Way back in January 2005 I posted about buying a quality wine with a screw-top: an RH Phillips. I wondered how long it would take for new packaging to take hold. Wine, after all, has long been a product that is a badge for social class, education and purchasing power.
As their affluence rises, learning about wine, and drinking more wine, has been one of the things upwardly mobile families aspired to. If nothing else, it signifies the availability of greater disposable income. It also flags a more sophisticated palate than that required for a rum and Coke, and very likely the food to go with that sophisticated palate. Wine just works on so many levels as a badge of social status. And the cork, of course, was a signal of quality wine. Winemakers wanted to use screw-tops as a quality control device, to eliminate 'corking', which ruins the taste of eight to 10 per cent of wines.
Since then, a lot of change has happened.
Screw tops take off
The San Francisco Business Times reported in June (Wine.com toasts higher screw-top sales) that screw-top wines now account for 17.5% of wine sales of Wine.com, a large online wine dealer. Not only that, but some very good wines are being sold in screw-top bottles, according to the article.
"The Wine.com web site features a section devoted to wines with screw caps, nearly one third of which are rated 90 points or higher by wine critics and publications such as Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker and Stephen Tanzer, the company said."
"Two Buck Chuck", as Charles Shaw wine is nicknamed, won big against some heavy competition recently. Their 2005 California Chardonnay received 98 points (a good thing) and a gold medal at the commercial wine competition at the California State Fair, as reported in the Napa Valley Register. Not only is it a screw top, it's just about the cheapest wine around.
Wine breaks out of the bottle
French Rabbitt, a quaffable and inexpensive wine, introduced the Tetra-Prisma container for wine. It's unbreakable, lightweight, and easy to open. Perfect for casual dining situations, according to the French Rabbit web site:
"The French Rabbit Tetra Pak container is portable and lightweight so the wine is great to enjoy on the patio, camping, at a picnic, poolside or dockside! They are easy to open (no need for a corkscrew), shatterproof (no broken glass!), cool rapidly and are resealable (squeeze the rabbit!). With its convenient design, French Rabbit wines are the ultimate takeout for your next social gathering."
The company also says the lower overall weight of packaging makes for reduced environmental impact through shipping. It's not just convenient, it's also green.
Pret a Boire has provided an even more convenient package. This one reminds me of a wine-skin. The website has advice about how to keep wine cold in your backpack, and how to use a stream to chill your bottle of wine when out hiking. And it reminds us of the lower shipping costs and hence lower environmental impact of the package.
Lots of others are now on the bus, as you can see from the variety of Tetra Paks shown below.
I did rather feel sorry for the Yellow Jersey people when the Tour de France started having drug problems again this year. On the other hand, perhaps that's OK if you're selling wine. This wine, sourced in France, is apparently only available in Ontario, and comes in a PET plastic bottle ... with a screw top, of course. The makers are Boisset, the same people behind the French Rabbit wine shown above.
So the traditional bottle of wine and cork experience is under assault from many directions. Oddly enough, the challenge for those who actually understand wine, is that these wines may look cheap and unacceptable as gifts, even when they are good wines. As for example, the RH Phillips wines, which are high quality for their price. (IMHO)
It may be that these wines are only for those confident in their own taste, and those who have preconceived notions of wine. However, I suggest that the joy of uncorking may well be something that your grandchildren will not experience.
Behind the scenes
A number of these packaging initiatives are actually part of an LCBO initiative to reduce packaging waste from single-use glass wine bottles. For those not resident here, LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) is likely the largest single purchaser of wine anywhere, since they have exclusive control over the wine and liquor trade throughout Ontario. Not everyone thinks this approach is actually very environmentally friendly -- Usman Valiante, writing in the Solid Waste and Recycling blog believes that the green agenda is actually being used to hide the real commercial agenda, and that LCBO is actually trying to build house brands and thereby increase margins and ultimately their profits. Interesting reading, although a little outside our beat.
More about the PET bottle is here. (Links spawns a PDF window -- scroll through to page 6)