Wine Tips for Serious Connoisseurs

By: Phil Dunn, Contributing Writer

Here are some tips on buying excellent wines, many found on eBay.

In part one of this story series, we checked in with Joey Kleinhans of The Sommelier Company to explore some alternatives to expensive, high-speed wines, and learned how collectors approach wine on eBay.

For this second installment, we’ll consult with one of eBay’s leading wine merchants to see how he packs his wines for shipping and take a peek into the world of epic wines.

As Kleinhans mentioned in the previous story, expensive wine is a delicate breed. That’s why Frank Hartland, eBay seller and owner of Cult Wines International, pays special attention to seasonal shipping and expert packaging.

“I have a lot of customers who buy their wine in the summer, but they tell me to hold their shipments until the weather cools down,” said Hartland. This is critical for wines that have aged for decades and have lost some of their preserving tannins, explained Hartland. The wines he sells are the kinds of rare collectibles sophisticated palates seek – the ones Kleinhans warned not to waste on untrained noses and taste buds.

In order to keep wines pristine during shipping, Hartland uses special cool-pak bricks that ensure optimal temperatures no matter what the weather is like outside the package. “The older the wine is, the more fragile it is,” said Hartland. “When wines are young, the tannic acid helps preserve the wines. When wine gets older, it gets smoother and less tannic. Then heat becomes more of an issue in transport.”

For this story, Hartland discusseded some of the world’s finest Burgundies from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or DRC. “If you like Pinot Noir, there’s nothing that can quench your thirst like a DRC.” The bottles typically range in price from $1,000 to $13,000.

Hartland explained how relativity and context can show wine enthusiasts the difference between great and cheap. “If you drink a cheap bottle of wine sometimes it doesn’t taste so bad,” he said. He and his wife experienced this phenomenon when he proposed to her at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Florida. “The hotel brought us a bottle of $15 Chandon, and we liked it,” he explained. “Then we went to dinner and I ordered a bottle of 1996 Cristal. It was fantastic! When we returned to our room, we had more of the Chandon, and it tasted like vinegar compared to the Cristal.”

If you want to experience a high-end Burgundy from DRC, Hartland recommends La Tache. “It’s DRC’s second vineyard, and it’s much larger than the original vineyard,” he said. “There’s more to go around, so it’s a little less money per bottle.” The older, 99 point versions, however, can be a bit expensive, like this 2005 Gran Cru, available on eBay.

For red blends, Hartland recommends Harlan Estate. They blend Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapes, and the wines are less tannic than a 100 percent Cabernet.

 For dessert? Ruby Port, which has lovely fruit. “There’s nothing better than sharing a bottle of vintage ruby port with the family after a great meal,” said Hartland.