A recent comment thread on The Winegetter reminded me of an area of confusion for many people. I prefer to see it as an area of opportunity.
Most travelers think they are limited to two bottles of wine when entering the U.S. In fact, Customs limits travelers to two bottles duty-free. But there is no limit on the amount of alcohol you can import for personal use. In other words, pack a travel scale and max out those bags because nobody is going to stop you!
Officially, beyond two bottles there is a duty (tax) of $1-2 per liter. In practice the Customs and Border Patrol agents almost never charge this because it adds up too slowly. Some individual states may have different limits that they enforce, but I know this is not the case in New York, California, and Virginia. If anyone has a different experience, please share.
Why carry wine home? Simple: the selection is different and prices are usually lower. Personally I enjoy bringing home a couple of bottles of something I enjoyed in a restaurant or at a winery — away from the romance of your travels you can taste it again and see how your perception changes. Sometimes I like it more the second time around, sometimes less, but it’s always an interesting comparison considering how much your environment and expectations influence what you taste.
In October my wife returned from France with 36 bottles — by herself. I followed suit a few days later from Germany with another 10 or so from Cool Climate in Frankfurt. Here’s the evidence. If we can do it, so can you:
What about packing those bottles? I try to find padded cardboard shipper boxes, either at a winery or a good wine store. Shipping supply stores sometimes carry them as well. In a pinch you can simply buy some cardboard boxes, tape and bubble wrap, and as long as you are thorough everything will get home in one piece. Sending wine by post is more complicated and typically very expensive.
So, now you have several cases of wine. What are you going to eat with that? How about some imported cheese? Similar to wine, there is a stubborn misconception that importing raw-milk cheese isn’t allowed. Actually, it is. Only cheese containing meat is definitively prohibited. So fill the spaces between your bottles with some raw-milk Munster and Saint-Marcellin. Although maybe some real Cantal would be a better bet since harder cheeses travel better.
In any case, free movement of people and goods is your right, so use it! See the Customs and Border Patrol website for more info.