Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Cheer Pack Comes to Canada

The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), reports that wine in the Cheer Pack is coming to the LCBO.

Wine's new bag
Pick of the week

Baldivis Estate Merlot 2004 ($13.95, No. 669069) is remarkably complex for something in a bag. The plum-like fruit and chocolate flavours are lifted by an earth-tobacco layer and juicy acidity. ****

Al Gore, your wine has arrived. Actually, I have no clue what the former U.S. vice-president and environmental guru likes to drink, or whether he drinks at all. (Though, judging by his expanded girth since losing the 2000 election, I can't help but think beer is involved.) What I can say is that the quality of wine going into environmentally friendly alternative containers has just taken a big leap forward.

Palandri, a producer based in remote Western Australia, near Perth, has chosen Ontario as its first market for a newfangled pouch technology called the Cheer Pack. You may have noticed one or two other squeezable bladders on the shelves of your liquor store lately, but this one is different. Exclusively licensed from a company in China that caters to the juice and soup sectors, the new pouch looks more like a hospital IV drip (only with a more colourful exterior) than something you would tuck into a child's lunch box. Square-sided and flat-bottomed, it stands up straight just like a Tetra Pak or bottle. And no, there's no pointy straw for piercing; the wine pours out of a resealable twist-off dispenser on top.

What's not new is the material. It's a sheet of sturdy aluminum foil sandwiched between two layers of plastic, just like the bladders in those big bag-in-box cartons used by Canadian jug-wine producers. It's a bag without a box, so to speak.

Cheer Packs have three distinct convenience advantages over Tetra Paks. They chill faster, are more flexible (so you can squeeze every gasp of air out of an opened container) and boast dripless spouts.

Best of all, the wines inside are remarkably good. In fact, they're not custom Tetra Pak cuvées at all. Palandri has bravely filled the Cheer Packs with its entry-level Baldivis Estate series previously released in bottles. These are premium wines with elegance, polish and admirable balance for the money. One white and two reds began hitting Ontario stores this week, and will eventually be offered at about 200 locations in the province, or roughly one in three Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores. Other provinces are expected to follow later this year and next.

Baldivis Estate Chardonnay 2005 ($13.95, product No. 669051) is medium-bodied and silky, with a floral bouquet and clean, fresh fruit flavours of pear, green apple and pineapple, with just a hint of oak. It's a versatile white that would pair well with fish or chicken.

Baldivis Estate Merlot 2004 ($13.95, No. 669069) is remarkably complex for something in a bag. Australia's main wine regions in the south are too hot for merlot, yielding wonky, cooked-tasting reds. But this merlot has the fresh backbone typical of reds from cool Western Australia. The rich, plum-like fruit and chocolate flavours are lifted by an earth-tobacco layer and juicy acidity. It would be nice for pork loin, duck, lamb or roast beef.

Baldivis Estate Shiraz 2003 ($13.95, No. 669077) is also excellent. The fruit in this wine comes from vineyards that normally supply Palandri's $25 glass-bottle reds; it was diverted into the Baldivis line because the 2003 harvest wasn't good enough for the premium line. It's almost zinfandel-like in richness, balanced by crisp acidity and a hint of cracked pepper.

I know Tetra Pak detractors (and there are many, and they have good points) will have their reservations about Cheer Packs. They'll justifiably complain about overstuffed landfills (although Palandri says the Cheer Packs are totally recyclable and qualify for the new 20-cent bottle refund at Ontario Beer Stores). They will also cite the dastardly evils of plastic, a material that refuses to decompose and chokes unsuspecting seagulls and what have you.

I am no plastic fan, but glass has its own ugly underbelly, and Cheer Packs have at least one compelling advantage on the greenhouse-gas front. A typical 12-bottle case of bottled wine weighs 16 to 20 kilograms, depending on the thickness of the glass. Remarkably, the same volume of wine stored in Cheer Packs weighs about half that, or 9.8 kilograms, and the carton is smaller. Think about it. Container ships, trucks and trains run on carbon-spewing fossil fuels. The heavier the load, the harder those engines have to work, and the route from Perth, Australia, to Perth, Ont., is a long one.

The way I see it, if you're not going to drink locally produced wine, you can try to curb fuel use from the outset, or you can be a glass guzzler, piously returning empties to the Beer Store (presumably in a car), after which they'll be shipped (by truck) to a recycling depot, where they'll be processed into an ingredient for asphalt (paving the way for even more carbon-spewing traffic). For us wine lovers, it is, as Gore might say, an inconvenient truth.

globeandmail.com: Wine's new bag

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