Wine in a box - what's the deal?

By Vinomofo
over 1 year ago
6 min read

The legends at Penley Estate are releasing their latest cab sav in cask form for the first time. Good wine in a box?! Yep, that’s right.

The ‘fo held a virtual tasting (available on Spotify) to sip and discuss why alternative formats make sense for both the wine and the planet. We caught up with Dan Sims (Sommelier of the Year, The Age Good Food Guide 2008) and Erin Fields (Penley Estate) after to chat through why you shouldn’t write-off wine in cask or can.

So, why should I care about what my wine comes in? Isn’t glass the best?

Dan: "Firstly, I reckon you should care about the wine first and then what it comes in. 

Good wine is good wine and the issue with wine in cask or can in the past has not been the can or cask, it’s shit wine in a can or cask." 

Erin: "In the past, glass, and especially heavy glass, has been used to convey quality, particularly with higher-end wines being presented in heavier bottles. We would like to be a part of shifting this perception. While a heavy bottle in your hand may feel ‘impressive’, as a producer focused on an environmentally responsible future, there are few arguments for them. Of course, right now there is still a place in the industry for glass, particularly when it comes to ageing your wines. But if you're consuming your wine the same day/week that you buy and have no intention of ageing it, the wine doesn't need to be in glass."

Wine’s been in glass bottles for hundreds of years. Isn’t this a case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

Dan: "We could say the same thing about coal TBH. But burning rocks for power seems a little silly nowadays, right? Fundamentally, you have to ask one simple question; if wine was invented today, do we really think it would be put in a 750ml fragile, light sensitive, glass bottle, imported from France; let alone would you put a piece of bark into it? If you were pitching that as a concept to any entrepreneur, you’d be laughed out of the room and told to start again as your freight costs just tripled, your carbon footprint quadrupled and then the cost of recycling glass is becoming a massive issue. Also, you have to ask the question ‘why is wine in 750ml to start with?’. Who decided that was the size? (it was based on the lung capacity of glassblowers!).

Most of us may open a bottle mid week, have a glass or two and then the wine goes off after a couple of days. Even milk doesn't go off in the fridge after a couple of days! Like power, there are other more sustainable and environmentally friendlier options in this day and age. We should embrace them."

Will alt packaging completely replace the glass bottle then? 

Erin: "I would love to believe that one day it will, but changes in the wine industry will only stick if the consumer gets on board. Producers are at the mercy of consumers more than we know!"

Dan: "Glass is still an amazing package for wine and one which is full of tradition, ritual and more. If I was buying wine to cellar, I would most certainly look for wine in a glass bottle (preferably screw cap) but then for mid week or weekend BBQ wines, I’d love it in cask, can, anything. It's about application and how the wine, and package fits into your life." 

Will alt packaging still have cork closures? Will wine still be able to age in a controlled way?

Dan: "Oh god I hope not. I’m no fan of cork! Honestly though, if you’re ageing wine in cask or can you’re doing it wrong. That’s not what it’s there for. Most wine we purchase is to be enjoyed, not cellared. I would like to see those types of wines embrace these types of packaging. For cellaring, wine bottle for sure." 

Erin: "I strongly believe that we aren't quite there yet when it comes to ageing wine in alternative packaging. One of the greatest benefits of ageing wine under work is the oxidation process (cork allows oxygen to slowly creep in overtime, allowing the wine to develop secondary characters while it ages." 

... remember, it's wine. It’s made to be enjoyed (and shared). That’s the most important thing. Not what it comes in.

How do I convince my snooty friends that I’m not just trying to pass off some bargain goon?

Erin: "Is force feeding them off the cards? But no, (drink responsibly!) seriously the best way is to get them to taste it and see for themselves. A good way to do this is to decant the wine into a bottle or carafe and pop it on the table for everyone to enjoy! So much judgement happens in the subconscious, it's best to take away the barrier."

Dan: "Just pour it into a glass and let the wine do the talking. Remember, it’s not what's on the outside that counts. #lifelesson"

If anyone is still on the fence about trialling alternatives to glass (either as a producer or a punter), what’s the one thing you would say to sway them?

Erin: "If you buy wine to consume within a day/week/month, you do not need to buy it in glass." 

Dan: "Want to go camping for a weekend? Do you really want to lug multiple bottles of wine with you that takes up the same amount of space in your pack when empty? Or, a cask or can? Want just a glass of wine mid week at home (or when travelling for work in a hotel) without having to open a bottle of wine? What about a can of wine? Are you a winery spending thousands of dollars shipping samples of wine to people overseas? Why not send 150ml cans of the same wine instead?

Our lives are as diverse as the wines we enjoy. Regardless of what format it's in, seek the packaging application that befits the application. And remember, it's wine. It’s made to be enjoyed (and shared). That’s the most important thing. Not what it comes in."

Thanks to Erin & Dan, and check out the full tasting talk on Spotify if you're keen to hear more.

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