Several of our Australian readers have asked us for more information on the Australian online wine auctions. In several of our posts we’ve mentioned the old wine that we have been drinking including in my very first post where I explained that it was wine auction talk that got us into this blogging caper in the first place.
For those who are interested in the wine auctions you may very well find that this post is the most comprehensive write-up about the Australian online wine auctions on the net, seriously. There’s just not much info, and maybe that’s on purpose.
By writing about this it may very well be like breaking the first and second rules of fight club! I know that my fellow wine wanker bloggers have some mild reservations about this post, no one wants competition at an auction, but I’ve decided that anyone crazy enough to read our blog should get the benefit of what is, without doubt, one of the best wine discoveries I have ever made. My fellow wine wankers would totally agree with that.
About a year ago I started searching for 1972 vintage wines for a cozy dinner my wife was organising as part of my 40th birthday celebrations. I started buying bottles from the online wine shops and they were rather expensive. I did further digging and discovered several online wine auction sites.
I’d known about them for ages but just thought they were too hard so I couldn’t be bothered. How wrong I was, they are deadset easy and so well worth the effort! Over the last year the vast majority of the wines I have drunk have been bought from auction. This would probably be the same for Neal too and for Stu in recent times.
I’ll cover the auction sites that I have personally used first. Click their titles to go to their websites…
This is the first ever wine auction site I used. The reason why… this one is free to join! Other than my earlier purchases I haven’t gone back to use Sterling and I don’t know why not. It’s probably because I paid to join the others so have wanted to get my monies worth. I’d definitely recommend Sterling for your first go at buying by auction.
Annual joining fee: Free
Regularity: Every 2 weeks
Buyers Premium: 15%
Delivery charge: Local pickup or apx $20/carton within Australia
Update Dec 2014: Since writing this blog post Sterling Wine Auctions have upgraded their website several times and Lynton Barber tells us that there is another big and exciting upgrade happening over Christmas. This means that they are investing in continual development and are well worth having a good look at! We’ve received some great bottles of wine from Sterling recently too.
Famous for their Classification of Australian Wines. I’ve probably used Langton’s more than the others although it actually isn’t my favourite even though it is good. It’s Neal’s only auction site but he’d want me to tell you it’s rubbish and to try the others. There’s some awesome informational tools on their website.
Annual joining fee: $33
Regularity: At least weekly
Buyers Premium: 15%
Delivery charge: Local pickup or apx $10.50/carton within Australia
Update July 2014: The whole look and feel of Langton’s has changed including how you purchase your wine.
This is Stu’s favourite and you can read about the results of his recent effort here. I actually just bought from them last night. Besides their huge array of premium and imported wine (just like the other auctions) they also do a lot of mixed cases of old wine that may have wines from all over the place and from different decades, and sometimes only a few $ per bottle! For both Stu and I, this mixed case setup has proven to be unreal although Stu would like me to tell you it would be too hard for you all so don’t bother. 😉
Stu did have a problem recently where they “lost” a few bottles. Apparently someone dropped them. He was well compensated with wines of far greater $ value but they just weren’t the unusual old wines he had won. Shit happens.
Annual joining fee: $27.50
Buyers Premium: 13.5%
Delivery charge: Local pickup or apx $20/carton within Australia
My favourite! Why? Because they run two auctions at once, a premium auction and a $20 and under auction. I’ve picked up some great wines in the cheapie including 72 vintage Australian ports and some spectacular 72 Yalumba Galway Claret, 3 bottles in fact for about $18 each. I’ve just polished off the last bottle now while writing this post and it is absolutely sensational considering its 41 years through time. Full of flavours that only come with age and still loads of fruit. My wife has commented several times on how good it is!
Location: Adelaide Annual joining fee: $22
Buyers Premium: 15% Delivery charge:
Local pickup or apx $20/carton within Australia
Wickman’s are known for their exceptional fine wine so are definitely worth checking out if you like the real good stuff. Plus they are free and only charge 11% buyers premium!
Update Nov 2013: We received a nice email from Mark Wickman that, among other things, stated the following “its not always the expensive wine we deal in, its about quality and good provenance”
Neal tried to register for Empire Auctions the other day because they are in Sydney and are free but he just kept getting kicked out. Not sure what’s going on there.
Lawsons is free to register but charge a 25% buyers premium!
All of the 3 above are worth you looking at especially considering you wouldn’t be competing with seasoned buyers like The Wine Wankers! 😉
Then there’s the likes of eBay, Grays Online, Cracka Wines and Wine Auction House that do rolling point in time auctions. I originally started buying from eBay but have now been there done that. Never tried Grays, Cracka or Wine Auction House but their formats, although all different, especially Cracka’s reverse auctions, are not for me but they may work for you. A lot of the wine sold on these sites are recent vintage overflows.
The positives …
– It’s a way to drink wines and vintages that have not been available for a long time. I once thought I’d only get to drink old wines by knowing the right people, usually much older and more experienced than I.
– The wines are usually cheaper than anywhere else and sometimes cheaper than when they were released (except for the collectables). There’s a lot of people with way too much wine that need to offload it, and then there’s the deceased estates. Although I intend to drink all my wine there’s a lot of people who think they can take it all with them to the grave.
– As an example, one of many great scores I’ve had was picking up 6 bottles of 1998 Meerea Park Alexander Munro for $43/bottle. This is one of the top Hunter Valley Shirazes and retailed on original release for about $50. It was re-released in 2008 as an aged cellar door special and sold out almost immediately for $100/bottle!
The negatives …
– The subscription costs being around $20-35 per year although many are free to join.
– Buyers premiums (usually an additional 11-25% charged on top of auction price).
– Delivery charges (around $20/case) although many have local pickup available.
– Potential for purchasing wine that is undrinkable, either someone else’s rubbish or perished wine, but the rewards far out way the occasional duds.
– Bidding wars! Just like other types of online auctions, you know you’re in a bidding war if, in the last minutes or so, you and someone else keep outbidding each other. You really do need to know when to fold. It’s easy to “just want to win”. Make sure it’s what you really want. Some auctions cut off at the exact closing time but others will carry on if there’s a bidding war until there’s one victor.
– It’s addictive! Be careful. I’m going into rehab for an extended period after I got carried away with it the other night. It’s easy to want way more than you need.
The wines I’ve bought have mostly been aged, ranging from the 60s through to the latter half of the naughties. So what’s the failure rate of these old wines? In my experience I’ve had probably 1 out of 10, at most, that have either been undrinkable or barely drinkable.
I’ve actually only poured about 3 bottles down the sink. Another 2 out of 10 are just ok, not unpleasant but also not that interesting. 3 bottles would be rather interesting just because they are different to young wines. That leaves 4 out of every 10 that end up being extremely interesting and utterly enjoyable in unique ways.
If you’ve got any questions please ask in the comments sections as I may have missed something I should add to this post. If any of our non-Australian readers has local auction info please add it to the comments also.
Oh, and by the way, the 1972 vintage wines bought online for my 40th dinner are what make up our banner!