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Duty free wine: Gems at the airport

A nice hard to find purchase at a duty-free shop, a late harvest Riesling from France’s Alsace region.
A nice hard to find purchase at a duty-free shop, a late harvest Riesling from France’s Alsace region.
T. Peiffer

Being caught in long layovers between international flights is a drag, but being in the no man’s land between customs counters does have certain advantages. One of these is getting access to duty-free shops that offer wine, in addition to other liquors, that may be obtained at really good prices.

Of course, the obvious benefit is being able to purchase alcohol without having to pay taxes (these can be quite steep, depending on the country). But even better, there are often opportunities to pick up selections that are simply not easy to find elsewhere.

For example, one of the duty-free shops at London’s Heathrow airport recently offered a rather hard-to-find 2009, 375 mL bottle, of Hugel RieslingVandage Tardive”, priced at well under $100. This proved to be quite a buy because it has not been produced since the 2001 vintage! Being on the right side of security, it was easy to pop this little bottle into a carry-on for the connecting flight back to the states.

Of course, most of the people who are selling wines at airport duty-free shops don’t really know details about things like wineries, vintages, or varietals, so it’s always a good idea to have some sort of Internet access available to look them up for yourself. As long as you can confirm the quality and value of the product, it’s a simple decision.

What is the Vandage Tardive like? Just imagine a rich clover honey bouquet laced with minerals and an earthiness that is only to be found in Alsace. Then it rolls over your tongue with a keenly balanced acidity and sweetness that develops into a surprisingly clean finish while begging for a little rich cheese or foie gras to help it along. Worth the fare, that’s for sure.

Expect an encore to be released in 2015, just in time for another flight to London. Maybe it’s not easy, but the next time you’re caught between countries, try to set aside a few jet-lagged minutes and check out the wine shelves at the back of the shops.

Sure, navigating through the international labyrinth is no fun, but if they’re going to make us suffer, a good duty-free wine purchase may just make up for some of the hassle. And here’s to anyone who has been though Heathrow lately, cheers; you deserve it.

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