Monthly Archives: October 2008

I Like To Shop At The Duty Free Shop

If you’re traveling from Paris to Chicago and you come across some great deals at the duty free shops, you have to remember that you will be going through the security checkpoints again when you land in the states.  If you make any purchases in Paris, make sure that you transfer them to your checked bags when you arrive in Chicago for your connecting flight.

I was aware of this extra hassle, so I used the duty free shop for more immediate gratification.  I wanted to have some wine on the airplane, but I wasn’t about to pay eight dollars for the tiny bottle they were offering.  I bought a bottle of Cabenet from the Languedoc that nearly made the airline food tolerable.  If you intend to use the duty free shop for this purpose, then you should buy red wine because the service temperature is not as critical as with white.  MOST IMPORTANT, buy a wine with a screwcap.  You won’t be finding any corkscrews in the friendly skies.

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Wine On An Airplane

As I prepared for my recent trip to France I searched for sources on the bureaucratic hoops that were sure to be involved in bringing wine back to the United States.  The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website was no help, but the agent I phoned gave the following guidelines:

The passenger must be 21 years old.

The product must be for personal consumption. (Not commercial)

The first liter is duty free.

After that, the duty is determined by the state of re-entry.  The cost is generally $1.50 to $2 per bottle.

With these few regulations in mind I landed in France resolved to bring back as much wine as I could manage.  That was when the logistics began to rear their ugly little heads.

My primary obstacle was the Transportation Safety Administration’s lack of regard for the finer liquids in life.  In the past, passengers were able to carry wines on board to protect them from the wrath of the baggage handlers, but that is no longer the case.  I was well aware of this obstacle when I left for France, and the solution I had in mind was simply to go to a wine shop and purchase a shipping container from them.  This proved to be an unfortunate assumption, as none of the shops I patronized had shipping boxes available.  One shopkeeper in Amboise was kind enough to cut some extra pieces of bubble wrap for me and I used a box from a winery that was usually intended for twelve bottles to hold six bubble-wrapped bottles.  I had to rely on the kindness of the French again when it came time to seal the box because duct tape seems to be a rare commodity in Paris.

If I had been able to acquire a box intended for shipping, then I would have treated it as an extra piece of checked luggage. (Although carrying it from the hotel to the airport, along with my other bags, would have presented another logistical challenge that I did not have to face.)  Instead I opted to remove enough clothes from my suitcase to fit my wine box, and I carried the extra clothes on board in a shopping bag.  Some of my fellow travelers raised concerns about my suitcase exceeding the weight limit and the temperature in the cargo hold.  The weight for a single bottle is about three pounds.  I have not found out what the temperature is maintained in the cargo hold.

As my plane approached Chicago, I filled out my customs declaration form, which was devoid of any mention of alcoholic products.  I had to check yes boxes for food products (I brought back an incredible tarragon mustard) and I acknowledged that I had been to a farm.  As I had far less than the minimum $1,000 worth of purchased goods to qualify for paying a duty, I did not have to be specific about my purchases.  I did not mention the wine in my bag, and they made no inquiries as it passed through their scanners.  I grabbed my bags off the line and ran away, home free!

All that was left was the final gauntlet through the baggage handlers in Chicago and St. Louis, which my little box survivied with flying colors.  I have six bottles of wine that will tranport me back to France on six sure-to-be-wonderful occasions over the next eleven years.  {I will take this opportunity to brag that I acquired a bottle made by the late Didier Dagueneau, which I will be hanging onto for eleven years to the day. [40th birthday (my 29th was spent in Vouvray)]}

Now that I have gone through this experience, I will do a few things differently in the future.  First, if I know that it will be logistically easy for me to travel to and from the airport with more things than I can carry, and if I do not have to pay a charge for an extra piece of checked luggage, then I will bring an empty shipping box with styrofoam inserts that can hold twelve bottles.  If I cannot, then I will bring enough bubble wrap for six bottles.  Second, I will be bringing duct tape on every trip I take for the rest of my life, for I can see how it would be helpful in many situations.  Lastly, I would bring an extra bag for the clothes that I would be carrying onto the plane, as I found the shopping bag to be flimsy.

I would love to hear any anecdotes about traveling with wine that can shed some extra light on the subject for future travels.

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Musée du Vin

One of the unexpected gems I came across on my trip to France was the Musée du Vin in Paris.  Located just across the river Seine from the Eiffel Tower, the museum displays wine-related artifacts from antiquity to the modern era.  The evolution of wine and its role in civilization had been my academic focus leading up to the trip, so I felt a trip to the wine museum would be the most appropriate use of my time.  Mona Lisa be damned!

For a wine nerd like me, this was an excellent choice.  The tour began with a collection of drinking vessels from the Greco-Roman era.  Some were incredibly decorative, others were the height of practicality.  Some were neither.  I was thrilled to see a complete amphorae sitting on pieces of other smashed vessels.  Once the wine had reached its journey, it was impractical to do anything with the vessel.  Many roofs were made of amphorae pieces and whole beaches are comprised of nothing but the remains of ancient wine vessels.

Equally as intriguing as the displays dedicated to the consumption of wine, were those dedicated to growing grapes and making wine.  Every manner of agricultural tool was on display, such as pruning knives, brands for marking barrels and sprayers that were used in the late nineteenth century to combat the fungal diseases plaguing Europe at the time.

The displays of bottles and bottle openers were entertaining.  Bulbous, impractical bottles stood next to unique shapes and modern-style bottles with etched brand names.  The corkscrews presented the most entertaining collection in the museum.

English language headsets were available to guide me through the museum.  I was able to pause the audio and proceed at my own pace.

For the true cork dork (see photo) the Musée du Vin was a great attraction.

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Book Review: A History Of The World In Six Glasses

A History Of The World In Six Glasses by Tom Standage

In my last round of studying, one of the most intriguing facts I came across was the vital role that alcoholic beverages played in the foundation of ancient civilizations.  When humans became stationary, the ground water became contaminated.  Wine, due to its alcohol content, and beer, due to the fact that it must be boiled during its production, provided a safe means of consuming water.

Once my formal preparation was completed for the year, I decided to dig deeper into the history of wine and beverages in general.  All of the beverages concerned are still popular today; an in depth study of each would undoubtedly reveal a wealth of historical information.  As I read Six Glasses I was also reading Hugh Johnson’s The Story of Wine (a review on that book is still to come). Six Glasses does not come close to approaching the depth that The Story of Wine explores, but that is not the point of the book.

Standage uses each beverage to describe the historical circumstances during the height of each drink’s influence.  He also details the origin of each and how they rose to such prominence.  The accessibility of the presentation makes for a relatively quick and entertaining read.  A synopsis of each of the beverage is provided below.

The epilogue touches on the coming challenges that the next important beverage – water – will present to civilization.  The gulf between developed nations and under-developed nations is found in the supply of clean drinking water.  It is the citizens of the most developed nations, with the best municipal water supplies, that turn to bottled water for its supposedly better taste, unique sources and fashionable containers.

Water is also tied to land development in arid regions, whether it be for crops or cities.  The result is the tapping of water tables that cannot support the new infrastructure indefinitely.  Drought is currently taking its toll in Australia, where the city of Perth is threatening to be the first city in modern civilization to be entirely abandoned.

On the whole, A History of the World in Six Glasses is an entertaining read that has changed the way that I approach the beverages that were covered, particularly the caffeinated beverages, since I had no concept of their origin.  I’ve been drinking lots of tea of late!

Synopsis –

Beer is associated with the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations because of its connection to the infancy of agriculture and its water purification.  It was used as currency and the symbols for beer are found on the earliest writings.

Wine is associated with the Greeks and Romans, since it was the principle commodity that supported the cultures.  The focus on wine could have been extended through the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, as it provided the economic foundation for the Church, which was the most powerful force at the time.  This portion of history was omitted altogether.

The age of exploration and colonization was viewed through the trade of distilled spirits.  Spirits were the only alcoholic beverages capable of surviving long voyages.  The production of rum became a principle industry in the New World.  Rum also completed the triangle of the slave trade, as it was the preferred currency of those who caught and sold slaves in Africa.

Coffee is associated with the Age of Enlightenment because of its invigorating qualities and the coffee houses that provided a venue for the discussions that fueled the revolutionary ideas of the time.

Tea was used to describe the power of the British empire.  “It is not too great an exaggeration to say that almost nobody in Britain drank tea at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and nearly everybody did by the end of it.”  The East India Company became as powerful as the government itself.

Coke was used to describe the power of America in the 20th century.  It is by far the worlds most recognized brand.  It was provided to the soldiers fighting during World War II and was introduced to the world.  The only phrase that is more recognizable than “Coca-Cola” is “OK”

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