When we describe a wine in specific terms, we rely on every sense but sound. How it looks, smells, tastes, feels in the mouth. But the sound – that satisfying pop that accompanies a cork making its way out of a bottle – is for many as much a part of the wine experience as any swirling, sniffing or slurping we may do.
That must be one of the reasons so many wine drinkers stare down their cultivated noses at wine conveyed to them in anything other than a narrow cylinder of glass. Another reason is that we are as spellbound by the romantic notion of wine bottles and labels as we are by anything else the muscular modern marketing machine puts forth.
But some of us are beginning to loosen our grip on the bottle and give another look to wines in what the industry calls “alternative packaging.” Boxes, Tetra Paks, even cans are possibilities when it comes to containing wine today.
Before you get excited – or apoplectic – about wine in cans, take a deep breath. For the most part, canned wine isn’t available in these parts, but if test markets in the West prove encouraging, you may soon be able to do eight-ounce curls with cans of Pinot Grigio instead of microbrew. Among those to embrace the trend is Oregon’s Union Wine Co., which launched a line of Underwood wines in cans earlier this year.
What is available in our market is a growing variety of boxed wine, including some that is very drinkable. At The Raleigh Wine Shop you can find red and white offerings of the From the Tank label. Forbes magazine recently named From the Tank Vin Rouge its No.1 wine in a box. It comes from a partnership between well-established importer François Ecot of Jenny & François Selections and winemaker Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons D’Estézargues. The 3-liter bag-in-a-box sells for $39.99 and contains the equivalent of four bottles of very respectable wine, for which you’re paying about $10 per bottle.
That’s one of the beauties of alternative packaging. It’s cheaper. Glass is heavier, more cumbersome and thus more expensive to ship. Reduce the carbon footprint of your wine, reduce the cost of your wine, drink more wine. And yet, we remain reluctant.
It makes me wonder what the winemakers of centuries past would think of today’s preferred packaging. The classic look of the wine bottle evolved of a need to put pertinent information on the bottles – what kind of grape, where was it grown, who made it, when. This occurred some time after the emergence of mass shipping channels when the custom of villagers wandering over to the local winemaker and filling their own jugs died out.
In the intervening years, wine labels have given us a vast menagerie of critters and characters that crowd modern shelves and would certainly confuse our wine-drinking ancestors. Having strayed so far afield from the traditional, information-first wine label already, it seems we shouldn’t have much trouble embracing alternative packaging. If you’re willing to drink wine that comes in a glass bottle the same color as Pepto-Bismol, why should a box with a tidy label that lists the ingredients be a turn off?
Of course, box wines from earlier eras did little to boost the image of the delivery system. Almaden, I’m looking at you. Then there was the age of wine coolers, when Matilda Bay was the box in everyone’s fridge. The wine packagers have a lot of work to do if they’re going to persuade us that boxes are as good or better than bottles, and I’m happy to note they are doing it. Some of the wine offered in boxes and bags today is better than anything you’ll find in a bottle. It’s up to us to give it a try.
Just relinquish your outdated prejudice against alternative packaging, and let the clink of your glass or the click of a can top opening signal the start of the festivities instead of the pop of the cork.
Reach Amber Nimocks via amberwrites.com.