I asked where an old wine I wanted to buy had been stored, but they wouldn't tell me. Is that normal?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Provenance is very critical for fine wine investment. When I approached a London-based reputable wine merchant for a wine I am looking at, however, it just told me that the wine was reliably sourced from Switzerland but refused to specify from whom it sourced the wine and where the wine had been stored. I am wondering whether this is kind of the standard industry practice.

—Leon T., China

Dear Leon,

When it comes to buying wine on the secondary market, you’ll find that the information sellers make available varies widely. In general, auction houses (which deal with the rarest and most expensive collections) will have the most documentation about who owned the wine and for how long, as well as how it was kept. However, they may have made agreements with the sellers not to reveal certain details, which can be frustrating to buyers. Also, in some cases, information simply isn't available; perhaps the wine has gone through several owners, and records have been lost.

Buyer beware! Ask all the questions you can regarding provenance and storage conditions. If at all possible, you should physically inspect the wine, and if the seller is willing to open a bottle for you to taste, so much the better. But old wine varies in quality, no matter what its provenance. There will always be a certain degree of risk in buying it. For some collectors, that's part of the fun.

—Dr. Vinny

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