784 located in Paris included a bottle with the same etching, sold at auction for $157K to Christopher Forbes in 1985. This bottling was a deeper color.

Michael Broadbent, the noted master of wine du jour, wrote these up. Shortly thereafter, Hardy Rodenstock (settled out of court) and later Rudy Kurniawan (10 years in prison) were discovered to have been counterfeiting old wine, and those stories are still swirling around in the upper reaches of the wine-buying elites. As with all things that are very old and in short supply, caveat emptor.

You may recall my write-up of Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno IGT 2012. Maybe not. Anyhow, I rated it 94 McD at $68 a few years ago. It is a lovely Super Tuscan. It was rated by Suckling 97, to Galloni, Larner and Sanderson at 93 points. I won’t attribute who wrote what. This is only an illustration of four different views of the exact same wine. Writer No. 1 described these aromas: blackberries, orange peel, raspberries, citrus and violets. No. 2 wrote black cherry jam, mocha, spice and violets.

For No. 3, it was cherry, black currant, earth, wild herbs and tobacco; and No. 4 claimed bitter chocolate, dark spice and blackberry. The only issues agreed on were composition of 50 percent Merlot, 40 percent Cab, 10 percent Petit Verdot and assertive tannin.

I compared the 2012 to the 2010 and 2006, and recommended waiting to buy one of each. Buy 2006 now at $65 and 2010 at $70. After a brief uptick driven by the 97 points, the 2012 has returned to a $77 range and is ready to drink now through 2025. Wait on purchase.