How to Get Your Vacation Bottles Home Safely

Before 9-11, hardly a plane flew out of San Francisco International Airport without at least one “six-pack” of Napa Valley or Sonoma County wine in the overhead compartments.

The practice of carrying home special bottles from a romantic weekend in wine country often turned into a social occasion at the airport, as wine-toting travelers would spot someone else with one of the cardboard boxes and strike up a conversation: “Whatcha got in your box?”

But with carry-on restrictions tightened, wine bottles suddenly were breaking two new rules:

  1. They were viewed as potential weapons.
  1. They contained liquid.

Thus, those six–bottle cardboard carriers now are relegated to the back seats of cars.

So, what’s the best way for a wine lover to get vinous treasures home?

Well, in the years since 9-11, I’ve had pretty good luck with rolling up individual bottles in clothing and placing them in my checked luggage. It’s a calculated risk, however, because luggage isn’t always handled gingerly by the airlines, and one broken bottle could not only spill the wine, but ruin a good suit or dress.

Better: Invest in a foam shipper, put your bottles inside, and place the shipper inside your luggage, assuming you have enough room.

But the best idea is to purchase an insulated wine suitcase, pack it with your bottles, and place the suitcase in your (larger) suitcase. It can be costly, but then, so can a broken bottle of wine.

Bringing wine into the United States from another country opens up another whole set of concerns, including possible taxes, which can vary based upon your port of entry. It’s a good idea to check with your entry state’s alcohol control board in advance so you aren’t surprised when you return to the U.S.

(On our trip to Europe last fall, my fiancée decided to avoid the hassle altogether: We drank the wines we purchased, and brought home the empty bottles as souvenirs.)

One final word of advice when carrying wine, either on a plane or in a car: Let the wine rest for at least a few days once you get it home. A phenomenon known as “bottle shock” can impact a wine’s aroma or flavor if the bottle has been subject to a good deal of motion. Normally, it takes only a few days for the wine to return to its “pre-shock” condition — but it’s always a good idea to wait.

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