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Remember when you could carry last-minute Caribbean rum purchases onto a plane? Or stash a few bottles of Chianti in your backpack? Those seem like halcyon days compared to the current state of air travel, which has turned luggage into an exhaustive game of strategy, more aptly characterized as a necessary evil. From the worry about these fragile belongings surviving careless baggage handlers to arriving at the intended airport, both checked and carry-on bags deliver their own exercises in aggravation. Throw in the enduring ban on liquids (including honey and jams) and, well, you’re reading this because you know.
Thus, for travelers who are die-hard wine and spirits lovers to those who occasionally bring a few bottles of alcohol or even olive oil home, what’s the best bag for doing so? I’ve reviewed multiple products over the years and have found few able to compete with the VinGardeValise Grande 4.0, sold directly through the manufacturer’s site or on Amazon for $299. Here’s why:
Featured Upgrades of the Grande 4.0
The VinGardeValise (VGV) has been on the market since 2014 and initially debuted as a dedicated wine suitcase for oenophiles eager to return home with an entire case of wine (12 x 750mL bottle). But its construction and optional inserts make it possible to use as both a transport system for liquids and other fragile items and personal luggage.
After the first VGV hit the market, the company’s owners decided to integrate customer feedback into their next version, the Grande 4.0, which includes the following upgrades:
- Larger back wheels to make pulling the case over rough terrain easier; to wit, the cobblestone streets of little wine villages in Europe
- An integrated, flush-mounted TSA compliant lock
- A more comprehensive warranty that now covers zipper pulls, wheels, handles and straps with no cost for replacement parts other than shipping
- A bottom handle making it easier to lift the bag
- A telescoping handle upgraded to 8mm-aircraft grade aluminum
- Seatbelt-grade burst straps and locking channel (Airline baggage handlers and screeners often open straps but fail to refasten them. Thanks, TSA.)
The VGV’s exterior is constructed of a textured Bayer brand polycarbonate that not only looks and feels like it can take abuse, it does. My bag has been through half a dozen Italian wine regions (and their airports), through Chinese customs and back and across the US. While it has certainly sustained superficial scratches, it is otherwise dent- and damage-free. The zippers remain firm and sturdy, despite the occasional overpacking and the gait of the suitcase when rolling through the airport is smooth due to the gliding effect of Hinomoto wheels. The easy-to-use, TSA-approved combination lock works effortlessly, as does the improved telescoping handle.
As far as the interior, the high-density foam inserts are thick and protective. Wine bottles and other delicate items have shown up at Newark unscathed. The polyester lining is also a touch thicker than the typical flimsy, easily torn material found in most luggage.
Size and Space
Dimensions for the Grande 4.0 are: 27.6in x 18.4in x 13.6in, weight is 13.5 pounds (empty). Fully packed with 12 750mL bottles, it generally weighs between 43-50 pounds. That weight is intentional so that the case slides in just under the 50-pound limit imposed by most airlines on coach class fliers.
As mentioned, the VGV can accommodate up to a full case of wine, each side built for six bottles. The bag, which opens like a book down the center, has two symmetrical opposing bays. Each side is lined with foam, layered with six cutouts for bottles, then layered with another inch of foam that can be strapped down to keep wine cinched and secure. If you want to use one side for bottles and the other for personal belongings — my packing method on almost every trip — simply remove the inserts you don’t want and use the remaining space for clothes, shoes and toiletries.
The standard bottle cutouts are designed to hold almost any shape up to 35cm (13.78in). To pack tall bottles like Riesling, one can remove the foam plug inserts at the top of each cavity, intended to otherwise keep shorter bottles snug. To prevent losing these small pieces, the manufacturer recommends placing them inside the punt of the bottle. However, I’ve just tucked them into other areas of the suitcase or left them at home.
One thing to note: If you’re headed to Champagne or anywhere that makes sparkling wine, the case is only intended to hold one fat-bottomed bottle per side (for a total of two). Ignoring this fact, I’ve squeezed two bottles into one side without issue but haven’t made a habit of it.
Finally, a few zippered mesh pockets, whether for paperwork or dirty laundry, provide organization if you need it.
Sold on VGV’s website, several new accessories for customization have been added. For example, inserts to accommodate XL bottles (i.e., from those Silicon Valley-cum-Napa winemaker types who bottle in fat, heavy glass to signify their wine’s importance.). Also, wine chiller sheets, wine glass inserts, a magnum bottle insert and wheel replacement sets delightfully listed at $0.
Overall, the VinGardeValise Grande 4.0 is a well-crafted, thoughtful piece of luggage that I use on every trip, whether I plan to bring home liquids or not. Its durability, smooth wheels, snug foam inserts and lock-and-strap features make it one of the most competitive suitcases — that’s also able to carry wine — on the market. If you’re looking for a new bag and have a trip to Europe’s vineyards in your sights, this should be at the top of your list.
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