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Vintage wine: What's it worth?

We've all heard stories of the dusty, cobwebbed bottle of wine, long forgotten, that turns out to be worth a fortune. Any truth to those tales?

The value of wine
Sorry to say, most bottles of wine that turn up after decades of storage aren't going to make anyone rich. Only a small percentage of wine is so-called "investment-grade," meaning that it will appreciate significantly in value over time. Also, too often the environment in which the wine has been stored is poor. Fine wine ages long and well in a cool, dark, relatively humid place. Prolonged storage at room temperature or higher will prematurely age the wine, eventually spoiling it. The value of an old wine depends a great deal on its "provenance," which means its ownership history and storage condi

To learn what your bottle is worth, take it to a fine wine retailer and ask for an opinion. A good wine merchant should be able to give you an approximate value and suggest how to dispose of it. You can also plug the wine's name and vintage into an Internet search engine and see if any values come up. tions.

Wine auction houses are another avenue. Butterfields of San Francisco and The Chicago Wine Company run fine wine auctions and post prices on their web sites. You can contact them about the value of the wines you may be interested in selling. Other auction houses include Sotheby's and Christie's.

Be aware that it's not easy for an individual without a liquor license to sell one or two bottles of wine. Most auction houses have minimum consignment requirements. If the liquor laws in your state permit, a retailer may be able to take your bottles on consignment.

Feeling generous? The easiest way to realize some value from a bottle or two of old wine is to donate them to a charity auction for a tax deduction. That way you benefit, and so does a worthy cause.

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