My first-ever online wine order was a disaster. One summer evening, while I was looking through my 28-bottle wine cooler, I saw that I was nearly out of drinkable red wines. On a whim, I decided to order a mixed case from a small online retailer, which included ready-to-drink bottles of Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and California red blends. My order arrived on my doorstep less than a week later, but there was one major problem: the case was cooked. The moment I cut open the box, a wave of hot air rushed at my face, and some of the bottles were so hot, it seemed like the glass might melt. The company had shipped the wine during the hottest week of the summer, and during a shipping delay, 10 of the 12 bottles had gotten cooked beyond drinkability. The other two bottles barely survived.
When you’re getting started as a wine collector, you need to know the best way to ship wine to avoid these kind of mistakes. This is especially true for older, collectible vintages, since they are far more sensitive to changes in temperature than inexpensive, immediately drinkable bottles.
The Best Way to Ship Wine by Season
Ever since my first online order fiasco, I learned that the best way to ship wine is to avoid the summer heat altogether. Bottles need to be kept at a steady 50-55 degrees year-round, and unless you ship with a retailer who has proper insulation, you risk cooking your wine. I recommend waiting until the weather cools down, but hasn’t dipped below freezing yet. The best time to ship wine (though of course this is dependent on where you live in the country) is from mid-February through mid-April, and again from mid-September to mid-November. It’s a good idea to write down the wine purchases that you want to make throughout the year, then wait for these two seasons to hit before you order your wine. I always go on wine binges in the fall and the spring to keep my shipping risks low, and stick with in-person purchases during the winter and summer.
Alternatively, you can buy your wine from retailers that can store it for you in a professional facility until the weather cooperates. Retailers that also store wine, like Vinfolio, track the weather for you and hold bottles in their warehouse for free if the temperature is above 75 degrees or below 20 degrees. It’s common to get an email from a retailer saying your bottles have been delayed due to weather, especially if you order in the winter or the summer; this is a sign that your retailer knows what they’re doing. Quality shipping requires patience, and it’s better for your bottles to arrive late than to arrive spoiled.
Insulation Is the Key to Success
The two cornerstones of any decent wine cellar are temperature insulation and vibration protection, yet these are also the two qualities that are almost impossible to maintain while you ship your wine. Bottles get jostled around on a bumpy car ride, and boxes overheat in muggy shipping warehouses over the weekend. That’s why the best way to ship wine is to make a portable wine cellar. Start with styrofoam containers for each bottle. Compared to open-air containers, individual styrofoam shippers keep the wine’s internal temperature far steadier, even in high heat. Unless you’re shipping your wine during the hottest days of the year, which you should avoid anyway, you don’t need to have ice packs included in the wine’s packaging if you’re using a styrofoam shipper. These are designed to conform to each bottle to keep dips and spikes in temperature out, and they double as vibration protection.
Don’t be afraid to ask your retailer how they plan on shipping your wine; every trustworthy retailer should give you a detailed list of the equipment they use, and offer an insurance policy in case of damage. They don’t have to use styrofoam shippers to be trustworthy, but they do need to have another equally effective shipping technique in place that goes beyond just placing the bottles in a cardboard box.
It’s in the Details
The best way to ship wine or to have it shipped is to pay attention to every detail, and consider your bottle’s paper trail. One thing that I wish I had known as a beginning collector is that paperwork matters, and the way you have your bottles shipped can impact their price on the market later. If you invest in a fine bottle of DRC for $10,000, but you have the wine shipped out-of-bond via FedEx, the value of that bottle could go down by thousands of dollars, since future buyers can’t verify the bottle’s quality. For all they know, that bottle could have been cooked in a hot warehouse before it arrived at your cellar. Instead, have your fine wine shipped under bond whenever possible, or ask for white glove, expedited shipping at a minimum.
In my experience, the best bottles I’ve ever pulled out of a shipping container are those that took fewer than two days to arrive, and that were shipped in temperature-controlled vans. If you have the option to have your wine transported via white glove shipments, I recommend paying extra for this service for any bottle worth more than $100, or any case valued at more than $500. It’s worth the added expense to have your wine shipped by hand, especially in temperature-controlled vans, because you’ll avoid spoilage as well as increase your wine’s market worth. Collectors like to buy wine that has been shipped and stored properly throughout its lifetime, and a paper trail showing white glove shipments is a great way to accomplish this.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.
Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.