It used to be, whenever I wanted to bring home a precious few bottles of wine or spirits from abroad, my options would be:
- Stuff each bottle into a pair of socks, wrap in multiple plastic bags, and them roll them up in my clothes, or
- Pay a hefty several-hundred-dollar customs fee to get those treasured bottles back home.
Actually, I never paid the customs fees to have wine shipped directly from the winemaker since it was typically over $200 and I prided myself on being an expert alcohol smuggler. I once managed to bring seven bottles of vodka back from Moscow (including a spicy Ukrainian chili pepper vodka), in my checked baggage without spilling one drop. Sure, each bottle was individually tucked into an overstretched sock and my luggage subsequently required a “Heavy, Bend Your Knees” tag, but not one drop!
Liquid souvenirs from my travels include five bottles of various reds from Moravia in southern Czech Republic, six bottles of Shiraz from Melbourne and eight bottles of Burgundy from France, each rolled into clothes balls in my checked bag. Every time I sent up a small prayer to Bacchus that nothing broke, leaked or spilled all over my wardrobe.
But now, my fellow wine travelers, we can toast a new traveling companion, one that safely totes 12 bottles of wine home from anywhere. I had the good fortune to try the Wine Check out in Piedmont, which was ideal because it’s the kind of region that overflows with excellent small production wines you can’t buy outside of Italy.
The case itself can either be collapsed and stowed in your luggage until you get to wine country, or you can check the lightweight carrier, complete with the cardboard box and Styrofoam-molded casing inside, ready to be filled. It’s super lightweight when empty, and it has handles and wheels so it’s very easy to transport.
In town: Even in historical towns like Neive, the wheels run smoothly over the cobblestones and the long removable handle makes it easy to pull behind you. The zipper pouch on top is a great place to store your receipts in case anyone at customs asks (which they probably won’t).
In the airport: The long strap clips off and easily fits in the pouch, so there are no loose parts to get caught up in baggage handler machines. I bought the small, TSA approved locks, which fit the two zippers together and easily secured my purchases. Even though the bottles are super snug inside the molded packing material, I requested the “fragile” and “this side up” stickers for the sides. The entire suitcase, when filled with 12 full wine bottles weighs in at 42 pounds, so there were no excess baggage fees.
In customs: Here’s where I thought I might hit a snag. Before, I may or may not have said that I had “nothing to declare” when it came to all of the alcohol I was bringing back. And according to the regulations it isn’t really a problem, it’s just an extra charge and more time spent in an airport. But this time I had an entire square case on wheels filled with nothing but a dozen bottles of wine, so I felt honesty was a good route. For the first time ever, I checked the “yes” box on the declaration form and hoped for the shortest possible exchange with customs agents.
I’m always guilty when I walk through this line. Usually it’s due to me bending the truth about my proximity to farm animals. If any customs agents follow me on Instagram they will KNOW I am lying about not being near goats.
The agent eyes my form with the declaration box checked yes.
“What are you declaring?”
“I have twelve bottles of wine in this black bag.”
He looks at me for a moment, then back at the form.
“Go on where?”
“You’re good, just go on.”
And that was the entirety of the exchange. It seems that most of the time the forty cents per bottle on the six bottles over my allotment is not worth the $2.40 of effort it will take to collect it. And because wine is under the 24% alcohol, it is discretionary as to whether it gets collected at all. Even if it is, it beats the $200+ and who knows how many weeks in customs that it might otherwise take.
At home: Easy to wheel right into my kitchen to unload. It was like opening a treasure chest. Granted, I packed said treasure chest, but still… Each glorious bottle of my twelve handpicked Nebbiolos from Piedmont was in perfect condition, and it couldn’t have been easier to bring back.
Are you a wine traveler? You can get information on buying your own Wine Check bag here.
This post was written in exchange for me trying out the Wine Check bag, but all opinions are my own. And because I was able to bring back 12 entire bottles of wine instead of cramming six into my regular luggage, my opinion is quite favorable. All photos of me taken by Robert Alexander of Travel Langhe Tours.