Have Wine, Will Travel: Tips for sending your vino souvenirs home safely (and inexpensively)

I recently spent four days in northern California with the objective of visiting some of my favorite wineries in Napa and Sonoma. Every time I go, I always end up tasting something I love and buying a bottle or two to take home. On this particular trip, my friend and I visited around 9 tasting rooms ended up with a grand total of 11 bottles to take home, not counting the two that we drank with dinner at Mustards.

When so many wineries sell bottles that aren't available anywhere else, you might be feel compelled to buy (and buy a lot).

When so many wineries sell bottles that aren’t available anywhere else, you might be feel compelled to buy (and buy a lot).

So how do you get 11 bottles of wine safely (and legally) from California to New York?

Most of the vineyards sell a re-usable PVC “bubble wrap” called a Wine Skin, which is available for around $2 online and with a 300% or more markup in vineyard gift shops. I never went this route myself, as a bottle or two wrapped in dirty laundry did the trick for me, but it does seem like a popular option for many. Almost every gift shop had these available for sale and on full display.

Now, if anyone travels like me, there’s no room in the suitcase for wine. And while I have no problem joining the wine club for one of two of my favorite spots, it’s just not realistic when I want to take a bottle or two back to NY to share with friends without having to wait for delivery (and without getting nailed on shipping for 2-3 bottles at a time).

The popular Wine Skin, available in many tasting room gift shops.

The popular Wine Skin, available in many tasting room gift shops.

Do-It-Yourself shipping is an option, and it’s not difficult. Most tasting rooms will sell boxes that you can use to pack up your wine to ship home. They usually come in a 6-pack or a 12-pack, but some will even sell a box for 3. They’re not as small or as pretty as a Wine Skin, so you may need to ask the gift shop personnel to fetch one for you if they are available. I got mine at the Wine Train gift shop, which happened to be a stone’s throw away from my hotel.

The biggest worry with DIY shipping, however, is cost. The hotel concierge quoted me $76 for ground shipping, not including packaging. When I balked at the price, he suggested I check with the UPS store down the road. They weren’t any better… $84 to ship 11 bottles of wine to New York, plus the cost of the packaging, and it probably wouldn’t arrive until next week.

Now, I figure we spent anywhere from $20 – $50 for each of these 11 bottles, which brings us to a rough estimate of $300 worth of grape juice available only for purchase in The Golden State. That being said, I was interested in saving a few bucks to get it home. What some people might not know is that it is often more cost-effective to take a case of wine home on the airplane.

That’s right… you can “check” your case of wine just like you check luggage, and all it will cost you is whatever your airline charges to check an additional bag.

And while it may seem a little weird to you at first, I assure you that the airline staff are pretty used to taping up boxes of wine to be checked on the plane, especially in SFO. I was actually quite surprised that mine was the only box of wine that came out of the carousel in JFK. A few people laughed at me when they found out that I “checked” a case of wine, but who cares? When all was said and done, it cost me $12 for the box, and $35 to check it. If you count the $5 it cost to rent one of those wheelie-carts to move it around the airport, you have a grand total of $52 to take my wine home… or around $4.72 a bottle.

And the best part? No waiting! In fact, I’m enjoying a glass of Pinot Gris from El Dorado as I write this article and attempt to shake the jetlag associated with flying the dreaded Redeye from SFO to JFK. But, hey… isn’t a Spring Break in wine country totally worth it?

Bottle of White often plans custom tours for out-of-town guests, and the same shipping concept works in reverse! Check with the tasting rooms of your North Fork destinations to see if they will sell you a shipping crate. If not, any package shop will do. For more travel tips, be sure to check out Bottle of White on Facebook and Twitter!

Welcome, Spring!

Visiting Kon to KOS ta winery on a chilly winter day. Kontokosta is one of our favorite new North Fork vineyards and a MUST SEE this spring!

Visiting Kon to KOS ta winery on a chilly winter day. Kontokosta is one of our favorite new North Fork vineyards and a MUST SEE this spring!

Is it just me, or was this winter unrelenting? Between the so-called Polar Vortex, the below-average temperatures, and the snowstorms, I’m about ready for some sunshine and green grass.

And apparently so are all of you!

We’ve noticed a 300% uptick in phone calls for vineyard tours just this week alone! So I’ve asked chef Reggie to update his gourmet lunch menu, I’ve taken an inventory of our new vehicles, and I’m hard at work planning signature North Fork experiences for this spring and summer! My colleagues and  I visited some great vineyards this winter, a few of which we’d like for you to experience on your next excursion. Additionally, Regina and I are visiting Sonoma and Napa next week to get an idea of how our Californian counterparts show their visitors a good time. I’m really looking forward to the trip, and I know Regina is, too (it will be her first time there).

I’d like to thank all of our clients for their positive feedback and friendly reviews. Because of you, our little word-of-mouth operation was nominated for Bethpage Best of Long Island in 2013! Cheers!

Supplying Wine for “La Vigilia”: A Guide for Shopping for an Italian Christmas Eve

Every year, usually on the day before the holiday, I get a few texts from friends at the liquor store. “Hey Mary, what kind of wine should I bring for (Italian girlfriend/boyfriend/fiancee/spouse)’s house on Christmas Eve?” Knowing that most traditional Italians eat only fish on La Vigilia, I usually try to steer them away from the popular bold red wines that we all love so much around the holidays… the ones that warm our bellies, like spicy Syrahs or jammy Merlots.  In truth, some bold red wines might overpower some of the delicate fishes that are served in a traditional Italian household, but as I learned from some research on how Italian restaurants put together their wine and food pairing dinners for La Vigilia, reds shouldn’t be kept away altogether.

My father posted this status update to Facebook last night, which will give you an idea of the typical Itailan-American menu for Christmas Eve (and an idea of what I’m dealing with):

In Italian, Christmas Eve is “La Vigilia,” the eve. Many Italians also refer to it as The Eve of the Seven Fishes. This year as always, we do the traditional Italian meatless meal, but with a twist… We’re having: Shrimp and Lime Tartlets, Marinated fresh Anchovies, Tonno and Cannellini (tuna & white bean salad), Insalata di Mare (seafood salad), Zuppa di Cozze (mussels marinara), Scungilli fra davolo, Grilled Polipetti (grilled baby octopus), Fettuccine with Shrimp & Scallop, Roasted whole Bronzino, Broiled Salmon Fillets, Southern Fried Catfish, Roasted Brussel Sprouts, and Cauliflower in cheese sauce. For dessert we have assorted Chocolates, Gelato and Sorbet.

It’s no secret that every Italian American looks forward to a traditional “seven fishes” Christmas eve. It’s almost a tradition as rich as having turkey on Thanksgiving and colored eggs at Easter. But what kind of wines do Italians drink? Knowing only my own crazy family as a frame of reference, I thought it best to farm out the questions to some of my fellow Italian-Americans for their input. I got some great responses:

Boone’s Farm? (I hope he was kidding)

Carlo Rossi…it’s a staple in every true Italian household. As a kid my grandfather always had that gallon bottle on the left side of his chair, then every other house I went to had it somewhere in the kitchen. 

I’d offer up an opinion but as you know the wine we drink in our family is made in the garage. 

I have memories of the Bolla Valpolicella – and some sweet vermouth. Everything else is a blur. 

Anything with alcohol in it!

I like a good Riesling, but if you want to stick with Italian, maybe a Soave or Frascati

Most old ITALIANS make their own. Tastes like acid to me but they swear it is the best!

And my favorite:

This Jew married to an Italian believes wine isn’t strong enough, Bring Vodka! Lol!

This is what a DOCG label might look like. It typically appears on the top of the bottle.

This is what a DOCG label might look like. It typically appears on the top of the bottle.

In summary, most Italians aren’t picky, and we don’t need to drink Italian wine alone… so don’t ever feel intimidated about bringing a bottle of wine to dinner. But, if you’re trying to make an impression, here are some good things to know:

  • Some of the Italian grape varietals are unfamiliar to some American wine drinkers. While I’ve had some delicious Nebbiolo and Barbera in the El Dorado region in California, they are primarily Italian grapes. Italy is the home to many grape varietals, in fact, including  Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Corvina, Garganega, and Trebbiano among others.
  • Italian wines can either be named by their varietal or by their region. This presents a lot of confusion for the typical American wine drinker. To keep it simple, may I offer one valuable piece of advice: buy a wine that has a special label on it. Make sure it says DOC or DOCG. What does this mean? Well I could go into specifics about Denominazione D’Origine Controllata (DOC) as in wine labeled as such is subjected to rigid regional regulations on grape variety, yields per hectare, aging requirement, and vinification methods, blah blah blah… but very simply… these wines aren’t typical Italian two-buck-chuck (though we do not discriminate against those wines, because we drink everything). Yet, if you’re trying to impress your new Italian girlfriend’s dad with something of better quality, you want to go for the label.DOC is good. DOCG is better. They take an extra step in ensuring quality. A DOCG is a category for the most prestigious subregions in the DOC. They are marked by distinctive style, appellation reputation, and commercial success.  You really can’t go wrong with either of these labels.
  • Some of the delicate white fishes (like many that my father listed above) would pair best with a light white wine, and the Italian kinds are usually bone dry and neutral. A bubbly Prosecco would pair well with sea scallop. A Soave is a light, simple white wine popular in  Tre Venezia (the collective name given to the three wine regions near the city of Venice: Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Veneto). If you’re looking for something a little more southern (where are my Sicilians?) try a Vermentino di Sardegna, a dry white wine.
  • Are you more partial to reds? That’s completely OK, because there are plenty of delicious red wines that would pair with some more of the more, er.. full-bodied fishes. I’m not a fan of octopus, but it would go well with a Toscano. A Chianti Classico from Tuscany is a full-bodied red wine with a slightly bitter twist. Barolo and Barbaresco are intense, tannic, and complex.
  • A SuperTuscan is always fun… it’s a blend of Sangiovese mixed with Cabernet Sauvignon. While they don’t meet the criteria for DOC or DOCG labels (you’ll usually find them marked as IGT for Indicazione Geografica Tipica) they’re still quite tasty and very popular.

Hopefully this article gave you a few ideas so you don’t feel quite so indifeso (helpless) when shopping for wine. As my father says… So from our house to your house, we wish you a very blessed and Buon Natale…

On behalf of Bottle of White, I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! ~Mary

On behalf of Bottle of White, I’d like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! ~Mary

We've Been Nominated!

I’m excited to announce that Bottle of White has been nominated for “Best Bachelorette Party Venue” in the “Weddings” section of the 2014 Bethpage FCU/Long Island Press “Best of Long Island” awards! Thank you to our valued clients and friends for the nomination! Reggie, Justin, and I couldn’t be more thrilled for the honor!

We’ve Been Nominated!

13 in 2013: February’s selection: Tussock Jumper Chardonnay

I posted the first wine in the 13 in 2013 series (on Twitter #13in2013) on Facebook with a paragraph and a picture.

TussockJHowever, I feel that my February selection warrants more than just a paragraph and a picture. In doing some research on the brand, I found out some pretty cool stuff about them. Tussock Jumper is a relatively new wine company founded here in the US that produces wine varietals with grapes grown from their native locations. Like Sauvignon Blanc? Theirs is bottled in New Zealand. Riesling? Germany. Pinot Noir? France. In fact, the only two wines made and bottled in the US are the Zinfandel and the Merlot, both likely from California’s central coast and made by a local winemaker named Richard Castle. According to LinkedIn, he’s known for his work at the Sonoma Wine Co., Benzinger Family Winery and Guenoc Winery. Despite the fact that Tussock Jumper Wines are fairly new, they’ve been tasted and tested. In fact, the Barossa Shiraz (Australia) scored 87 points from Wine Spectator this past year.

I picked up the Chardonnay, not because it was produced in the Languedoc region of France… but because of the tasting notes on the label: “..lovely aromas of apricots, pears and green apples. The palate shows hits of walnuts and well integrated notes of vanilla oak, which leads to a slight buttery finish.” Sold, sold, sold, and sold.

What did I notice (disclaimer: I am not a trained sommelier … I just know what I like): Fragrant bouquet, sharp start with a buttery linger. I LOVE chardonnays aged in French Oak, but 2/3 of this wine is fermented in steel before blending. That’s what gives it the “bite.” This is certainly a wine that has the best of both worlds. This is definitely a wine for dessert because I think it may be a bit too complex to enjoy with dinner (unless you have a really boring seafood dish that needs some help).

Unfortunately, some people will buy it because it’s inexpensive and there’s a pig in a red sweater on the label. The company seems to think that cute animals are marketable. I, too, sometimes make a final decision on a wine because of the label… but I know never to judge a book by its cover.

I’ve only come to re-appreciate Chardonnay. I’d buy this again.

And at around $12.99 a bottle, you can’t go wrong!

Happy Holidays from Bottle of White

We know it’s early, but we can’t wait for it this year!! The Bottle of White office will be closed through December 25th for the Christmas season. Don’t worry, though…we’ll be back open on the 26th for our winter wine-tasters! Here’s to a happy and healthy December to all of our clients and friends!

~Mary, Reggie, Colleen, Justin & the whole Bottle of White gang!

Happy Holidays from Bottle of White

My Scariest Halloween: Seeing Babylon in the wake of “Frankenstorm”

This post is not wine related, but I have a lot of things on my mind that I’d like to try to “get out” in some way. This is the only way I know how to do it so far. I don’t feel right about selling this story to a newspaper. Who would buy it? It’s not nearly as compelling as some others you will read, and I’m not that talented of a writer anyway.

I bet many people have their Sandy stories. I have a few, but the one that is probably most etched in my memory is this one.

On Wednesday, a full day after Hurricane Sandy left thousands of exhausted, powerless Long Islanders in her wake, I pulled on my rubber rain boots and hit the streets of my own hometown to see what she had done. It was Halloween, and until this day, the streets of Babylon south of Montauk Highway were impassable due to flooding.

As I walked south, crossing Montauk Highway onto Willow Street to make my way down Shore Road, it didn’t take long to see the first signs of her wrath. Several boaters stood nervously around a crane at the Suffolk Marine that was attempting to right a wayward boat that had fallen from her scaffolding. In the background, the bow of a half-sunken boat peered out of the canal. As curious onlookers snapped photos with their iPhones and muttered sounds of disbelief to one another, a man looked back at those that had gathered and said, “Yep – that’s my boat. And I just got it, too.”

Wandering further along Shore Road and eventually making that left onto Fire Island Avenue, I observed trash piles slowly growing on a number of curbs…and not just water-logged furniture and rolled up carpet, but also big black garbage bags that had probably been filled with numerous possessions and personal effects that had floated up inside along with the marauding tide. People often say that objects can be replaced, but is that always true?

My objective in this trip was not to sight-see in a time when so many people were cleaning up what had remained. I wasn’t there to gawk at those that had lost so much. Instead, I wanted to visit the streets where I used to ride my bike as a little kid. Babylon is my home, too… and it has been for a long time. As I approached the corner of Merman Place, near the last bit of Fire Island Avenue that heads down to the village pool, I noticed a crude handmade sign posted on a telephone pole outside someone’s flooded-out home. Slow, no wake: an odd sign to see in the street.

I made a left here and stopped at the edge of the driveway of what was once 4 Merman Place. As I became more stationary and my heels sunk into the mud, I recalled standing there twenty years earlier in front of a bungalow that once belonged to my parents. A tenant had permanently (and unexpectedly) evacuated just prior to Hurricane Gloria, and the venerable shack was not able to keep the water out. Although I was young, I recall almost everything about that house, including the 16 foot Renken bowrider we kept in the canal behind it. The house was uninhabitable after the storm; it sat dormant, waiting for repair. Years later, a fire had taken all that was left: the hardwood floors, the wooden planks that made up the front walk, and the tiny oar that adorned the front door as if to let visitors know, “Hey, we live in a mariner’s town.”

But that’s all gone now. While I knew that the property couldn’t have sustained any real damage (it’s hard to destroy a home that has already burned down and left a tuft of seagrass growing from its ashes), I was curious to see how everything looked. Aside from the neighbor’s back porch detaching and floating over to the back of our driveway where a garage once stood, everything was OK.

The same can’t be said for Yacht Club Road, though. As I made my way back north, my boots clomped through the tacky muck that covered the streets. I didn’t want to gawk, I swear I didn’t… but I couldn’t help but stare in awe at what was happening before me. As men and women in rain gear and work boots carried what was left of their homes to the street, scrap metal scavengers in pickup trucks went curb-to-curb, only asking for permission to pick through the rubble if the homeowner appeared to be nearby. Cars with shattered windows lined up along the side of the road and waited for tow trucks to carry them away. The smell of oil and rotten shellfish stunk up the air.

The Babylon Beach House, a family-run senior home facing a part of the Great South Bay known as Babylon Cove, stands near the edge of Yacht Club Road. That was my “out-of-bounds” on the bike; I couldn’t go past that point because the busy intersection into the mouth of the Babylon Marina was too dangerous for a little kid. In the present day, my turnaround spot was blocked by piles of its former interior. A sad note on the facility’s Facebook page sadly states, “the…future is unknown at this time.”

While my power was out on Monday night, I took to checking social media sites to see what was going on in my neighborhood. Living half a mile north of the bay means that I’m usually far enough away from powerful storm surges, but after seeing whitecaps on the corner of Montauk Highway and Route 231 on television before the power failed, I didn’t want to take any chances. Among other somber updates I saw about my community, I read that the Venetian Yacht Club may have collapsed, or had a fire, or both.

So I approached that corner like I watch the scary parts of horror movies, with my hands covering my eyes with just the tiniest space between my fingers to see merely a shred of what’s actually happening. Through the cracks, everything seemed to look OK from the front, but I wanted to get around to the back to see if there was anything I had missed. I felt compelled to either confirm or deny this rumor, but getting to the back, the bayfront side of the large catering hall, involved negotiating the biggest puddle I had encountered at this point in my journey. Once I safely made it into the marina and took the pictures I wanted to take, I sat on the pier and wept.

When I was finally ready to head back home, I walked through a community that alternated with the sounds of buzzing chainsaws and silence, a cacophony of the macabre. Here and there trick-or-treaters walked up to homes where work-weary adults put down what they were doing for a few minutes to fetch bowls of candy and offer reluctantly relieved smiles. Police officers stood at the corners of busy intersections with dark traffic signals and somberly directed traffic. Shopkeepers on Deer Park Avenue washed their storefront windows with paper towels and Windex and chatted with one another about when the power might return.

I haven’t been that far down since.

So this is Babylon. It’s not Lindenhurst, It’s not Mastic Beach, It’s not Long Beach, Staten Island, or Breezy Point. But it is my hometown. I’m one of the lucky ones that does not have to go back to reclaim anything. I am one of the lucky ones that does not have to rebuild. Instead, I satiate my guilt by spending my free time working with an organization called Babylon Helps, but that’s another post for another day.