Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Am I required to use a paper bag when leaving a liquor store?
—Sean, New York
While I don’t know every single local ordinance, I couldn’t find a single state law that requires bagging alcoholic beverages after they've been sold.
That said, I’m sure there are plenty of organizations and people who think that it is a law, though I don’t know why. To be fair, some stores might have their own bagging policy. At least if you walk out of a wine shop with a bottle in a bag, it can help show it’s been paid for. I know plenty of checkers who put glass bottles in bags to protect them, even if it’s a bottle of soy sauce. But you’re right that unnecessary bagging can have an impact on the environment … says the wine advice columnist who always walks into a store with a reusable shopping bag.
I’m guessing bagging your alcohol comes with the intention that it provides a sense of privacy, in case you meet the preacher on your way home, as they say. I also think some of the brown-bag confusion might be related to “open container” laws, thinking you might want your bottle in a brown bag to divert attention, should you want to break this law.
I should mention several states have laws that require restaurants to seal leftover wine in a tamper-proof, transparent, one-time-use "doggie bag" if you want to take it home.
I think it’s fair to politely pass on the bag when you’re buying a bottle of wine, but I’m not surprised if you find some resistance from the people ringing you up that still feel your wine belongs in a bag.