A frequent question I encounter, since I travel to so many wine regions so frequently, is whether I transport wine back home with me from those regions. Nowadays my answer to this is always, “no, you can find it all here in the U.S.” But that’s not quite true, and this curt statement does not reflect the numerous different experiences I’ve had dealing with this issue.
The story starts in 1985 with a trip to Club Med in Cancun, Mexico, where I discovered Kahlua, along with a sexy Bostonian with a cute midriff. I packed a large bottle of Kahlua back home with me in my luggage, only to discover it broken upon returning to Chicago, a sticky mess all over my clothes. My relationship with the woman from Boston lasted only a bit longer, ending with happy memories, nothing soiled. The Kahlua on the other hand left a more lasting impression.
In 2000 I travelled to Bordeaux where I was delighted to discover new appellations -Lallande de Pomerol, Sauternes – and cheap St. Emillion wines from the 1997 vintage. My wife and I stuffed around a dozen bottles into our check-in and carry-on and smuggled it into the U.S. (I hope the statute of limitations for this is now over). Mindful of the Kahlua mishap, we worried all the way home about broken bottles, hauling the more precious ones on our personal packs like mules. The bottles made it home intact alright, but to my dismay, I discovered that everything we brought back could be purchased locally in different wine shops.
In 2006 on a biking trip to Sicily, I was in Rome on a pre-trip tour and found a charming wine shop/restaurant near the Colosseum, with a young steward who, amused by my interest, introduced me to Aglianico and other Italian varietals I hadn’t much heard of until then. I bought several bottles from him, placed them in my suitcase and the next day, flying to Palermo, got slapped with a hefty fine for overweight luggage by Alitalia. Another score against packing wine, even for short flights.
Resolved never to transport wine in a plane again, in 2007 I found myself in Provence on a biking trip, an area whose wines I adore. I bought too much Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vaqueras, and subsequently discovered that bringing these to restaurants was considered rude and inappropriate. Ordering from wine lists for dinner and trying to put a dent into my stash in the hotel room, I spent this particular vacation biking in a state of perpetual hangover through searing heat and steep hills. The goal was to drink it all up and not return any to the U.S. The experience taught me to pace my purchases on the trip.
So now comes the mature phase. In my recent two weeks in Southeastern Italy I bought too much initially, ordered from wine lists in restaurants, and drank my stash in moderation so as not to have my Provence problems. Trying to consume it all before our post-biking extension to Rome, which involved an Alitalia flight from Brindisi, I didn’t quite make it. Julie gifted one last bottle to a lucky hotel concierge in Lecce as a tip. Our luggage remained wine-free and fine-free.
We then returned home to find that one of the wines I liked most in Puglia, a 2009 Vigna Pedale Reserva from Torrevento was NOT available in the U.S. Should I have packed a few bottles in my luggage?
The saga thus continues, going around in circles. Maybe I’ll revisit this is issue in another few years. In the meanwhile I will stick to my long held principle, since Bordeaux, that it is better to return light and seek the wines at home. In many ways this is more rewarding than the risks and inconvenience of packing wine into airborne luggage.