Travel Tips: Bringing Wine Home from Abroad
Wednesday means wine at The International Kitchen, and for this week's travel tips theme we've decided to talk about bringing wine home from your fabulous culinary destination. We understand that whether you're savoring an aged Barolo in Piedmont, enjoying a Bordeaux in Gascony, or a glass of Rioja in Spain, the urge to take wine home with you may strike! Can you do it? What does it cost? And is it worth the trouble?
First, we recommend you find out if the wine is sold in your home country. There's no point schlepping home a SuperTuscan that you can easily get at home. And even if you can't get it at the wine shop around the corner, it might be easier and more cost-effective to order it from a local wine importer.
But assuming you've fallen in love with the wine you've just tasted during an amazing winery visit and wine tasting, there are ways to take it home. Here are a few rules of thumb.
First, remember wine's a liquid, so you'll need to either ship it or pack it in your checked bags. Gone are the days you can store a case in the overhead compartment to keep it safe! There are basically two ways to take it with you on the airplane, either packed in your luggage or in a separate wine box. If you are doing the former, which is easy for a few bottles of wine, you'll want to reduce the chance of breakage by packing it in the midst of clothing or bubble wrap (you can purchase bubble wrap abroad or think ahead and take it with you).
Don't assume that an individually-boxed bottle of wine (as pictured) is safe, nor that a hard-shell suitcase will eliminate breakage. To reduce the risk of leakage if a bottle breaks, after you wrap the bottles put them in an extra-large zip-lock bag, or better still, double up two zip-lock bags. There are also specially-designed bottle sleeves, one of which is whimsically called the "wine diaper," which purport to soak up wine in the event of a breakage, although we've not tried any of these ourselves. Remember that most airlines have weight limits on bags, so be aware that your wine purchases might put you over, and ask what the additional charge is. If possible, split the wine between bags, or between travelers.
What if you want to bring home more than a few bottles? You can bring home whole cases of wine, but keep in mind they should be packed in appropriate boxes with styrofoam sleeves or a special packaging material, or the airline will likely reject them. Special wine shipper boxes are custom designed for shipping wine, and you can rest easy that your purchase should arrive intact. Your airline might charge you the cost of an extra bag, but that is less than a shipping charge on a heavy box (more on that below), so it's still your best bet.
You are allowed to bring home 2 bottles (750 mL each) per person duty-free. More than that, and you are supposed to declare it and pay a nominal duty tax. How to declare it? Pretty easy, just check on the customs form that you're bringing home food, and when you get asked at customs, say how many bottles of wine you are bringing home and that it is for your personal consumption. IF they ask you to pay the duty on it (and they might not), it's usually less than $1 per bottle. How much can you bring home? The department of US customs and border protection states: "There is no federal limit on the amount of alcohol a traveler may import into the U.S. for personal use, however, large quantities might raise the suspicion that the importation is for commercial purposes." In general, bringing home 1 to 2 cases should not be a problem.
What about using a shipping service? We don't recommend it. First, it's likely to be more expensive than paying for an extra bag of checked luggage at the airport. Second, many states don't allow it, and the shipping companies sometimes break the rules to get around this (for example, by declaring the goods olive oil instead of wine). It's your wine on the line, however, and your investment to lose.
A final caveat: rules are subject to change, and they can vary from carrier to carrier. You can always ask your airline before you leave, so that you are prepared for any special rules or fees they have. The International Kitchen in no way guarantees you'll get your wine home safe and sound by following the guidelines above. But with a little work and a little luck, you should be able to recreate your amazing wine experience back at home.
By Peg Kern