When you’re visiting vineyards and wineries in other countries, you’re bound to want to bring a few bottles of your favourite wine home with you. Which throws up the obvious question – how?
Travelling with wine can be a difficult task, particularly the awkward feat of flying with wine. Can you put wine in checked luggage? And what’s the best way to pack wine without the bottles breaking? Is there a specific wine carrier or wine suitcase I should use? Can I send wine home, and if so, what’s the best way to ship wine from overseas?
Flying with wine – How to get your wine home
Of course, there is no definitive answer to many of these questions. The best method to transport wine will depend on a few different factors, most importantly, how many bottles of wine you want to bring home. So here are a few options for you to consider based on the quantity of wine you’re looking to transport.
Packing wine in checked luggage: travelling with a few bottles of wine
If you’re only planning on bringing home a few bottles of wine, it’ll be easy enough to pack these in your checked luggage. Just remember to leave yourself some extra room on the way, and don’t forget to pack the bottles safely and securely.
Wine in checked luggage – Using your clothes
The tried and tested method used by travellers all around the world. Use your clothes to wrap around the bottle to form a thick and secure layer, then place inside your bag away from the sides and away from any other hard items. The clothes will act as padding to protect your bottle of wine from bashing around your bag and smashing.
This is my personal favourite because it’s a low cost option and I’ve gotten pretty skilled at the wrap and wedge form of packing.
- think about the kind of material you wrap your wine in ‘just-in-case’. That jersey dress is going to offer more sopping up potential than your anti-wicking quick-dry running vest if things go wrong.
- travel with an expandable suitcase – you’d be surprised how much room one zip can give. Every time I visit the Prosecco region of Italy I travel with my Samsonite Expandable Spinner. It fits as cabin baggage (on more generous airlines like British Airways). On the way home, it expands and I’ve carried four bottles of wine in mine no problem.
Wine in checked luggage – Using a wine bottle travel protector
If you don’t trust your clothes alone to protect your wine, another cheap and safe method for packing wine in checked luggage is to invest in a specialist wine bottle travel protector.
Inflatable wine travel protectors or sleeves are a secure way to transport wine in your suitcase without running the risk of breakage. These handy little wine travel protectors come flatpack with a pump and can be blown up when needed to form a thick layer of padding for your wine. Either invest in one or two sturdy self-inflating wine sleeves such as the WineHug, which can be deflated and re-used over and over again, or opt for a multi-pack of inflatable wine sleeves which come with a small pump.
Wine Skins are also great for packing wine in checked luggage. With a bubble-packaging interior and vinyl exterior, Wine Skin’s are secure, easy to use and leak-resistant in case of an (unlikely) accident. I used one of these on a trip to South Africa and although I only had two bottles, it gave me a lot more confidence than if I’d just been using my clothes.
Wine in checked luggage – Using a wine tote bag
A wine tote is a small sturdy bag which usually fits one or two bottles of wine and seals securely at the top. A wine tote will not only provide protection when you travel with wine in checked luggage, but its handle also makes it practical for transporting wine around with you when you’re out exploring the vineyards and wineries during your trip.
What I especially like about this wine tote is that it’s built by ‘Built’ who specialise in laptop sleeves. If they can make a protective product that’s good enough for me to drop my +£1,000 Macbook from hip height and not even dent it (true story…more than once), I feel like I can trust them with my wine. For some reason, I’m more skilled at not dropping my wine. Practice, probably.
Wine suitcase: travelling with up to twelve bottles of wine
Packing wine in checked luggage can get a lot more difficult the more wine you want to bring home. Making sure each wine bottle is securely padded will take up a fair amount of room in your suitcase, leaving not a lot of room for your other items such as clothes and toiletries. Therefore, investing in a specialised wine suitcase or wine bag is the safest and most practical way of bringing larger qualities of wine home.
Wine suitcases – Using a wine bottle suitcase
Wine suitcases are specialist suitcases specifically designed for packing wine bottles for air travel. They are not always cheap but can be cheaper than local shipping, especially if you wine travel regularly. Also, it beats not being able to take any wine home if you visit a smaller vineyard that doesn’t have a shipping service in place.
VinGardeValise does a great wine suitcase that carries up to 12 bottles of wine with 6 removable inserts. The best thing about this type of wine suitcase is that if you’re not packing the full 12 bottles, you can simply remove one of the inserts and use the extra space for other items of luggage.
For something a little cheaper you could also try specialist wine bags for air travel such as the Lazenne wine travel bag. This lightweight bag comes with a heavy-duty polystyrene insert which holds up to 12 bottles of wine. A benefit of this type of bag is that it can also be used to transport other bottles such as spirits, beers and olive oils.
Tip: many of the smaller wineries – the places where you’re bound to like the wine the most – only sell wine by the half-case (6 bottles). Very quickly your ‘I’ll have a bottle of this wine and a bottle of that wine’ can turn into ‘I’ll take a half-case of this wine and a half-case of that wine’. Hey presto – you’re packing 12 bottles of wine.
Wine suitcases – Weight restrictions
The reason that both of these types of wine luggage only hold up to 12 bottles of wine is the hold luggage weight restriction. Either of these bags, when filled, will weigh below the standard weight limit of 23kg/50lb for checking luggage into the hold of a plane, saving you money on overweight luggage fees.
- I’ve just weighed the 4 bottles of Prosecco I bought back from my last trip to Italy and they were pretty consistently (give or take a few grams) 1.5kg/3.30lb each. That should help you when you’re plotting how many bottles of wine you can get in your suitcase.
- I usually do my wine planning before I leave home, calculating approximately how many bottles I want to bring home, deducting the weight from my overall allowance and packing a few kilos under what my ‘return home’ luggage weight will be.
- I use a cheap set of travel luggage scales to make sure I don’t overpack on the way out. These pack really small so you can even take them with you to avoid that awkward repack at the check-in desk.
- Don’t forget to use your entire luggage allowance. Even if you’re checking a wine suitcase, you probably also have a cabin baggage allowance to use for your clothes and travel-size toiletries. If you can pack light, you may be able to avoid paying for a second checked bag.
Wine suitcases – Customs
An important factor to consider when travelling with wine is custom laws. Within European Union countries, each person gets a duty-free limit of 90 litres (60 for sparkling wine), which is equivalent to 120 regular sized bottles of wine (you never know – you might find a wine you really like).
In the US the limit is only 1 litre/35oz per person, plus an unlimited additional quantity (if the wine is for personal consumption) at a duty of $1-$2 per bottle. However, if you’re travelling with a suitcase of just 12 bottles of wine it is unlikely that you’ll be checked or charged. But I didn’t say that and you shouldn’t pull this article out at customs and say I promised you’d be ok. You should always check individual counties rules regarding customs and duties before travelling with wine. <End legal disclaimer>
Wine shipping: travelling with more than 12 bottles of wine
If you’re a real wine lover, or simply found an amazing wine that you just have to stock up on, and are planning on bringing over 12 bottles of wine back home with you, you’re probably going to want to opt for wine shipping rather than wine luggage bags. This may be the most complicated method, however, it may be the most convenient and economical way for transporting large quantities of wine across borders.
Wine shipping – Using wine shipping companies
Using specialist wine shipping companies is the safest way to ship your wine back home. If you want to use recognisable brands like UPS and FedEx, do your research first because you will often find that they won’t ship your wine unless you have a licence. And that’s not to mention that these providers aren’t specialist wine shipping companies so they may not treat your wine with as much care as the specialists.
Mostly, you’re going to have to rely on the wineries you visit and hope they have an established international wine shipping service in place. And then there is the question of cost. Mostly, I have found the international wine shipping services to be almost prohibitively expensive. So, I’d really recommend planning ahead – contact the wineries – if you think you’re going to ship a large quantity home.
Hey, it might be cheaper to fly back to the region with your wine suitcase, and would that be such a bad thing? Two trips to Italy – that’s terrible, said no-one ever.
Wine shipping – Shipping Laws
It’s always important to check your country or state’s regulations on wine shipping before relying on this method for getting your bottles home. For example, The United States Postal Service does not allow wine to be shipped through its services so you’ll need to use a shipping service if you want to send wine back to the US.
Travelling with wine: what not to do
DON’T try to take your wine in your carry on baggage
As obvious as this one seems, it would probably surprise you how many people still try to take liquids over 100ml/3.5oz on planes in their hand luggage. The only thing this will achieve is getting your wine confiscated by airport security and never seeing it again. I know this pain personally having said goodbye to a bottle of hazelnut liquor not long after the 100ml rules came into force. Either place your wine in checked luggage, in a wine suitcase in the hold or ship it home separately. Do not, I repeat, do not try and take it on board with you. Nope, not even if it’s sealed and has a label over the seal or a foil over the cork with a wax coating on top.
DON’T pack wine in a backpack
I have done this and although I got lucky, friends of mine managed to inadvertently dye all of their clothing a lovely burgundy wine colour trying the same trick. Without the protection of proper sides, putting wine in a backpack is about as secure as placing it in a plastic shopping bag. With all the clothing padding in the world, it just takes one hard-shell, fully-packed case to land on your backpack and you’ll have a hell of a mess to clean up.
DON’T just throw the bottle into your suitcase
As tempting as it may be to just shove a bottle of wine inside your suitcase and hope that the combination of clothes and the suitcase shell will shield it from breaking, this is certainly not the best method for packing wine in checked luggage.
We all know that airport baggage handlers don’t treat suitcases with particular care, and therefore using this method to pack wine leaves you with a chance that you will open your case at your destination and find a bag full of shattered glass, ruined clothes and bathed electronics.
DON’T check in a cardboard crate of wine
When you buy a case of wine from some vineyards or wineries, you may receive it in a cardboard crate. Even if the crate is packed tightly with dividers in between each bottle, don’t check this directly into the hold.
You wouldn’t use a few pieces of strong paper to separate your wine in your suitcase, would you? Without proper protection and padding, you run a very real risk of your wine bottles getting smashed before they make it home.
Flying with wine can be a challenge but only if you don’t think ahead or have the right luggage. One of the biggest mistakes people make is turning up at a vineyard and thinking they will leave empty-handed. Even the most lightweight packers tend to come away with a bottle or two. The wine at the wineries is far superior to what you’ll find at home. And what better way to transport you back to your trip when you get home than opening up a bottle of wine that you bought overseas? With these ways of flying with wine, you can do just that.
Do you have experience flying with wine? Got any wine travel bags to recommend or any other wine travelling tips to share? Let me know in the comments below.
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