Wine-lovers lose their bottle
By Lindsay McIntosh and Max Orbach
April 12, 2008
THEY are the final resort of partygoers who should have left the barbecue some hours before – the cheap boxes of wine with their last dregs of plonk.
But these boxes with their limp bags of booze could soon be the centrepiece of the most affluent tables as the wine in-dustry struggles to cope with a global shortage of bottles.
An over-production in Europe in recent years brought the market to saturation, forcing the closure of factories, and now, though there is a shortage, they have not reopened.
At the same time, there has been a massive increase in wine production and consumption – meaning manufacturers are struggling to find receptacles for their products.
Jean-Michel Gauffre, the owner of La Garrigue restaurant in Edinburgh's Jeffrey Street, said there was "a severe shortage of bottles".
He said: "In the last couple of years, there's been a shortage of sand in France for bottles and apparently they have to import a huge amount of glass.
"Even though they can't get the glass, all the factories which closed down didn't reopen so there's a shortage of bottles. The production is too slow and can't keep up with the demand due to the rapid globalisation of wine- making."
Alex Hunt, a London-based wine importer who deals with Scottish firms, said the factory closures had stiffened the price of wine, which had gone up by 10 per cent across Europe in the last year.
He said: "Even if bottles are more expensive, this is only one part of the cost, but it has meant that every supplier in Europe is now under significantly more pressure."
Mr Gauffre said the "big new thing" was "the bag in a box with the tap". It was going to be the "short-term solution – and maybe the future – for the vast majority of people".
He said most Europeans were now buying wine from the supermarket rather than manufacturers – even in France – and buying in bigger quantities because it is cheaper by the box. In the US, litre juice cartons are also being used by vintners, a concept likely to be exported to the UK soon.
Philippe Larue, the managing director of Edinburgh wine merchants l'Art du Vin, revealed that a popular wine called Yellow Jersey was being marketed in Canada in plastic bottles, with great success.
He added: "In France, bag-in-a-box wine packaging is very popular. People will go out to a small vineyard and buy anything up to five litres of wine.
"It's very good if you plan to drink the wine in the next few days, although obviously it will not keep very well because too much air gets into it. By the end of the week, you will pretty much be left with vinegar."
Mr Gauffre said: "The important thing for the wine-makers is simply to sell the wine. So if at the end of the day the customer is happy to buy the wine in a bag-in-a-box or a juice carton, then so be it.
"The most important thing is to sell the product. I think for a person who drinks wine every day – which I hope everyone does – the boxes are best."
It's an open secret – glass has more class
DRINKING wine that comes from a bottle is important because of the sheer sense of anticipation that goes with opening it.
The ceremony of uncorking, or even unscrewing, a bottle should be savoured; it's like the difference between going to a restaurant and eating food out of a can.
There is a lot to be said for taking life more ponderously, as they do in France and Italy, and I think slowly savouring a bottle of wine is part of a more enjoyable lifestyle.
Of course, anyone fortunate enough to have a wine cellar will realise that you certainly can't keep a box down there for very long.
The best wines need to be kept in a bottle because they need time to breathe.
Although a lot of wines are now produced to be quaffed in the first couple of years, even Australian wines really benefit from being stored in a cool place for a while.
And, of course, there is nothing quite so good as that moment when you find a bottle of wine which you have been storing in a cold, dark corner for a few years.
Wine bottles, like so many good things, were developed by the Romans. Before that, wine was carted around in clay amphorae, which – though sturdy – were exceedingly heavy.
Bottles were, of course, much more convenient and
have remained the container of choice right up to the present day.
Another wonderful aspect of the wine bottle is that it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Italian wine producers are particularly good at designing them and shape is very important when your wine is struggling for position on the shelf.
Recently, a lot of wine bottles have got much taller because – as well as looking very fine and slim – this also gives the psychological appearance of the bottle containing more wine.
Another art that would be lost with the death of the wine bottle is label design.
Whereas traditionally the Europeans tended to produce rather dull, white labels, the New World producers ratcheted up the competition by creating vividly coloured labels which really leapt out from the shelf.
• Michael Romer is a partner in Edinburgh independent wine seller Peter Green & Company
Monday, April 14, 2008
Overproduction, market saturation, factory closures, and now ... a shortage of sand in France??? From The Scotsman, Edinburgh: