Wine can be a great investment because it can [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

Except in a few isolated cases, it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages without a license. A number of years ago a New Jersey wine collector advertised in a newspaper that he wanted to liquidate his $33,000 cellar. After a sting operation by the state, the entire cache was confiscated.

So to whom do you sell your magnum of Chateau Haut Brion 1947 or your case of Heitz 1974 Matha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon?

A few retail stores will buy wine "under the table," but most are not willing to risk their liquor licenses for a few rare bottles.

A few states permit you to sell your cellection to licensed wholesalers, but wholesalers will pay only about one-half to two-thirds of its retail value so that they can take a markup when they resell it to the retailer, and so the retailer can also take a markup.

You could try to sell your wine at an auction. Currently, there are only a handful of wine auctions in the Untied States each year. The few wines that reach the block come mostly from the cellars of well-known collectors or merchants. They are usually case lots or large bottles. And there is, of course, no guarantee how much money they will bring. Whatever that amount, shipping costs and the auctioneers' commission must be subtracted.

The venerable english auction house Christie's holds auctions in Chicago several times per year. it charges the seller a 10 perccent commission and buyers a 15 percent commission. (For further information contact Michael Davis, Christie's, 200 W. Superior, Chicago, Ill. 60610; phone 312 -- 951-1011)

Also in Chicago, the Chicago Wine Company holds several auctions where rare wines are sold to the highest mail bidder. It is actively seeking wine to sell, charging a 25 percent commission to the seller and no commission to the buyer. (Contact John Hart or Phillip Tannenbaum, Chicago Wine company, 5663 Howard St., Niles, Ill, 60648; phone 312 -- 647-8789.)

Several other auctions are mostly charity events that expect you to donate your cache.

The buying and selling of wine between private individuals is illegal in most states, but it does indeed take place. If carried on discreetly it can be a viable option, though somewhat limited. The California newsletter The W.I.N.O. Trader carries free classified-type advertisements from private individuals wishing to sell or swap wines. (Contact Linda Mead, Wine Investigation for Novices and Oenopiles, 881 Sneath Lane #114, San Bruno, Calif. 94066; phone 415-588-9463.)

Then there is the question of the wine's condition. Wine must be stored at constant cool temperatures. Cellar-aged wines might not taste any better than closet-aged wines when they mature, but in cool cellars or vaults wines age more slowly. Potential buyers will want to know the wine's pedigree -- how long you have had the wine, who had it before you and how it was stored.

The appearance of the label is important. Although the wine itself may be unaffected, a damaged label makes it less attractive and less sellable. A badly faded label is usually an indication that the bottle was not stored in the dark. Light is the bitter enemy of wine, and you should never leave your collector's items on a wine rack in the living room to impress the neighbors.

The ullage or air space in the bottle is also an important clue to the soundness of the wine, indicating if there has been excessive evaporation or leakage through the cork. The level of old wine should not be more than one inch below the cork.

Corks deteriorate with age, and very old wines should be recorked every 25-30 years. The corks of better wines usually have the winery name and vintage printed on them. If the bottle has been recorked, you should have the original cork and a certificate from the expert who recorked it.

Even if your wine passes muster on all these accounts, a prospective buyer still may want to taste a bottle to check its development and make sure it has been properly stored.

Despite all the problems of liquidity, many individuals in this county have enhanced their portfolio of investments with a steadily appreciating collection of fine wines.

In reality, for most consumers, the only investment worth making in wine is as a hedge against inflation. if you buy carefully today, the replacement cost of your purchase certainly will increase at least as fast as inflation, and when you drink an $80 wine that you bought 10 years ago for $8, it will surely taste better.

You should buy only the best vintages of the most famous estates. Most other wines are not collectable because they are not famous or scared enough.

The most reliable investment wine are red bordeaux from any of about 75 major chateaux. The best investments, by far, are the first growths: Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion, Chateau Petrus, Chateau Ausone and Chateau Cheval Blanc. Most of these wines have been in highest demand for the past two centuries. For investment purposes you should buy only the best vintages: 1985, '83, '82, '79, '78, '75, '70, '66, '61, '59, '55, '53, '49, '47, '45, '37, '29, '28 and a few older ones.

The great sweet white sauterne Chateau d'Yquem is bankable in better years ('75, '67, '59, '55, '53, '50, '47, '37, '29). Chateau d'Yquem is in a clear bottle, and its value is usually based on its color.

Golden-to-amber is the color limit, although some collectors still buy them after they've turned brown.

Burgundy is a crapshoot because the best producers are very small, and even they are uneven in quality. The most bankable are the wines from the domaine de Romanee Conti and musigny from Comte Georges de Vogue.

The younger you can get any of these "investment wines," the better. Usually it is best to get in on the first offering of "futures," about 18 months after the harvest. This can be risky, however, because when the first offering of futures is made, the wines are still in the barrel, their quality is unknown, and the producers are given to hyperbole in describing them. The best buys in futures come when the vintage in several years.

The 1982 vintage was an excellent investment. The first growths increased an average of 66 percent during the two years from first offering in spring 1983 to their arrival in the United States in spring 1985. The second through fifth growths appreciated an average of about 37 percent during the same period.

Insiders are busily collecting the California cabernet sauvignons that have established a track record for both excellence and ageability. They are good candidates for investment because California cabs are routinely consumed when too young, then become scarce. Those with the greatest growth potential are Beaulieu Private Reserve, Buehler, Buena Vista, Burgess, Caymus, Carneros Creek, Chappellet, Chateau Montelena, Clos du Val, Diamond Creek, Dry Creek, Duckhorn, durney, Flora Springs, Freemark Abbey, Heitz, Inglenook Cask, Jekel, Jordan, Kenwood, Mayacamas, Mondavi, Mt. Eden, Mt. Veeder, Newton, Opus One, Phelps, Ridge, Sequoia Grove, Spring Mountain, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, Sterling and William Hill. To this list I would add Byrd Vineyards of Maryland.

Usually the older the wine is, the more expensive it is, assuming it has been stored properly. But there is no way to accurately compute a wine's value. A wine's beauty is on the tongue of the beholder. There is no book listing values for rare wines., though Christie's does publish an index of prices paid at American and English auctions.

In the end, if you cannot find someone willing to buy -- legally or otherwise -- your investment is worth only the pleasure you find when you drink it. Wine Find

Freemark Abbey 1983 Chardonnay: This full-flavored, dry white wine from California's Napa Valley is ready to enjoy now and will keep for two or more years in an average cellar. It is dark, almost yellow in color, no doubt the result of aging in French oak barrels. In fact, upon smelling and tasting, the complex honey, vanilla-like impression caused by oak is readily apparent. It is round and balanced, with none of the components sticking out.

This is the style of chardonnay that California does best, and a style pioneered by Freemark in the late '60s and early '70s. It is also a style that has fallen out of fashion lately because California wine makers and America's wine press have been calling for a lighter style of chardonnay from California, hoping to duplicate the style of chardonnay made in Chablis. Not surprisingly, most attempts at duplicating French chardonnay in California have failed. Nor should California chardonnay attempt to duplicate any other country's style of wine. Let California be California! The climate is warm, the grapes are rich, and the cooking is flavorful and flamboyant.

But don't get me wrong, now. This is not one of those Rambo, high-alcohol, 30-weight, caricatures of chardonnay that were so popular in the 1970s. This wine is rich, yet not overpowering; flavorful, but not unsubtle. It is a style that Freemark became famous for while experimenting with many styles more than a decade ago. Its return is welcome.

Price: Suggested retail list of about $15 per bottle. Actual price may vary significantly. More than 10,000 cases produced. Marketed nationally by Helen Niemi, c/o Freemark Abbey, P.O. Box 410, St. Helena, Calif. 94574. Phone: 707-963-9694. Marketed locally by Steve Davidson, c/o Milton S. Kronheim & Co., 2900 V St. NE, Washington, D.C. 20018. Phone: 202-526-8000.

Serving: The richness of this wine makes it a natural companion for seafood, especially shellfish preparations with lots of butter. It would also combine neatly with roast pork, game birds, rabbit or chicken fricasee, and creamy goat cheeses.