Holiday Wine Tips for Experts and the Novices

By: Phil Dunn

You’ll find some good advice for choosing excellent wines on eBay.

In 2002, I showed up at my family’s Thanksgiving feast with a bottle of sugary, low-budget White Zinfandel. It was not white (pink, in fact), and it wasn’t the right kind of Zinfandel. I’d heard turkey goes will with Zin, but this was a blunder.

While the grape is technically Zinfandel in a White Zin, the White Zin process produces nothing like the flavor of a spicy Zinfandel that Thanksgivings are known for.

The effect was comical when I entered my uncle and aunt’s house. My uncle took one look at the bottle, shook his head, and stuffed it away.

I vowed to never fail that way again. Fortunately, my entire orientation about wine changed drastically when I met Jörn “Joey Kleinhans, Certified Wine Specialist and Certified Sommelier of The Sommelier Company.

We re-connected this season to go over some great holiday wine values that won’t get you kicked out of Auntie’s house. He also offered some tips on choosing high-end wines that are sold on eBay

“If you enjoy the jammy, American-style Zinfandel for Thanksgiving,” said Kleinhans, “you’ll want to surprise your guests with an old world Amarone della Valpolicella from Italy. It’s one of the great cult wine styles of Italy.”

While that’s a bold, main course selection, Kleinhans recommends loading up on several types of wine for pairing with different types of dishes and for different occasions.

“The one big mistake people usually make is that they focus on a single wine,” he said. “For a multi-course holiday meal, you need a number of different wines, four to 10 different types that will harmonize with unique dishes. A Pinot Noir from Oregon or a Burgundy from France goes well with turkey.” Lighter fare pairs well with a German Riesling. “If you’re celebrating with sparkling wine, you can go with a Franciacorta, which is Italy’s most important champagne-style wine. If you have smoky courses, like smoked turkey or meats, you’ll want to try a Rioja Grand Reserva from Spain.” Rioja Gran Reserva wines have been aged at least two years in oak and three years in bottle. Kleinhans recommends trying a Tokaji desert wine from Hungary for the final course. The jammy Amarone, of course, pairs well with the main feast. 

“It’s a crime to only pair one wine with such an important meal,” said Kleinhans.

Most of these wines are available on eBay, but Kleinhans had some words of caution about purchasing wines that are shipped long distances. You have to pay special attention to who the seller is and how they ship the wines. “If a delicate wine makes one stop in the American South, for example, and overheats on a UPS truck, the wine can be destroyed.” The way the wines are stored before purchase, and some specific characteristics about each bottle are also important to investigate.

In our next installment, we’ll check in with one of the most discerning wine collectors on eBay and talk about how he ensures optimal shipping conditions for the holiday season.