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Wine on eBay: Buyer Beware

There's buying wine at auction, and then there's buying wine at auction. Professionally run wine auctions by established companies that specialize in evaluating, pricing, and selling wine can be a great source of excellent wine for those with the interest, the money (no you don't need to be rich), and the time to participate. Christies, Bonham's & Butterfields, Sotheby's, and more regularly hold wine auctions where really fantastic wines can be had.

Ebay, on the other hand, sells stuff like this. (This is a PDF of the auction, as it was yanked 2 hours after I wrote this post)

In case you don't quite get the joke after seeing this (as far as I can tell totally legitimate and real auction), consider the following.

1. These are (a fact which is conveniently not mentioned in the auction title) ostensibly bottles of 1991 Jadot Beaujolais. Yes, that's right, Beaujolais -- the wine released each November that is designed to be consumed within months of its bottling. And to add insult to injury it's just a Villages wine, not even a Cru. The seller certainly has one part of his shtick correct -- they certainly are rare! Mostly because everyone drank theirs or threw them out decades ago.

2. If you look closely at the photos, you can see that the corks of both bottles are pushed out, one to the point of breaking through the foil cap. Not a good sign for buying any wine, let alone an old one. In my experience this happens usually for three reasons -- either the bottle has been severely knocked or shaken about, or the wine has been heat damaged.

3. The labels look like they've been underwater, or underground, or in a moldy refrigerator.

4. The bottles are fakes. This is according to some folks on the Robert Parker Bulletin Boards (where I found the link to this auction) who apparently know that on these bottles, the angelic little face should be in 3/4 profile, not in a frontal view.

Unfortunately, there's lots of fraud on eBay, of all kinds and colors, but things like wine are particularly vulnerable to scams like this because there's not always a correlation between the means and interest in buying expensive wine and the knowledge required to evaluate whether it's a good buy or not.

The lesson? It's certainly possible to buy good collectible wine on eBay but only if you really know what you're doing. Otherwise, stick with more traditional sources.

Thanks to Jack at Fork & Bottle for the tipoff.

Comments (8)

brogie62 wrote:
09.29.06 at 10:33 AM

They are actually regular Beaujolais, not Beaujolais Nouveau, which is the wine released in November. The regular Beaujolais can age for a couple of years (not 15 though).

Alder wrote:
09.29.06 at 10:36 AM

Ah yes. Thanks for the clarification. You are correct that these aren't Noveau. In my mirth I wasn't thinking straight.

Andy wrote:
09.29.06 at 12:23 PM

Ebay article has been brought down. ;)

Ken wrote:
09.29.06 at 12:58 PM

Actually, eBay only allows approved sellers to post wine auctions and my understand was that they were fairly strict to ensure that those sellers were both licensed wine sellers (important for shipping) and reputable. You'll notice that it is posted under barware and pretends to be an auction for the bottles, not the wine itself. You must be one of those approved sellers to create an auction in their wine category.

Not that I've bought wine from eBay, but I understand from others that if you know the seller, it can be just as good as buying through WineCommune or WineBid. Naturally, it can be just as bad as buying through those other sites, depending on the individual auction...

Alder wrote:
09.29.06 at 1:03 PM

Thanks for the info. I knew that wine was for sale frequently on eBay, but wasn't aware of the restrictions. Looks like this listing was even more fraudulent than I thought.

Fiorenzo wrote:
09.30.06 at 12:23 AM

E-bay sometimes is ok for a good laugh. Time ago I found a weird fiasco-shaped Bardolino, 1975 vintage; price? 50.000,00 Euro. Funny uh?

Elsbeth wrote:
10.05.06 at 12:46 PM

I echo Ken's comments. eBay's wine program is fairly new, but it's a great resource, and listings in the wine category are carefully monitored.

I've had positive experiences both buying and selling wine through eBay. We signed up as an approved seller a while ago, and periodically auction one half case of wine; we've built great relationships with our eBay customers.

Sad to see someone attempting to take advantage of this new program.

horse wrote:
06.04.09 at 5:39 PM

i have a bottle of Roederer Cristal 1989 ..how much is it worth i got it as a gift..

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