Monday, February 26, 2007

No Glass

From The May 8, 2006 edition of the New York Post, No Glass - Wine in a Box Is No Longer a Joke, looks at the alternative wine packaging trend. It's a good article, though I can hardly agree with the statement that "the packaging revolution started in July 2003." Maybe that's when the writer first noticed it.

No Glass
Wine in a Box Is No Longer a Joke
by Andrea Strong
May 7, 2006

DO you know the satisfying "pop" you hear when you pull a cork out of a bottle of wine? Savor that memory, because with a slew of new wine packages - from jug to box, tub and even tetra pak - bottled wine may soon be obsolete.

The packaging revolution started in July 2003 when three men in the biz - Charles Bieler (Chateau Routas), Joel Gott (A Napa Valley winemaker) and Roger Scommegna (a Mendocino county vineyard owner) - got together to make wine more accessible to the masses. The trio launched Three Thieves, high-quality wine sold in a rogue glass container: a squat, screw-top jug. What started with just a zinfandel now includes cabernet sauvignon, syrah, pinot noir and an un-oaked chardonnay that will debut in New York City next month.

"Three Thieves was our opportunity to be free of the rules and kick the industry in the ass a little bit," says Bieler. "We wanted solid quality wine at about $10, and consumers realy love it."

Bouyed by the success of the Three Thieves jugs, the trio took things one step further with Bandits - a line of wine sold in 250-milliliter tetra paks, the laminated paperboard containers often used for soy milk. Priced at $8.9 for a four-pack, the wines debuted just over a year ago and feature merlot, pinot grigio and California cabernet.

"The paks are not bulky, heavy or breakable; they're an enviromentally renewable resource; and they're inexpensive," say Bieler. "The entire carton costs less than a wine cork, and the interior lining is a neutral and consistent way of packaging the wine so there's no concern about off flavors."

The tetra-pak Bandits are part of an even bigger trend toward 3-liter premium bag-in-a-box wines. Forget those 5-liter boxes you (justifiably) scoffed at in the 70s. This is actually stuff you're going to want to drink. The wines are fresh, vibrant, dry and refreshing - perfect for summer picnics or lazy evenings of grilling. And you can chose from among nearly a dozen premium boxed wines for your next summer bash.

From California, there's Black Box ($19.99 to $21.99 for 3 liters), Wine Block ($11.99 for 1.5 liters) and Delicato Bota Box ($16.99 for 3 liters); and from Australia, Banrock Station ($16 for 3 liters) and Hardy's Stamp of Australia ($16 for 3 liters). From France comes Cuvee de Pena 2003 vin de pays ($17.99 for 3 liters) and Dtour's "wine in a tube," a 2004 Macon-Villages chardonnay ($17.99 for 3 liters) created by chef Daniel Boulud, Sommelier Daniel Johnnes and winemaker Dominique Lafon.

"These wines have that Pabst Blue Ribbon effect," says Bieler. "This isn't wine to impress your mother-in-law. This is wine for watching 'Deadwood' and eating pizza."

While you gain the cachet of being on the cutting edge of a new trend, you won't be sacrificing quality. These premium bag-in-a-box wines are made the same way as bottled wines, but have the advantage of being kept in an air-free zone without the risk of being ruined by a faulty cork.

Sure, some of the romance is lost. But for easy-to-drink wines that you might sip at home, use for cooking or take to a party, you'll save money (because the packaging is so inexpensive) and help the environment (glass bottles take much more energy to recycle than paper), and the wine will last longer (four to six weeks after opening, thanks to the vacuum-sealed bags).

And you can be sure that the retro-chic packaging does not sacrifice quality.

"There's enough technology out there now that the boxes are not harming the wine at all," says Kym Apotas, assistant wine buyer at Astor Wines. "It's best for easy-drinking wines that you won't store for a long time."

These arguments go a long way to explain why premium boxed wine sales have grown 70 percent over 2005. But the question remains: Would you order a box of wine at dinner?

They guys behind Dtour are betting your answer is yes. DTour is now poured at DB Bistro, where it is decanted and served by the carafe for $17.

"It's and ideal wine for by-the-glass programs," says Daniel Johnnes, "because it alleviates the problems of corkiness and oxidation that are common with wines by the glass."

But not everyone agrees boxed wine should grace the inside of a restaurant.

"I know DB is serving boxed wine, but he wouldn't be selling it unless it was his own product," says Jamie Pollak, wine director of the Carlyle Hotel. "Idon't think you will see bag-in-a-box wines in restaurants."

Her fellow wine wags agree: "I don't see it unless it's part of wine-by-the-glass service," says Fred Dexheimer, beverage director for BLT restaurants. "Wine service at a restaurant is all about bringing a bottle over and the ritual of beautiful wine. I don't mind it, but it's best for home use."

"It depends on the situation," says Sheri de Borchgrave, wine columnist for Hamptons Cottages & Gardens. "When you are outside in the summer serving wine, it's perfect. The quality is not lessened by a more pedestrian enclosure."
the strong buzz, by andrea strong

I do agree that boxed wine in restaurants will only really have a place in by-the-glass (or carafe) programs. Avec restaurant in Chicago sells the Cuvee de Pena 3L box for over $80. I would only spend that much on wine in a restaurant to serve a large party. And in a group large enough to consume that much, I would prefer a variety of several bottles, rather than a single selection.

Many diners don't realize that the Inglenook house wine they slurp by the glass at the neighborhood restaurant comes out of a 10 liter box. The trend in premium boxed wines now makes possible by-the-glass offerings of vastly better quality. A few restaurants are taking advantage of this now, and most certainly this will become more and more common.

Of course for home glass-a-day consumption, and active outdoor life, the box is the bomb!

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