How Much is my Old Wine Bottle Worth?
I get this question all the time. A person finds a bottle of wine stashed in a back attic corner or in the basement. It's from 1950 or some earlier year. They wonder if they have a fortune waiting to be realized.
The quick answer is that the only thing a wine is worth is what someone will pay for it. Few people will pay for an old bottle that they cannot guarantee has been stored well. It's most likely vinegar. This is especially true if you see signs of leakage around the cork's edges, or the cork seems extremely dry. If air got into the bottle, then the wine has been oxidized and turned into vinegar.
It's not only air that destroys wine. Heat can destroy wine in a matter of hours or days. Say you had a wine bottle for 14 years. Say that most of the time the wine was in a cool, dark place - but that you had a heat wave for a week that zapped your electricity and the wine sat at 90F. The wine is now completely destroyed, even though the bottle looks the same. It's hard for a stranger to trust someone, that they really had the wine at a great temperature every hour of every day, for a long period of time.
Sunlight can also destroy wine. You can tell if an antique couch has sat in the sunlight and faded. You can't tell, by looking at a wine, if it sat in the sun for a while and was vinegarized. You can only tell when you open that cork and taste it.
If this wine bottle was stored very well - for example your parents had a professional celler and had recently passed away - then by all means contact an auction house immediately. You want to sell those wines quickly, while they are still in that well cared for state. You don't want to risk your own lack of knowledge to damage the wines' quality and therefore selling price.
In some very specific situations, it doesn't matter at all if the wine is drinkable. When people buy a bottle signed by Thomas Jefferson, or wine found on the Titanic, they don't care what it tastes like. It's a collector's item. The intention is to never open that bottle. If your wine falls into that category, then all that matters is that you can prove 100% that the wine was in the situation you say it was.
So to summarize, the ability to sell your bottle - and the price you might get for it - all depends if your bottle is a cool collector's item that someone wants, or if it's just an old bottle of vinegar that people are not interested.
If you really want to know, call Christie's auction house up and ask!
Old Wine - Should I Drink It?
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