Everything you need to know about safely traveling with wine
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Traveling to wine country is a guarantee that I’m bringing back several bottles of wine in tow — whether domestic or international. Shipping wine internationally, however, is a super complicated process with rules and regulations that vary by country and airport. Until I did my research about wine tools, like the genius WineSkin transport bag, I wrapped wine bottles in my clothes and chanced transporting wine back home — which sometimes resulted in shattered wine bottles all over my frocks and then some. It wasn’t the best surprise to unzip after a long-haul flight.
To avoid these mistakes on your next wine trip, we tapped a couple of wine experts who regularly travel with wine, plus a few tips from TPG Lounge members, to give you all the ins and outs of traveling (safely) with wine. Here are several recommendations and tips to help get your wine back safe and sound.
Airline wine programs
Alaska Airlines implements a “Wine Flies Free” program allowing Mileage Plan members to bring back a case of wine (12 bottles) from 32 west coast destinations via wine luggage or a protective shipping container at no cost. When out west, be sure to check out loyalty programs, as some carriers such as Southwest Airlines allow two free checked bags, which will help you get wine back in luggage while avoiding shipping costs or extra baggage check fees.
If looking to bring back more than a couple of bottles, wine experts swear by VinGardeValise wine luggage ($349). “It has soft inserts to cushion the bottles and a hard shell, so I know the wines will be unharmed if baggage handling is less than gentle,” says Danielle Thompson, Almaviva Winery’s U.S. market director. And while spendy, Michael Kennedy, founder and vintner of Component Wine Company and Vin Fraîche, invests in this as it’s the best for safe, secure, temperature aided travel, with its “wine bottle-fitted slots for your full 12-bottle case of wine, hardshell construction, and very well-built wheels and telescopic handle,” he adds.
A TPG reader noted that they use their Delta cobranded card to get the first bag — the wine suitcase — checked free.
“With regard to [packing] wine for events across the country, particularly to Jackson Hole, for the annual Jackson Hole Food & Wine Summer Fest, I can always rely upon WineSkin if adding a few bottles to personal luggage,” says Thompson. “These bubble wrap sleeves for wine are great when you have a couple of bottles you’re bringing somewhere for the weekend,” says Kennedy, who notes that on the off-chance a bottle breaks, it’s sealed and will protect your belongings from wine stains. “I cannot recommend enough WineSkins — even with my nice wine-specific luggage, I use them often,” he says. “I also gift people bottles from my winery in them at times when I know they will be traveling.” Plus, they’re reusable so a great investment at under $10 a pop.
Cardboard box wine shippers
“For domestic travel, a cardboard box wine shipper — the kind you get when you have wine shipped via FedEx — is great for when you are flying one way and have no need for that space on the way back,” says Kennedy. Whatever you do, don’t use this method for older or more expensive wines, but it will suffice for most other wine occasions. Thompson notes getting wine shipped for an event can be a challenge. “The most important way I get wines to Jackson Hole is always to ship in advance,” she adds.
Be wary of bottle shock
Bottle shock, Kennedy notes, is a great mystery of the wine world — a phenomenon of momentary changes to the palate and aromatics of wine post-travel. “This could in some ways benefit a wine, but in most cases, it will mute subtle flavors and contribute to a dumbing down of a great wine,” says Kennedy. “There isn’t much science on this, but generally, young wines (less than 11 years old) are less impacted and older wines (12+ years old) are exponentially impacted.” If you’re drinking wine upon landing, Kennedy notes to stick to the younger wines first. “I once traveled with a magnum of 1974 Château Trotanoy, knowing full well I had a 50% chance of it being ruined, but without alternative choices, I decided to take the gamble — and I wish I hadn’t.”
Tips for international travel
TSA allows for 5 liters of wine in checked bags but it’s quite different overseas. It’s important to research the rules and regulations before hitting a wine country abroad. Whatever you do, Kennedy reinstates to always buying wine. “Often, once you return from a trip having decided against it, you will regret it,” he adds.
Always check alcohol customs limits — this often results in having to leave insanely great wine at checkpoints or pay extra fees. “Most countries don’t charge tax on wines bought abroad under a certain limit,” notes Kennedy. One TPG reader, flying through Manzanillo, Mexico, with a case of wine learned this lesson the hard way. “You’re allowed 8-750ml bottles — so I had to pay $75 tax on the other four bottles.”
And the rule of thumb: Champagne is not the best wine to travel with on long-haul flights. “Temperatures and pressure changes can sometimes cause messy luggage situations,” Kennedy adds.
“Duty-free is 99% of the time a bad idea,” says Kennedy, stating it’s often big brands with very high prices. “I have on rare occasion bought from duty-free, but only in cases where it was last resort and didn’t have time to grab bottles from a local store (or when you realize you were in Paris and forgot to get your wife a present. If she’s like mine, a bottle of Champagne always does the trick!),” he adds. While it might seem like a deal, you’ll end up paying in markup on the wine itself.
Wine travel do’s and don’ts
Kennedy says do bring home wine from wine regions whenever you visit. You’ll regret being in Tuscany and not bringing home a few vino souvenirs. Check the import limits whenever traveling outside of the country. Most locations will let you go over the limit but make you pay duty on bottles over the limit. And make sure your wine goes in the checked bag. “This seems obvious, but I’ve seen friends have to choose between an expensive bottle of wine and missing a flight,” says Kennedy.
Don’t wrap your wine in shirts or clothes thinking they’ll be okay, advises Kennedy. “I’ve had bottles break and ruin nice things. Not worth it when a reusable WineSkin costs $8!” Pack wines that aren’t already chilled or refrigerated. They will sweat condensation and can ruin clothes or leather in bags.
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