When Wine Goes Traveling

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - November 24, 2006
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“Wine doesn’t travel.”

That is something I’ve heard from people who don’t think wine is meant to travel. The same people say that when wine does travel, it invariably suffers from the transport and does not taste the same after its voyage, especially if it is a long one. There is some truth to the theory, but there is also another side to the story.

Any importer will tell you that the best way to transport wines is in temperature-controlled containers, so the wine is kept at ideal temperatures and away from light. However, traveling in freight does not protect the wine from the constant wave motion of the ocean or vibration associated with any type of travel.

Wines are similar to humans in that they do not like to be jostled and thrown about. Speaking atomically, there are certain bonds of chemicals known as esters that give wine its aroma and complex flavors. If the vibrations are strong enough, these bonds can actually break, resulting in a wine that is “dumb” and muted. We call this “shocked” or “sick” from the travel. Think of it as a wine that has jetlag.

Just as we need time to readjust our bio-clocks to different time zones, wine does too. After a wine arrives from a long sojourn across the sea, whether by plane or ship, it is best to let it rest in your cellar for some time to let those bonds reform and the wine to adjust, which can take two weeks or more. It is especially important for older wines to rest for even a longer period before being broached.

As fortunate as we are that the largest majority of these bonds reform, there are a tiny few that may never reform. These are certainly in the minority, and it happens more often if higher temperatures are associated with harsh vibration. That is why it is important when transporting your precious treasures to handle them as gingerly as possible.

But as we all probably know by now, transporting wine has become even more difficult recently because of airline restrictions on carrying liquids. It used to be that we could hand-carry bottles we purchase in wine country onto the plane, but unfortunately that practice is no more.

So what are our options? Jean-Francois Coche, one of the greatest winemakers in the world, is known for saying, “Wine should only travel once, from the cellar to your table.” Sure, in an ideal world. So I guess every time we want to have a bottle of wine we have to buy a ticket to its country of origin, drive to the winery and drink it there. Yeah, right! That’s not going to happen. I don’t think wine producers would like it much either, because they wouldn’t be able to sell all of their wine to the world market as they do now.

One thing you can do is bring an empty Styrofoam wine box with you when you travel to wine country. You will have to check the wine into cargo luggage, but at least you can get your wine home safely. Or if you don’t mind taking a chance, you can pack them in your luggage wrapped in your soft clothes. Good luck. Another way is to do a little research at your local wine store and find out if the importer or distributor of the wine you are purchasing uses refrigerated containers, storage and trucks to transport their wine. Knowing that will give you a better chance at getting a wine that is closest to perfect condition as the wine-maker intends it to be.

So are you going to stop drinking your favorite wines because they don’t come straight from the producers’ cellars to your table in one short trip? I’m not! And I have to say that wines tasted in the producer’s cellar always taste better anyway. Wines always have and always will travel.

Wines that have traveled well: NV Diebolt Vallois Cuvee Prestige ($55) This Blanc de Blanc is made from 100 percent Grand Cru Chardonnay. Absolutely fabulous bubbly! 2003 Dominus ($120) Whoa! Intensely rich, and regal, a great gift.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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