Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cheaper by the box

From the El Paso Times:

Quality wine is cheaper by the box

El Paso Times Staff
February 12, 2008

Regretfully, since neither our laws nor our customs support the concept of driving up to the pump to fill up our demijohns with wine as they do in Europe, the Wine in a Box concept is a good alternative to having wine available as an everyday staple at your table. Wine is slowly but surely becoming part of American life, and the need to have more accessible and affordable everyday wine is driving the need for alternative packaging.

After seeing select wine in a box available at arguably well respected establishments such as the Greenery Market in El Paso and Spiagga in Chicago, I thought it was time to explore the subject.

The bag in box system was created by the Scholle Corp. of Northlake, Ill., for sulfuric acid battery disposal. In Australia, this concept was converted to wine packaging about 30 years ago, and now 50 percent of all wine consumption is from wine in a box. Sweden's consumption of box wine exceeds 60 percent, and other European nations and Canada are catching up quickly. In all of my travels, in the U.S. and Mexico, I have seen a much lower demand for wine in a box, though industry statistics show rapid growth in this area.

There are several reasons why wine in a box is a good option for an everyday house wine. Packaging costs are reduced up to 80 percent, which makes the eventual cost of wine in a box much more affordable. The inner bag (inside the box) collapses as it empties, so with proper storage that wine can last up to a month after opening.

Still, there is still a stigma that wine in a box is of lesser quality. To some extent, this remains true, although more and more wine producers are willing to place good-quality wine in a box. This is all contingent on the American consumer's willingness to increase consumption of wine placed in a box.

I am still very cautious when I approach wines in a box, although I am more daring if the wine in a box is at a fine wine shop or on the wine list of a first-class restaurant such as Spiagga's in Chicago. I certainly do not propose the wholesale consumption of wine in a box for everyday use unless the wine in the box is of good quality.

As a wine importer, I am fortunate to be able to affect the quality of wine in a box that comes to the El Paso market. Last year, I was at a wine-in-a-box tasting of wines from all over Italy. I found about 75 percent of them of very good quality. Plans are in the works to introduce the varietals of Sangiovese, Nero d'Avola and Primitivo in a box to El Paso.

I have informed all of my suppliers and all of my sources of wines that I am interested in engaging in relationships with wineries that have good-quality wine in a standard bottle but who can also bottle that same wine in a box. This allows me to select quality wines that are normally sold in a standard bottle and simply alter the packaging, keeping the same quality in a more consumer-friendly, less-expensive alternative packaging.

Don't be surprised if a 2008 year-end wine dinner from Italian Imports features only wines in a box.

Italian Imports owner Riccardo Barraza writes a regular wine column for the El Paso Times.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,