Upon arrival at Stockholm airport, I received an sms from Air France informing me that they were “tracking my suitcase”. I had just come back from a trip to Chile and my suitcase appeared to have missed the Paris-to-Stockholm leg of the journey. I wasn’t unduly concerned, clothes are replaceable – and in this instance Air France would probably be doing me a favour if they were to be lost forever – but in my suitcase I did have six bottles of rather good Chilean wine that I was looking forward to consume.
The following day my luggage made it back to Sweden and a courier service obligingly delivered it to my door. Somewhat unsettlingly, though, it came wrapped in a huge thick transparent sack. I removed the plastic – it was reassuringly dry inside – and next unzipped the case. All my clothes were their original colour, no red streaks anywhere, but there was a distinct perfume pervading the air. I initially thought a cosmetic bottle might have leaked until the smell started to make sense. Lees, apples…It was Chardonnay.
Whenever I travel I tend to bring bottles of wine back with me. Usually not just one but many, and in all the years I have been flying and packing wine in checked-in luggage I have only ever had two breakages. In both instances it was, of course, the favourite wine of the lot that got broken and incidentally in a Burgundy shaped bottle.
So what are the best ways to bring wine back home if one is flying?
The simplest and cheapest option is of course to wrap bottles up in socks and clothes and place them in a hardcase bag or a fully packed soft bag. You need to have enough clothes with you to cover the wine and make sure that a bottle is not close to another hard object that could impact and smash it. This is not ideal for short trips nor in warm weather when there will not be enough material to pad out the suitcase. This is also risky as any broken glass and spilled wine will damage the contents of your case.
There are a number of brands that make suitcases specifically for the transport of wine. These suitcases have foam inserts and hold up to twelve bottles of wine. Some suitcases, such as those designed by VinGardeValise, have removable inserts. Room can thus be made for other items, such as clothes, should less than twelve bottles need to be transported. The price for a VinGardeValise on Amazon UK is £249 .
Such a suitcase is a perfect choice for a preplanned trip. You know you are going to purchase lots of wine and you are happy to travel with two pieces of luggage: one for wine and one for clothes. Alternatively, the case is shared for clothes and wine, and whatever space is not used for clothes will dictate the amount of bottles that can be purchased. Remember to check what baggage allowance you are entitled to – a fully packed VinGardeValise will weigh 20-23 kg which corresponds to the standard maximum limit per bag on most airlines.
If you are flying out and need to bring perfectly cooled white wine for a dinner party, the Transbottle is the one for you. Made of polypropylene it weighs only 0.6 kg. It can carry three 0.75 l bottles (including champagne sized bottles) and comes with a handy shoulder strap making it easy to have as an extra bag. At €46 (£38) the price is very attractive as well. Unless you are buying wine at a Duty Free the Transbottle will have to be checked in and travel in the hold of the aircraft. This is not a problem as the material is shock resistant and your bottles will arrive shaken but not broken. A €14 (£12) “Travel Kit” sold separately will allow you to securely fasten and padlock the bottle carrier. The Transbottle also comes in a bigger six bottle size.
The solution that wins my vote when I need to travel with a minimal amount if bags is WineSkin. This is a plastic pouch that is lined with bubble wrap and that seals with a very strong band of tape, thus able to contain any leakage. As it is flat – about 6 mm thick – it takes up no space in your luggage so you can take a whole load of empty ones with you. As its name indicates, when filled with a bottle, WineSkin thinly but efficiently covers and protects it, taking up minimal space in a suitcase. Even a suitcase relatively full of clothes can be filled with a surprisingly large amount of bottles in WineSkin pouches. An American product, WineSkin is now widely available in specialist wineshops and tasting rooms, on their website and on Amazon. A non-reusable single pouch retails at $3.50 (£2.70) and at $9.50 (£7.40) through WineSkin’s website for a pack of three. A pack of five costs £17 on Amazon UK. WineSkin sells a range of different single use and reusable pouches.
I personally have been reusing my single usage WineSkin pouches as they offer such good protection and are so convenient, despite the fact that once used they are no longer sealable nor leakproof. Whatever solution you decide on for travelling with wine, do not pack a two-bottle cardboard wine carrier in your suitcase even if the bottles have been specially bubble wrapped and the shop assistant has insisted that the cardboard box was fit for plane travel. You have been warned…