A sudden rainstorm drove us into the small wine shop off the main road in Castellina in Chianti in Italy. The walls inside Enoteca Biologica were lined with colorful wine bottles from the floor to ceiling and the proprietor welcomed us with a variety of wines to taste. Not a bad place to be stuck during a rainstorm.
It was our first trip to Italy and I can still remember the Morellino Podere 414, in its bright blue label. All 12 bottles we purchased that day in Enoteca Biologica were amazing wines, ones we could not get in the United States. Wines we were excited to have waiting for us upon our return…until they screwed it up.
The wine was packed and shipped incorrectly. Customs then the held wine in a hot Denver warehouse. We never got it. Luckily, American Express was able to refund our purchase.
I’ve learned many things the hard way, many of which I may never publish simply because I’m still too embarrassed. But, my Italian wine shipping nightmare I will happily share AND provide advice on how to avoid the same mistakes.
A Guide to Traveling Home with Wine
If you visit vineyards in Italy, most will be able to sell you as many bottles of wine as you would like. And it’s hard to pass up a $15 Brunello that is to die for or a $10 Nebbiolo that takes your breath away…
However, unlike the United States where you can have the vineyard ship your wine purchase to your home, in Italy you must take it with you. Unfortunately, most vineyards cannot ship the wine back to the States due to importing legalities. (See State by State wine shipping laws).
So what are your options for having wine shipped back to the United States?
1. Wine in Checked Baggage – Styrofoam Wine Shipping Boxes
Did you know wine can be boxed and checked as luggage? With proper packaging material, such as the Styrofoam wine shipping boxes you can get your wines home, with very little extra cost. Wineries can provide six-bottle or 12-bottle cardboard boxes, but these are not very sturdy even if you wrap bottles in bubble wrap; you’re asking for trouble if you pack/check your wine in cardboard boxes.
If you can find the Styrofoam wine boxes I HIGHLY suggest this option as you will pay MUCH less in getting the wine home. (An extra “bag” of luggage typically costs $25-$50 vs shipping wine from Italy to the USA can run up to nearly $200. Shipping/costs are outlined in more detail below. Wine in checked baggage is the least expensive option I’ve found.)
2. Wine in Checked Baggage – How to Pack Wine in a Suitcase
As with the first option, there is a HUGE cost saving having wine in checked baggage – assuming the bottles don’t break. Remember, you will have to check your luggage if you go this route per the airlines liquid laws (3oz bottles only). So packing to prevent breakage is essential. I have had a lot of success using this method and have a few tips on how to pack wine in a suitcase to prevent breaks.
A few things to keep in mind: If you have a hard cased bag, this is the best option for packing wine in a suitcase as it automatically adds a layer of protection. Additionally, I typically carry collapsible bags with me when I travel, RuMe bags or something like the Lipault weekend satchel. This way if I do make a larger wine purchase, I can take my clothing or shoes and put it in the extra carry-on bag.
Seven Steps on How to Pack Wine in a Suitcase
- Put one layer of clothing down to create a layer of padding.
- Wrap each bottle individually. If you are using clothing to wrap the bottle, make sure to wrap the neck very well to where it’s evenly wrapped with the rest of the bottle. If you have long socks, place the bottle inside a sock, enclose it in a plastic bag (trash bags from hotel rooms, shopping bags, etc.) to help keep any leaks contained. Then wrap the bottle in a shirt or another piece of clothing for added protection. I personally prefer to use wine totes vs wrapping the wine in my clothing. If you have wine totes use them – or go buy a few if you know you’re bringing wine home. These are easy to pack, take up very little room in your bag and help add that layer of protection the bottles need.
(Most wine shops will also carry wine totes, so if you need to grab a few on the road – do it.) A few products I use are BUILT wine totes. They are made of made of Neoprene, the wetsuit material so if the bottle does break, the liquid won’t leak out, at least not too badly. I also really like WineSkin. These reusable wine sleeves are made with a tough vinyl exterior and a bubble-pack interior with a seal at the bottom helping prevent leaks within your bag if they do occur. In Italy we found reusable wine bags at a local wine shop called BattlePro that worked very well. These seemed to be pretty easy to find in more remote area. All are great options when you have wine in checked baggage.)
- Place wrapped bottles in the middle of the bag. The bottles need to be below the zipper line.
- If there is room, line the sides of your bag with rolled up clothing to act as a side bumper for the bottles.
- Add another layer of clothing above the bottles for padding.
- If you have a front zipper pocket on you bag, fill it with clothing.
- If the airport you’re flying out of offers a wrapping option for your luggage, do it. The plastic wrapping helps keep the items inside your luggage more tightly secure (less movement inside is the bag is best) and also protects your luggage with an added layer of padding. The cost is usually less than $5 per bag.
Getting Wine Through US Customs: We haven’t had any problems clearing customs with our wine but we don’t typically bring back more than 15 bottles (one case per person is considered ok and deemed “personal use”).
If you are questioned about the excess wine, make it known it’s for your personal consumption. There are taxes that you may be charged for the excess bottles, but it’s only about 20 cents USD$ /per wine bottle. Make sure to check any updates US Customs has made since this post here.
3. Purchase a Wine Suitcase (or Wine Check)
On my last trip to Italy I walked into a luggage store in Alba looking to buy a hard-cased suitcase in which to bring my wine home. Alas, I didn’t make the purchase BUT it’s an option to consider.
Another option is to have a designated wine suitcase – one that’s built specially to carry wine.
The VinGardeValise is just that. It’s a suitcase designed and constructed to accommodate a full case of wine (12) of 750 ml bottles. The Petite Version of the wine suitcase is a smaller, carry-on size that holds eight bottles. Both feature removable foam modules that hold a variety of different sized wine bottles. Since the foam can be removed you can also use the VinGardeValise as a suitcase.
For the larger wine suitcase, you can easily pack six bottles on the left, seal it up and pack your clothing on the right. Or pack 12 bottles and forget the clothes.
The VinGardeValise is really a cool wine suitcase. Its impact resistant polycarbonate shell protects the bottles sealed inside the case. Oh, and if you’re worried about the changes in temperature, which can wreak havoc on your wine – don’t be. The VinGardeValise is temperature resistant too.
Another option I have found – and used – that I love is the Wine Check. It’s super easy to pack in your own luggage and then insert a packed case of wine that can be checked as baggage. It’s a lot less expensive than the VinGardeValise (you can three for about the price of one VGV) and gives you the ability to bring a lot more wine home. Carpe Travel readers get a 10% discount when ordering and using the promo code – CARPETRAVEL – at check out.
4. Ship the Wine Yourself
As I mentioned earlier, most vineyards in Italy cannot ship wine back to the States due to importing legalities but that doesn’t mean you can’t send it to yourself. There are several different services in Italy you can use to ship wine back, but they’re not as conveniently located like UPS and FedEx are in the States. (The United States Postal Service does not allow wine to be shipped through its services so you do have to use a shipping service.)
It’s best to check online before you leave to check shipping options in the destinations you’re traveling to. For instance, if you’re visiting the Piedmont wine region, is there a Mailboxes or FedEx in Neive or will you need to drive into Alba or should you just wait until you reach Turin to ship your wine? This can be determined before you head out either through an online search, checking with your hotel via email regarding their recommended shipping services or contacting the tourism boards (most will have the information listed online).
Tip: Make sure to check the hours of operation of the shipping office; most businesses in Italy are not open on Sunday.
How to Pack the Wine if You’re Shipping it Yourself: The best option is to purchase a Styrofoam wine box that can hold six or 12 bottles. The one problem with Styrofoam wine boxes – they aren’t always easy to find, especially in remote wine areas of Italy. If you are able to find them (Mailboxes typically carries them) expect to pay 8-12 euros / $10-$15 per box.
The Cost of Shipping Wine: Shipping prices will regularly change. If you are able to check the destinations you’re visiting and their shipping options, you can get a good feel online for pricing ahead of time. For instance, shipping wine from Alba, Italy back to Denver, Colorado via Mailboxes for six bottles is 80 euros / $100 and 12 bottles is 135 euro / $171.
That’s A LOT of money when you’re thinking you may be saving money since you grabbed a $10 bottle of Nebbiolo. If you ship that bottle in a box of 12, it basically brings its $10 price point up to $24. Just something to remember…
Best Shipping Practices:
- Know your States laws. Not all sates in the United States allow wine to be shipped. Check FreeTheGrapes.com to see your State’s shipping laws and here is more information from US Customs.
- Have wine sent to your office where people can sign for the wine in your absence. If you have it shipped to your home and you’re not there, the wine goes back onto the truck and to the warehouse (think heat, more movement and possible breakage).
- If you purchase wine from any Enoteca (wine shop), make sure to put it on your credit card in case the wine never arrives so you can get reimbursed, which is what happened to us.
- Get a tracking number and make sure the box/es are sent fast mail vs. barge — you don’t want the wine sitting out on a dock for a few weeks.
- Several travelers and wine lovers have told me the shipping services they have worked with have marked their shipments as olive oil to avoid issues with the first two noted above.
5. Work with a Wine Importer
If you simply fall in love with a wine and can’t get it home via one of the ways mentioned above, ask the winery to provide a list of their importers in the United States. Most will happily give you the list and then you can simply place an order through the importer directly who can have the wine shipped to you.
Often times you can also ask a wine store to place the order for you. Something to note though, that $20 bottle of Brunello will run $30-50 via the importers. In other words, if it’s just a few bottles you want it can be more cost effective to purchase the wine on your trip and bring it home in your checked baggage (even if you’re paying for checking extra baggage).
What are a your best strategies for how to get wine back from overseas?
Elaine N. Schoch
Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel as well as an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2 and certified American Wine Expert. She is married to The Husband and has two kids, Princess One and Two – who’s interest and knowledge in wine is quite extensive. Not to mention the stamps in their passports.
I’m always bringing back Spanish wine for friends and family in the US, and this suitcase would be such a handy travel tool! Usually I carefully wrap the wine bottles with many layers of clothes or fabric before locking them inside of a large ziplock bag. Finally, I make sure they are cushioned (not rolling free). So far no broken bottles, but I always worry about what a mess it would be if that did happen.
Loved your idea of “packing your shoes, toiletries, and other bulky items inside it on your way to your wine destination.” Great tip!
Thanks for stopping by. Your friends are lucky! Spanish wines…delish. The wine suitcase really is a good option.
I have styrofoam packing containers that I’ve saved from wine deliveries, and I use those when I travel (plus I cover the whole thing in a garbage bag in case of leaks). The wines I took to Brazil last time were not very good, and I’ve wondered if they were altered by the temperature at some point in the long flights.
Hmm. Maybe but how long did you wait before you opened them? If you ship wine or carry it on a plane it should lay down for around two weeks. I’ll add that to this post…
Love seeing easier ways to ship wine home…. this is how I plan to get it back home for the holidays 😉
Some great tips here. Lazenne (www.lazenne.com) now sells a specialized wine luggage that works with wine shippers in Europe. They also have their own line of \”bottle protectors\” aka wine shippers. They have a list of European (currently primarily French) retailers, but also ship directly to a traveller\’s hotel. This is pretty convenient because if you are travelling all throughout a region or country, you can have the wine luggage delivered on the last leg of your journey before heading off to the airport for example.
Interesting. Thanks, I’ll have to check it out.
I’ve never tried to ship wine from overseas, but if I had this handy dandy suitcase I would make a valiant effort to do so in the future.
Wow! I never knew they made wine suitcases. What an amazing invention. Great tips as usual Elaine!
Thanks! It’s a very cool suitcase. Make sure to enter the contest!!!
I never knew a wine suitcase existed! It’s definitely cool and probably a saviour for all wine lovers out there!
It’s not for everybody but those of us who travel with and many time specifically for wine, it’s a huge relief knowing your wine bottles aren’t going to break in transit.
Great contest! I normally put wine and liquor in my luggage, wrapped in clothes or in a box, and hope for the best. I’m planning on a big shopping trip to my next trip to France and this would be great to bring some of my favorite bottles back home!
OHHHH! A big shopping trip in France sounds wonderful! And, yes I’m a little jealous. Enjoy the trip and the wine! Thanks for stopping by and entering the contest.
I generally wrap it up in some clothes, bags, ziplocs, etc. and hope for the best, but this is MUCH better!
Great tips! Thank you!
Great info Elaine! Thanks for posting.
Thanks, glad you enjoyed them and thanks for coming to the site!
We often travel with the cardboard shipping container with styrofoam inserts, but what a pain to lug around! The VinGard Valise looks like a great solution. Also, good advise on carrying a collapsible duffle so you can return with wine in the suitcase and clothing in the duffle!
Yes, my collapsible bags came in more handy on our last trip to Italy than I EVER imagined.
I carried wine back in my backpack from Italy by going to one of those luggage wrapper stands and they wrapped it up quite nicely for me 😀
Those luggage wrapper stands are awesome! I’ve used them a few times now and it really does help when you’re packing things that are fragile.
Wow, great info. Thanks. I wish I would have had this when I was in Australia and New Zealand. Only brought home one bottle.
Only ONE…that makes me so sad. I guess you HAVE to go back now. 😉
That’s so frustrating that you lost the shipment! Great tips on how to pack wine though! I have never tried to bring any wine home with me yet, but I will definitely keep these tips in mind for when I find a bottle to bring home!
Yes, we seriously still talk about that “lost” case of wine in such a sad way. Silly, but it was a huge lesson for us and one I will NEVER repeat.
Great tips. Now I know what to do when I decide to ship wine back to L.A.
Wish I would have found this post months ago…guess I’ll just have to go back to Napa 🙂
Yes, by all means you MUST now go back to Napa. 😉
Wow, this case would be ideal for when we next return to the UK. We’re really keen on introducing our family and friends to the undderrated Canarian wines. One of our favourite places on Gran Canaria houses a coffee plantation, tropical fruit farm, and vineyard.
I’ve never heard of this before and I think it is AMAZING!! The first time I went to Napa I brought back a few bottles wrapped in my suitcase and amazingly they came through ok. The next time we got proper packaging but the box was so awkward to carry. A suitcase is perfect!
Fascinating. We’ve used a Wine Check case (basically a standard wine case size). It’s workable and we took it to Tuscany, but it’s a bit large. We’d like to try this VinGardeValise some day. Thanks for the tip.
It’s a great suitcase that can be used for wine and clothing, the versatility was one of the selling points for me. If you know you’re going to travel for wine, it’s worth the investment. Cheers!
Great ideas for transporting Vines 🙂
Oh wow, that’s interesting to know that wine can be shipped out to you from such a far off country as Italy. Well, with the wine bottles arriving to the United State, why would a
customs broker even hold the wine for such a while? The thought of it came to my mind but I guess it would be best to some more research on it.
I’ve never attempted to ship wine from Italy, but I imagine it would be somewhat of a difficult process. The trick you shared about putting padding in your checked suit case to make it safe for holding and shipping wine was quite clever. It takes up quite a bit of space, but it saves you having to ship it by air through a company. Overall, this is quite a clever post and one that I will keep in mind, should I ever try to ship bottles.
Great idea to bring wine totes and pack the wine in your checked luggage! I’ve had many things break open or spill in my luggage, so hopefully the totes you suggested will help with that if it happens. I’ll have to share these tips with my family as well! Thanks!
It is really good to know that I won’t be able to ship my wine back from Italy with me. Now I know I need to bring an extra suitcase. The plan is to bring a duffle bag and put my clothes in that, so that I can put the wine in the suitcase for the flight home. Will that work with the airport?
Just to confirm, you can in fact ship your wine back to the states from Italy it just costs a TON. The suitcase and duffle bag trick should work well. Make sure to pack some bubble wrap to protect the bottles in the suitcase.
I really liked your suggestion to get a wine suitcase designed for transporting your finest wine bottles from your trip! It can be tricky getting these transferred safely because airport professional can be a little rough sometimes. Plus, I think that this would make it easier to go through customs because everything that you are taking out of the country and bringing into wherever you\’re going to will be in one place for them to check. Thank you for the suggestion!
Elaine, what would be some of the rules when it comes to shipping wine to a different country? This is something that I have a question about because of a cousin of mine that’s in Sweden and wants me to ship him some European wine. Hopefully I can find a mailing service that would let me send a package of wine bottles out to him.
If you’re in the EU it shouldn’t be a problem sending within the EU. If you’re in the US and sending wine to the EU it’s my understanding you can send a case at a time.
Lots of credit card companies offer purchase and return protections, so if your goods are lost, stolen, or damaged you can typically submit that and get up to a certain amount back (if not all).
These are great and often underutilized benefits. I think its a combination of the perception of the complexity of them as well as the fact that credit card companies don’t exactly blast these out everywhere because it costs them money when you collect.
Great point! There are a lot of protections and even insurance related benefits on certain credit card. It’s just remembering to check on these things that people need to do.
Great read! I usually pack the wine bottles I buy abroad in my check-in baggage with my clothes. I’m going to look for a wine suit case very soon. I just hope there’s a store that sells them in my area.
You can order them online. Actually, check my recommend gear for more details on the suite case and a link over to their site. https://carpe-travel.com/travel-gear/
This is really great information! I had no idea you had to personally bring your wine back from Italy, good to know! I really like the idea of the wine suit case. Thanks for sharing this!
The only time I brought wine over a border it was packed in my suitcase. And that was carry-on, so I didn’t have to worry much about it being man-handled by airport staff.
You’re right about the location not being a bad place to be stuck in a storm. It’s unfortunate that they messed up your shipping.
Really liked your post…!
I have a nice collection of wine in my house. Whenever I travel to different places, I do not forget to buy wine for myself. Shipping of wine in huge quantity may be a problem some time. All I know was to ship them through shipping containers, which was a bit costly. So, I usually prefer to buy one or may be two bottles of wine.
But thanks to you, now I know about these great ideas for wine shipment. Especially that suitcase….I was not aware of that..!
Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of information.
Wow! What a great Idea about the wine suitcase. I’m gonna bring this on my next vacation. Thanks for the tips!
The wine suitecase is a great way to travel with wine. Hope you have a great wine adventure!
Great Post and Blog. By the way one of the best Logos I have seen so far for travel blogs! Keep up the good work! Schöne Reise aus Deutschland! 🙂
Hi, anyone knows if the following information is still valid:
“Getting Wine Through US Customs: We haven’t had any problems clearing customs with our wine but we don’t typically bring back more than 15 bottles (one case per person is considered ok and deemed “personal use”). If you are questioned about the excess wine, make it known it’s for your personal consumption. There are taxes that you may be charged for the excess bottles, but it’s only about 20 cents USD$ /per wine bottle.”
Yes, this is still valid. The taxes may vary depending on the state you’re flying into but it shouldn’t exceed $1 a bottle.
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