My most frequently asked wine question

One of my favourite television shows is Antiques Roadshow. Everyone enjoys the spectacle of an art expert carefully examining a slightly soiled painting that was retrieved from a rubbish bin and announcing it’s worth ten thousand pounds. The look of astonishment and delight on the owner’s face keeps us tuning in to future episodes.

What we don’t see are the queues of other hopefuls clutching paintings they believe to be valuable then being told they’re worthless. Only the Marquis de Sade and the Minister of Finance relish the misfortune of others. The rest of us would rather change channels.

Which brings me to my most asked wine question.

“I have an old bottle of wine, is it worth anything or should I drink it?”

My heart sinks when I hear those words. For a start it suggests they only drink worthless wine. It implies that all wine is drinkable. The owner wants me to confirm their belief that the wine is valuable. It seldom is.

Here are the facts:

  • All wine does not improve with age. About 90% of wine is made to be consumed within a year or two.
  • If wine is not stored correctly (in the dark at a constant low temperature) if can “go off” fairly quickly.
  • Only a handful of classic wines gain value with bottle age. Very few New Zealand wines fall into that category.

If you have an old bottle of wine that you believe has some value here is what to do:

  1. Stand the bottle upright and check the gap between the top of the wine and the bottom of the cork (this only applies to wines sealed with a cork). Most wine has a gap of about 10mm when bottled. If the cork is faulty or the wine stored badly the wine level will fall. If it drops any more than about 40mm the wine is probably oxidised and may be unpleasant to drink (but taste it before you throw it away). It is likely to have little value.
  2. If the wine level is OK check out the wine’s value on the website You can search the world or restrict your search to New Zealand.
  3. If the wine appears to have a significant value and you wish to sell it contact a wine auctioneer such as Fitzgeralds or Webbs in Auckland. They will be able to give you an approximate valuation and tell you how to go about selling it. You might also offer it to a fine wine retailer. You are legally obliged to sell it to a liquor licence holder so you can’t offer it on Trade Me.

Nine out of ten wines that I am asked to value are simply not worth selling. There is the odd exception. I recall being asked to value a bottle of DRC 1978 La Tache that had been given to the owner by her wine enthusiast boyfriend shortly before their relationship ended. It is a famous French burgundy from an outstanding vintage and is highly collectible. I bought the bottle for around $500, its value at the time. I checked out its current value on the Wine Searcher website and was surprised to find an average price of $6,720. Sadly I drank the wine years ago.

Wines for drinking (not keeping)

Savvie to savour

Auntsfield 2011 Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $24

This is certainly worth its premium price. It’s serious Sauvignon Blanc that’s a cut or two above most. Concentrated wine with an ethereal texture. – view on

Agreeable Gris

Main Divide 2011 Pinot Gris, Waipara $19.95

Medium/dry Pinot Gris with lovely pear, honey, caramel and brioche flavours. It’s first label quality at a second label price. – view on

Gimme a Gimblett

Trinity Hill 2010 The Gimblett, Hawke’s Bay $34

Hearty red that’s a blend of five grape varieties from an excellent Hawke’s Bay vintage. Will age but deliciously drinkable now. – view on

First published in Your Home and Garden Magazine – Oct 2012.

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