Excessive heat is the enemy of good wine. Extended exposure to temperatures above 80° F can be a killer, leaving wine with a cooked, jammy flavor. Now imagine if you ordered nearly 1,000 bottles of wine and they all arrived cooked. That's the situation Zachys, the wine retailer and auction house, found itself in a year ago, according to a lawsuit filed last week by its insurance company.
Federal Insurance Co., a subsidiary of Chubb Limited, filed a complaint in federal court last week suing U.K.–based logistics provider Connoisseur International Distribution Ltd. and Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS) for negligence. Federal alleges that a transatlantic wine shipment of 995 bottles from Stockholm to New York went wrong last year, and the wine arrived cooked. The insurer is suing for nearly $397,177, or about $400 per bottle.
Zachys president Jeff Zacharia told Wine Spectator that the wine was a private cellar and a potential consignment for auction. He would not identify the consignor but said both Zachys and the consignor had been compensated by insurance.
Connoisseur is a global freight and logistics company, based near London, that specializes in shipping fine wines. Connoisseur and SAS contracted to transport the wine from Stockholm to Zachys’ facility in White Plains, N.Y. "The shipment was in good order and condition at the door-pickup point in Sweden," the complaint alleges.
The wine arrived on June 6, 2019. "During the course of transportation, handling and/or storage by defendants … the shipment sustained damage, including but not limited to damage caused by exposure to excessive temperatures, which rendered the wine unfit for intended distribution, sale and end usage."
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According to Zacharia, wines go through a multilevel inspection process on arrival. "First we inspect the wines visually and do a temperature check," he said. That includes checking temperature trackers on shipments. "When these were reviewed, we saw that the wine had been subjected to high levels of heat."
Excessive heat is one of the biggest dangers to wine being shipped. "Wine has to be kept at 56 ° F, 70 percent humidity," said Adam Gungle, founder of Xpeditr, a wine-shipping firm. "And you don’t want it going to different spectrums—dropping down to 35 ° F or up to 80 ° F. The temperature change in the wine can actually affect its ageability."
Zacharia says Zachys has already been paid for its losses by the insurance carrier. Now Federal is trying to recover its losses.
According to Connoisseur director Nick Terry, the company was made aware of the lawsuit on May 22 and had received no formal notice of an intent to file from Zachys or Federal. "Zachys' insurer had only ever made contact once and never replied to the email sent back to them," Terry told Wine Spectator. "We can advise that our lawyers and indeed insurers will defend any formal action robustly."
A spokeswoman for Chubb Limited refrained from commenting, per company policy on pending litigation matters. SAS did not respond to a request for comment.