What's the best way to travel with wine and avoid "bottle shock"?
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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What's the best way to travel with wine if I don’t have a wine suitcase and I’m worried about ''bottle shock"?
—Ericka, Miami Beach, Fla.
Great question, presuming of course that you are referring to the temporary condition by which a wine's flavors may seem muted and not to the 2008 Alan Rickman film of the same name.
Now that we’re traveling again, it’s time to start thinking about how to pack our favorite gift or souvenir. I’m going to stick to domestic traveling advice, because before the pandemic, international laws were tricky enough—I can’t imagine how complicated they are now. But be certain to check with the countries you’re traveling to and from with wine—as well as with your airline—to make sure you’re legally permitted to carry wine to or from your destination.
Since you’ll be traveling with more than 3 ounces of wine, if you're flying, you'll have to prepare your wine to be treated as a checked bag, because that's exactly what it will be. Do your best to insulate the wine in the event of rough treatment of your luggage—bubble wrap is good, and Styrofoam shipping containers are even better. I wrap my bottles in a plastic bag or two, too, just in case.
Wine travel suitcases can be quite chic, and they often come with foam inserts that keep your wine nice and snug, but they can cost upwards of $100. Plus, it's kind of annoying to travel with an empty wine suitcase on the way there. There are more affordable wine bottle–shaped bubble-wrapped sleeves or inflatable sheathes which can be helpful. As much as I’m not a fan of Styrofoam, a 6-bottle wine shipper with Styrofoam insert will weigh about 20 pounds when full of wine, and that's still light enough for me to deal with it at the luggage carousel.
As far as “bottle shock” (aka “bottle sickness” or “travel shock”), there's no scientific explanation for it, but anecdotal evidence suggests that bottles of wine that have recently been agitated by shipping or air travel may require a few days or weeks to “recover” from getting all shook up and get back to being their best selves. Fragile, older wines seem more susceptible to this condition, and younger, more robust wines less so. But no matter what kind of wine and how well you pack it, I recommend letting it rest in proper storage conditions for a few days or even weeks before enjoying it.