It's always been the case that you cannot buy and sell wine on eBay because you need a licence. Recently though, there's been a spate of new web-based initiatives, offering the opportunity to buy or sell wines without going through the cumbersome procedure of the auction house or traditional wine broker. How to price your wine or what to pay? Helpfully, there are also sites giving you the market price of your wine or a wine you're thinking of buying.
After meeting Spenser Hilliard, a licensing-law barrister, and businessman Keith Prothero through Tom Cannavan's wine-pages.com forum, techie wunderkind Lionel Nierop (ex-Cambridge University wine-tasting team) set up bidforwine.com. The aim, says Nierop, is "to give the man and woman in the street the chance to exchange wine, eBay- style, over the internet". Not the most auspicious time to set up such a business perhaps, but bidforwine's been holding its own.
One sale produced £31,000, but even a single bottle can be bought and sold. "A bottle of 1999 Château Margaux went for £171, close to the market rate. The seller was happy and the buyer got a discount on the market price," says Nierop. The seller, who consigns the wine, paid a £1.75 listings fee plus 14 per cent commission (a sliding scale tapering to 5.5 per cent after £2,500) with no charge to the buyer.
Newcomers to the private- customer online scene include Richard Dawes Fine Wine, and Bordeaux Index, the latter's "Live Trade" publishing bid-offer spreads on 60 top wines for registered customers. The London wine merchant Berry Brothers & Rudd recently announced its intention to allow its customers to trade their private reserves with each other. Now, America's Vinfolio Marketplace, due to go live this month, allows anyone to add their wine to a virtual inventory of almost 12 million bottles, valued at $2 billion.
Unlike existing online wine sites like Snooth, which connects consumers with wine merchants and producers to help them compare prices, Marketplace's aim is facilitating sales between collectors who can't do it on their own without a licence. Its MD, Stephen Bachmann, claims it's "faster, cheaper and more flexible" than existing online auctions. "The marketplace turns these collectors into suppliers to one another."
This new direct trade has been given a boost by the price transparency of sites telling you the market price of any given wine. Wine-searcher.com offers a limited free service (more comprehensive to subscribers), and wineprices. com has a free up-to-date online resource for wine auction and retail prices. Fine & Rare Wines has recently come up with a scheme for an instant online valuation of market prices from its database, allowing customers to offer wines for sale through Fine & Rare.
If you're looking for a wine that's too mature to be stocked by a retailer in shops or not high-end enough for auctions or brokers, one of the price sites should help you gauge what to bid. Click again and your bid will be sent automatically to sellers of the wine you're looking for. Or, if you've switched your allegiance from Bordeaux to Burgundy, you now have a convenient way to start again. The buyer pays no premium and the seller's wine is checked to ensure the wine's in good condition. All part of the expanding wine services on the net.