How To Bring Wine On An Airplane

I was traveling to Paris and I wanted to return with French wines that I wouldn't be able to find at home in NYC. (See: French wines 101) But did I really want to deal with the hassle of figuring out how? Some friends had recently returned from a trip to Sicily and broke out a bottle at a dinner party that damn near knocked me over, so I was inspired. In fact, I went to the source and asked them how they did it.

The answer was simple, but not necessarily self-explanatory. They loaned me a hard-shell suitcase, and I countered with a promise that should the bottles survive the trip, one of them would be reserved for my friends. I followed these tips, and after I spell them out for you, I'll share the results of my self-importing experiment.


(*I ain't talking duty-free here. This is for those who want to return from a trip with obscure/hard-to-find bottles. Also, disclaimer: laws about exporting wine vary by country, so do your research and be smart and discreet.)

  1. Procure a hard-shell suitcase. A small to medium size is best, because even at 750 ml per bottle, wines can get heavy. If you don't already own one or can't borrow one, a decent hard-shell case can be had for about $300.

  2. Don't skimp. Remember: that suitcase will be carrying wines that will likely be worth anywhere from $200 to $2,000, so you shouldn't use a case that will crack or come undone when Jacques or Giovanni the baggage handler tosses your precious cargo onto the belt.

  3. Find a specialty wine store. Either before you travel or while you're there, find a wine store that specializes in organic, biodynamic, or boutique wines. You're making an effort, so there's no point bringing back wines that you could find at home. If you have a great bottle at dinner, ask the waiter or sommelier for recommendations about where to buy.

  4. Don't go overboard. You'll be able to fit about six or seven bottles in a medium-sized bag, but any more than that and you may be leaving a bottle behind for the maid at your hotel.

  5. Use your dirty laundry. OK, here's the part that the girlfriend or wife might find distasteful. Use a sock or two as a layer of cushioning around each bottle, then whatever leftover bits of laundry that you wouldn't mind losing in the event of breakage or leakage. You can also procure cardboard sleeves when you're buying the bottles if you think ahead.

  6. Test the load. OK, so you've packed it all up—six or seven bottles of rare juice that will blow away guests at your next dinner party. Screw Robert Parker; he couldn't find these wines if he tried. But to make sure they get home safe, just toss the case around a little in the hotel and see how it's holding up. Ready to go?

  7. Act casual. At check-in, the best bet is to treat your luggage like any other piece of luggage. Just put it up on the scale and look disinterested. Don't mention that you have wine or throw out nervous-sounding questions.

  8. Hope for the best. With these tips, you're almost guaranteed to get your wine across the pond safely in its bottle. And the feeling of opening that case when you get home to find your wines intact provides a unique adrenaline surge.

As for me, I returned from Paris with seven bottles, five from the excellent wine shop that's affiliated with Daniel Rose's must-visit restaurant Spring, and two from the serious oenophile spot Saturne. All were either biodynamic, organic, or natural, and aside from the gift bottle, all are waiting patiently in my wine rack for their moment of truth. Santé!

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