7 Tips on Traveling with Wine
Imagine this: you’re sitting outside in the warm summer sun, on the patio of a tapas restaurant in La Rioja wine region, Spain. Wrought-iron chairs painted faded white, and grape vineyards twisting in the canopy overhead. You’re sipping the sultry and spicy blend of tempranillo. Despite the delicious bombardment to your senses, a faint waft of sorrow drifts through your mind. It’s the last day of vacation, and tomorrow you’ll be heading home—sans Spanish vineyard, sans tempranillo. It’ll all just be a vague memory. What’s an oenophilic traveler to do? Here are some quick tips to smuggling those bottles home (all legal, of course!):
1. Pack Snugly.
If you intend to take those precious bottles home all by yourself, make sure your luggage is fitted out for a wine bottle. Stuff the bottles in your socks, two socks per bottle, one on the bottom and one on the top. We’re talking thick, long, knee socks. Then store them together in a water-tight freezer bag, just in case the worse happens and one breaks. Cover it swaddled-clothes style to cushion them and prevent them from shifting during the flight. You’ll want to do this in a container with a hard shell—no duffel bags. That way, if handlers are rough with the bag, or it swings around in the cargo hull, you won’t have to worry as much. And, just because it must be said, never try to pack your wine in your carry-on. It won’t pass security, and you’ll be forced to chuck it along with any other oversized liquids.
2. Invest in a Wine Suitcase.
If you’re a real connoisseur and plan on bringing home wine regularly from trips, consider purchasing a wine suitcase. These cases are specially designed in order so you can travel with 10-12 bottles safely and without hassle. They have stainless steel shells that can withstand severe damages and temperatures. The negative point is that they are only good for bottles, so up until you make your purchases, you’ll be lugging around an empty suitcase.
3. Spread the Love.
This works best if you’re traveling with friends and family. Distribute your bottles around in other suitcases. Maybe two in your bag, maybe two with Aunt Rosie. But be aware! Keep half an eye on those bottles—depending on how wine-loving your friends are, you might just not see the bottles ever again!
4. Wineskins and VinniBags.
Yes, wineskins can be useful. These are sealable bags that save your clothes in case the wine breaks. But, because they are not resealable, they’re ultimately fallible. TSA officials have a habit of opening these bags and resealing them with duct tape. Which, if you ask me, nullifies the whole point of wineskins in the first place. Forego the skins and opt for a wine suitcase or the handy-dandy sock-and-freezer-bag option. There are also special bags you can purchase—VinniBags—that inflate around each bottle for protection. These provide air cushions that protect against impact and jostling. The JetBag is one product that has a sort of “wine diaper” inside. In the off-chance the bottle does break, it can absorb 100% of the liquid before it has the risk of leakage.
5. Weigh It.
Take into account the added weight of a few bottles in your case. An overweight bag might cost you a pretty penny. Don’t make the mistake of not weighing them beforehand, or you might have to dump a couple before you even begin your journey. One bottle typically weighs about three pounds. The good news is that you can take as much as you want—there is no limit to the quantity you want to take home. Note also that wine purchased in duty-free shops do have a restriction of one liter. Take any more and you’ll be subject to 3% tax.
6. Know your Limits.
So what’s the deal with TSA and U.S. customs anyway? Well, here’s the short of it: you cannot pack wine into your carry-on luggage, due to TSA restrictions on carrying liquids in containers with a maximum of 3.4 ounces. Try to squeeze by security officers with a glass of champagne and it’ll be confiscated immediately. The only exception of the carry-on prohibition is any duty-free bottle purchased after you pass security. All wine bottles purchased this way should be placed in a secure, tamper-evident bag (STEB). The limit on wine in your checked in luggage depends on the alcohol content. Generally, there’s no federal limit, as long each bottle is under 24% alcohol (which, let’s face it, most wine is).
7. Ship It—or Pick it Up at Home.
And hey—maybe you won’t even have to worry about luggage at all. Ask the winery or wine shop if they distribute and ship to the USA. Suppliers often have deals where you purchase a certain amount and they ship directly to your house for free. Or ship a case home yourself—you can purchase a special wine-shipper box with foam inserts. This allows for safe transport by air and will save you a lot of worry and packing time. Better yet—ask the winery if they distribute to your town or a nearby city. You can pick it up once you’re back at home, and keep going back for more. All it takes is a question—and there’s never any harm in asking.