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09.29.2006

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.

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