Flying with Wine: Building the Perfect Booze Bag

Like Linus with his safety blanket, I always seem have a bottle of wine in tow. This can be problematic – as I learned this summer when flying out of Atlanta’s airport – when one forgets that TSA rules now prohibit thirsty trekkers from carrying aboard when flying, even one wine bottle – even if it is unopened and placed in the world’s largest Ziploc pouch. After TSA officers caught me with a bottle of Delamotte Brut Rosé Champagne NV after I inadvertently left it in my carry-on bag, I returned to the airport’s lobby and scrambled to find the most parched potential recipient. First, I offered it to a circle of Army infantrymen in uniform, figuring that no one needed a good swig more than they.
“We’re flying, too,” they informed me, almost in unison.
Roger that. I revised my mission to find someone who looked deserving and who wouldn’t need to pass through the security checkpoint that day. I found my mark by a burger joint, where a sweet-looking couple in their twenties was enjoying a leisurely lunch.
“Are you flying today?” I inquired.
They eyeballed me warily, probably searching for a Hare Krishna robe hiding beneath my sweater.
“No, we’re waiting to pick up friends.”
With Bob Barkerian ebullience, I extended the bottle their way and explained:
“Security won’t let me take this through the metal detector – and it’s too late to check my bag. Would you like it?”

wine smuggle flying travelling

They still hesitated.  Who can blame them, with the airport intercom’s endless warnings about not accepting scary packages from strangers.

“It’s a $75 bottle of Champagne,” I offered.

That did it.  Their hesitation melted into jubilation.  A businessman in pinstripes eating next to them – likely a wine connoisseur — shot me why-didn’t-you-pick-me look.  My bubbly baton, finally, was passed.

Then, a few weeks ago, before heading to one of those ultra-trendy, extortionist hotels in Miami’s South Beach for the week, I resolved to bring my own stash of wine in order to avoid paying bottle-service prices for a 7-11 wine.  (My penchant for traveling and flying with wine is well known to my friends and has also been documented in this New York Times piece).  But multiple bottles wouldn’t fit in my regular suitcase and packing them properly and Fed-Ex-ing them down to the hotel in time would cost hundreds of dollars.

The solution?  I headed down to Manhattan’s Fourteenth Street, a bleak, Bucharest-like boulevard known for dollar-stores, pawn shops, electronics in various states of inoperability, and really cheap luggage.

“What is your least expensive but sturdiest roller bag?” I asked the clammy Cosmo Kramer-type hovering near the bags at Balas Electronics and Gifts.

He pointed me to a perfectly-fine-looking stewardess-style bag with “Bonjour” emblazoned its strap.  Now this was a find: only $20 and linguistically faithful to wine’s spiritual homeland!  But when I gave it a test roll, it wobbled like soused sailor.

“Ah, let me get you a fresh one,” Kramer said, as if I were purchasing a juicy but bruised piece of fruit.  He rummaged around in a back room and produced a bag with a slightly better gait – wheels sturdy enough for a toddler’s toy or, just possibly, a one-time rumble with Continental Airlines baggage handlers.

Back at my place, I wrapped seven wine bottles in t-shirts and Fred Perry track pants and stuffed all of it into the bag, creating a de facto hamper-cum-wine locker.  To my amazement, the bag survived the trip to the airport, and most surprisingly, emerged in one piece – though extra wobbly — at the baggage claim in Miami.

In my hotel room, I unzipped the bag, expecting an abbreviated version of that scene in The Shining when the sea of blood comes rushing out of the elevators.  Instead, the bottles were dry and happy, ready to slake the thirst of anyone with a corkscrew.

The experiment a success, I guided the teetering bag downstairs to Ocean Boulevard and thought about how a bag purchased in one of the world’s dreariest locations would now be discarded in a movie-set scene of paradise – well, if your idea of paradise involves pink flamingos and the synthesizers of Jan Hammer.  Placing it atop a public garbage can — amid azure skies, majestic palms, and a silly Day-Glo bench — I gave it a respectful salute.  Au revoir Bonjour booze bag!

In the bag:

Schramsberg Crémant Demi-Sec 2004 (California, $35)
Taittinger Brut Champagne Millésimé 2000 (France, $75)
Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé NV (California, $35)
Jelu Torrontés 2007 (Argentina, $12)
Taz Pinot Gris 2005 (California, $15)
Tulocay “Nord Valley Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2001 (California, $22)
WillaKenzie Pinot Noir 2005 (Oregon, $24)

flying flying with wine

Mark’s Magnus Morsels: New York’s Best Nibbles (Downtown Edition)

Man cannot subsist on wine alone. We also need special savory treats and snacks, foods with an uncommon depth of flavor, soul-satisfying, life-affirming, swoon-inducing, so deliriously good that they will make you want to moan in joy, hug yourself, and float skyward in the manner of that old Hanna Barbera cartoon hound after he received a dog biscuit. We need what I call “Magnus Morsels”.snacks nyc downtown


The following 27 Magnus Morsels are obtainable in downtown Manhattan and were chosen based on their ability to deliver intense flavor per swallow at reasonable cost:

Fried Chicken at Blue Ribbon
Frank Purdue would have wept with like a rescued castaway tasting the golden crunchy skin swaddling the juicy meat within, accompanied by the restaurant’s luscious Mexican honey, and divinely creamy mashed potatoes and Gerbers-tender collard greens.
Blue Ribbon, 97 Sullivan St. between Prince & Spring St

Cheese Popovers at BLT Prime
If sex shops had bakeries, they would proudly proffer these gigantic, warm and chewy, gruyere-laced puffed-up creations, brought to the table gratis and guaranteed to butcher your appetite.
BLT Prime, 111 E 22nd St, between Lexington & Park Ave South

Grilled Corn at Cafe Habana
Like a glowing aircraft beacon over LaGuardia, this Mexican-style maize attracts heavy traffic, its crispy kernels electrified with chili powder, melted cotija cheese, and mayo, and enlivened further by a squeeze of lime and a dash of hot sauce.
Cafe Habana, 17 Prince St., at Elizabeth St

Personal Pizzas at Pizza Gruppo
Searing into your mind like the Kal Kan branding iron, these brick-oven masterworks benefit from the perfect assemblage of tangy sauce, fresh mozzarella, unimpeachable toppings like caramelized onions and quality artichoke hearts, and a thin, flaky crust — served in a little East Village joint that few seem to know about.
Pizza Gruppo, 186 Avenue B, between 11th & 12th St

Tempura String Beans at the Red Cat
More addictive than nicotine-laced Pringles, these lightly battered marvels and accompanying sweet mustard dipping sauce will haunt your taste buds for weeks at a time.
The Red Cat, 227 10th Ave, between 23rd & 24th St

Lemonade at City Bakery
Thirst slaking and pleasantly piquant.
City Bakery, 3 W 18th St, between 5th & 6th Aves

Lobster Roll at the Lobster Place
Snowy chunks of the freshest lobster meat, lightly mixed with lemony mayo, crammed into a hot dog bun and ringing up at only $12 at this Chelsea Market fish shop.
The Lobster Place, 436 W 16th St, at 10th Ave (inside Chelsea Market)

Fried Meatballs at Bellavitae
These small, spherical miracles snap and crackle as you pop them into your mouth, their olive-oil-fried crust encasing moist meat within.
Bellavitae, 24 Minetta Lane, between 6th Ave & MacDougal St

Tuna on Rye at Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop
Neither this coffee shop’s dreary pre-war decor nor the sandwich’s bland rye bread, prosaic iceberg lettuce, and only-ok tomato can dull the magic of its gloriously retro tuna salad: a mound of tuna and high-fat, non-sweet mayo, fluffed to perfection with grandmotherly love.
Eisenberg’s Sandwich Shop, 174 5th Ave, between 22nd & 23rd St

Volcano Roll at Cube 63
You’ll experience an eruption of your own when your fangs sink into this savory slice of succulence, a soft cushion of crabmeat and shrimp, sauced sweetly with crunch bits up top.
Cube 63, 63 Clinton St, between Rivington & Stanton St

Wild Mushroom Pizza at Gonzo
This grilled pleasure-disk is crisp as a cracker with a perfect blend of caramelized onions and taleggio, Romano, and bel paese cheeses.
Gonzo, 140 W. 13th St. between Sixth and Seventh Ave

Crispy Chicken (“Pollo all Capricciosa”) at Apizz
If God endeavored to make Shake-and-Bake Chicken, it would emerge like the beatific bird at Apizz: crispy exterior (brightened by a lemon squeeze) and a delectably tender, pounded-thin interior, served with palate-cleansing arugula.
Apizz (pronounced: Ah-Beets), 217 Eldridge St, between Stanton & Rivington St

Kobe Beef Sliders at the Stanton Social
With mini-burgers in New York as ubiquitous as cell phone-chattering cabbies, this fine rendition stands out for its juicy Kobe-style meat, tangy sauce, and golden brown roll.
The Stanton Social, 99 Stanton St, between Orchard & Ludlow St

Chicken Samsoas at Spice Market
A hemisphere away from the typical leaden, monolithic fried wedge you find on Sixth Street, these crispy little wonders contain bits of chili-accented chicken, invigorated by a cilantro yogurt dipping sauce. Snacks of all other kinds, bow down.
Spice Market, 403 W 13th St at Ninth Ave

Wood Oven-Baked Pasta at Five Points
A heady perfume of teleme and grana cheese announces the arrival of this creation, a kind of new world lasagna fabricated with thin layered pasta and slow-cooked plum tomatoes, thankfully a staple on the menu of this venerable eatery.
Five Points, 31 Great Jones St, between Lafayette St & Bowery

BLT at Joe Jr.
This Greek diner’s dilapidated facade belies the miracle within: the platonic ideal of a BLT, highlighted by always-crispy bacon and better-than-decent tomato slices, packed into crispy white toast and joined by a properly sour pickle.
Joe Jr., 482 6th Ave at 12th St

Sizzling Shrimp (“Gambas Al Pil Pil”) at Azafran
Shrimps bathed in a bubbling olive oil lagoon so garlicky good that any vampires at your table will run for the hills. The house rolls, crusty yet soft, are perfect for sopping it all up.
Azafran, 77 Warren Street between Greenwich St & W Broadway

Chicken Wings at Tebaya
So good is the garlicky, sesame-seed-studded sauce slathered on these non-battered, twice-fried wings, you’ll be tonguing it off your knuckles long after you leave the secret takeout shop that is Tebaya.
Tebaya, 144 W 19th St, between 6th & 7th Ave

Lobster Sandwich at Mooncake Foods
Among this Holland Tunnel hideaway’s fantastically fresh, bargain-priced Asian-influenced creations is a non-mayo take on a lobster roll, its sweet meat slathered with garlic butter and tucked into a quality Kaiser bun. Not technically snacks but too delicious to gloss over.
Mooncake Foods, 28 Watts St, at 6th Ave

Asparagus Bruschetta at ‘ino
You’ll marvel at how this nominal nibble can deliver such a shock wave of flavor through its alchemy of asparagus, Parmesan, and truffle oil.
‘ino, 21 Bedford St, between Houston & Downing St

Sauerkraut-and-Mushroom Pierogies at Veselka
The upper limits of savoriness are visited with these pliable pillows of Polish pleasure, encasing a tasty of mix of sauerkraut and mushroom, and ready to dip in the accompanying apple sauce and onion relish.
Veselka, 144 2nd Ave at 9th St

Pastrami at Katz’s
A feat of gastronomic perfection manifesting itself as black-rimmed hunks of tender pink meat, glistening and garlicky, savory and smoky.
Katz’s Delicatessen, 205 E. Houston St. at Ludlow St.

Warm Pecorino Fondue at Craftbar
This ménage à trois of melted pecorino cheese, acacia honey, and hazel nuts induces paroxysms of pleasure every time.
Craftbar, 900 Broadway at 20th St (note: menu changes currently underway)

Hot Chocolate at City Bakery
So lusciously viscous that it borders on the profane. Snacks move out of the way for this thick beverage.
City Bakery, 3 W 18th St between Fifth and Sixth Ave

French Toast at Danal
Springing from the flaky goodness of croissants, this crisp creation is rich and flavorful without descending into eggy, spongy trap that often afflicts this brunch favorite. Sweet snacks are just as imperative as savory.
Danal, 90 E. 10th St. between 3rd and 4th Aves

Meatball and Garlic Pizza at John’s
Ordering a meatball and garlic pizza at this Village institution catapults a good pizza into the realm of the heroic, its creamy mozzarella and tangy sauce blanketing the dark slivers of meaty magnificence, buttressed by John’s signature charred, ashy crust.
John’s of Bleecker Street, 278 Bleecker St, between 6th Ave & 7th Ave

Diet Coke at Cafeteria
Can one eatery’s Diet Coke stand above the rest? Cafeteria somehow pulls it off, with its plentiful pour of uncommonly dark, moderately sweet, sassily effervescent pop. Perfect accompaniment to all snacks.
Cafeteria, 119 Seventh Ave. at 17th St