Wine Education and Tailor made French Wine Tours – Come Wine with me!
Souvenirs to leave behind
By Jancis Robinson & Published: August 30 2008 01:54
At this time of year, bottles carefully brought home from southern Europe are traditionally
opened all over northern Europe in a fever of anticipation. But those who expect
their treasured wine mementoes to prolong the warmth and languor of the summer holiday
just past are all too often disappointed. The red, white or rosé that tasted so glorious
on a vine-shaded terrace seems just plain ordinary under grey skies. Cue the perennial
question: why doesn’t this wine travel?
Except that it is rarely the wine’s fault. That wine tasting is a subjective experience
is vividly illustrated by this frustrating phenomenon. It is almost invariably ourselves,
our mood and our environment that have changed rather than the wine. Modern wine
is made to withstand long journeys. Many a bottle on a British supermarket shelf
was trucked across the Channel only days before.
Ch Prieuré BordeRouge, Ange 2004 Corbières
Fully mature mountain wine – more pleasurable than Ch Lafite 1998, tasted the day
£15.50 incl delivery, www.winehunters.co.uk
Les Clos Perdus, Cuvée 41 2006 Corbières Grenache
A Châteauneuf taste alike with great character.
Dom La Combe Blanche, Clos du Causse 2005 Minervois La Livinière
Fine, silky, ageworthy red selected by Brigitte Chevalier, ex Thunevin of StÉmilion.
And this phenomenon is by no means restricted to wine. Dusty bottles of ouzo, Metaxa
and Fundador lurk in cocktail cabinets everywhere as testament to hopeful travellers
keen to import liquid souvenirs. Even professionals are not immune to the charms
of local drinks that take on a quite unjustified allure when consumed sur place.
I recall quite happily downing local brandy and lemonade, a combination I would regard
as an abomination in London, on our one and only holiday in Cyprus.
But as more and more holidaymakers fly, rather than drive to and from their destinations,
these liquid souvenirs are becoming a thing of the past. In our new security-conscious
era, flying is an operation that is inimical to the old mores of a wine-lover. I
remember clearly how outraged I felt the first time I encountered any restrictions
on flying with a bottle of wine. It was 8am one morning in 2002, before British airports
had started to collect all our water bottles. I was being screened at Shanghai airport
before boarding a plane for the currently troublesome far western Chinese region
of Xinjiang. Just as I was leaving my hotel that morning, the local distributor had
left me a sample of Grace Vineyards’ Chairman’s Reserve, said to be the most promising
wine then made in China. There had been no time, or inclination, to try it then but
I thought I’d be able to take it with me on my flight to Urümqi and taste it that
evening. But no – China had this quaint prohibition on carrying glass and liquids
on flights. But Grace’s wines were virtually impossible to find. I was so loth to
hand over my one and only bottle to the security guards and miss my chance of tasting
it that I dashed over to a café, got a tumbler and proceeded to pull the cork as
hordes of bemused Chinese air passengers streamed past me at the security gate. (The
wine was worth it).
Nowadays, of course, air travellers everywhere are prohibited from passing through
security with anything even remotely resembling a liquid in their hand luggage, and
corkscrews are presumed dangerous weapons too. This particular prohibition has also
had implications for travelling wine lovers and wine professionals. Corkscrews are
the tools of our trade, although admittedly not as deeply personalised as the batterie
of knives that professional chefs are now precluded from taking on board with them,
even on the briefest of trips.
I treasure a small but tough and effective plastic corkscrew that lives in my sponge
bag. It is sheathed innocuously. The material does not set off any alarms. And I
have had it so long that it, mysteriously, carries a long-forgotten logo of British
But in my experience, the desire of wine producers the world over to transfer as
many bottles as possible from their cellars to visiting wine writers remains largely
unaffected by our new era of flying restrictions. This varies by region and by personality
but Italians in general, as one might expect, are the most insistent that no visitor
departs empty-handed. Our protestations about travelling with hand baggage only and
the severe weight restrictions of some airlines fall on deaf ears. The important
thing, as with Italians generally, is that generosity is manifested in all respects.
Even if it means that the visitor has to leave the bottles behind in an airport lavatory.
The professional quandary of being given too much wine is not, I realise, going to
generate much sympathy with people who do not write about wine for a living, but
perhaps those in other professions have come across the dilemma of being presented
with other heavy and voluminous mementoes on their travels – gifts which it would
be discourteous to refuse, yet highly inconvenient to take home on a flight. My heart
sinks as rapidly as my arms whenever I am presented with the definitive illustrated
monograph on such-and-such a wine region that will surely take me over my luggage
It is not easy to fly with wine, even with it in checked-in baggage. Not only are
they heavy, wine bottles are also more fragile than most other things sensibly packed
in a suitcase, and even I find it hard to think of a bottle of red wine so precious
that it is worth the risk of its leaking all over my clothes. On the rare occasions
that I have flown with a bottle in a suitcase, I pack it in a polystyrene tube and
swathe the whole thing with Sellotape. So far, so good. But polystyrene, the lightest
and safest packaging material for any wine in the hold, is horribly difficult to
recycle, and has a tendency to shed clingy white particles. Packing wine in a suitcase
is a practice I adopt only in extremis such as travelling as an overseas judge at
an Australian wine show where they persist, current flying restrictions notwithstanding,
in the custom of expecting us to bring very serious bottles for consumption at judges’
dinners (as if we needed them after tasting 200 wines a day).
Enough complaining. In the box (above) are wines I enjoyed on my recent holiday,
and did not bring back in my luggage.