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A PET Glass of Wine

I read this story in the trade press some months ago, and other bloggers picked up on it too, but all we had then were pictures.

I was surprised, therefore, to stop by my local Sainsbury’s Express (attached to a petrol station) and see a whole promotional shelf of these boxes.

Each box (retail £3.99) contains two 187.5ml PET glasses of wine. I thought I’d pick one up to examine the product in the interests of checking out new packaging experiments – I’ll be honest and say I had low expectations on the wine, however. Am I too close-minded?

Well, the twin glass box idea is certainly innovative. A cleverly folded light cardboard box holds the two glasses that, apparently, have been designed to be near indestructible. I have not tested that point.

I chose the red. This is a South Australia Trencherman Shiraz 2004, 13.5% ABV [which also contains sulphites (who would have guessed!)]. I’d love to give you a tasting note, but as you know I don’t generally do that on this site. I did consider it, but as my notes started with “overripe nose”, “cooked”, “past it” and “bitter finish” I probably shouldn’t.

[To be fair to it, the lot number on the glass was L7185HA5 which I interpret as the 185th day of 2007 which would mean that this wine has already passed its 6 month shelf life. I have emailed the company to find out.]

So, what about the idea in principle?

The package says that the wine is:

“Perfect for picnics, BBQs, days on the beach and afternoons in the garden. Simply peel off the seal, sit back and enjoy”

Most packaging innovations claim to be about the environment as well as convenience, such as the tetrapack and the pouch. Although the glass is recyclable PET this is almost entirely aimed at the convenience market. It claims to be replicating the ‘single serve’ options of beer, cider, etc. with something more appropriate to wine, hence the glass.

IF I happened to be going to a picnic, and IF I chose not to have a bottle and ALSO did not have my own glasses to bring, I might like to have this option, but I somehow don’t see it working.

The problem really is that as you are appealing to a cross section of wine drinkers (those who happen to want to drink wine at a picnic or BBQ) it is very difficult to do this only with one style of wine. However popular South Australian Shiraz (or Chardonnay, or rose) is, it still does not appeal to a lot of people. Also, the wine is aimed at the lower end (in terms of wine quality) to try and reach the masses, but how many people really think “I wish I had just 2 glasses of wine to take with me”?

It would be much better to sell empty picnic glasses alongside the range of wines rather than pre-filling them.

Even if it did take off, after you have bought one box, you now HAVE the wine glasses for your picnic. You don’t need any more, so why continue to buy it? The idea that you might buy the glasses to re-use them is rather far-fetched.

All this, of course, is added to the fact that at 187.5ml of wine, the ratio of plastic to wine makes this packaging rather environmentally “challenged” to say the least.

I can’t help feeling that this is a PET drinking vessel solution looking for a problem, rather than the other way around.

However, encouraging people to drink slightly less, and offering them something better than the standard white plastic cups used for water coolers to drink out of, must be a step in the right direction.

I look forward to how this project develops, particularly over the summer as the BBQ season kicks in.

A better attempt at wine in Tetra Pak

[... or my revised title: "Thinking of Outside the Box" - see comments]

Le Village du Sud is a new brand concept from the well respected Mont Tauch cooperative in the South of France (specifically in Fitou).

It caught my attention as, once again, they are being pretty innovative with their branding and their route to market. They have usually provided wines that are a cut above the competition, and they have also been much more willing to take on marketing activities, such as bringing wine makers and grape growers (who speak no English but really look the part) to wine tastings across the UK, including the BBC Good Food Show where I saw them.

This time it is the Tetra Pak, something I have written about in the past. Once again it is available from The Coop. They are certainly keener than most to do something ‘sustainable’ and positive for the environment – whether environmentally friendly or fairtrade.

The wine in question is an Old Vine Grenache in a 1 litre tetra pak. The packaging itself is a little different, with extra angles and a “prism shape”. However, what I found intriguing is that they have managed to move the design away from being a pseudo glass bottle. They have realised that a tetra pak allow you to do a lot more with the packaging than simply copy the information from a label (which is always extremely limited) or to show a picture of a bottle or glass (the usual cop-out).

This one has a series of cartoons that give the wine an extra dimension of personality not usually associated with Vin de Pays d’Oc, especially as it is in English. This is very bold, forward-thinking and fun.

Shame about the wine!

As I always point out, this is not a site for tasting notes, but I did try this wine to see if I could detect something specifically “tetra pak like” in it, just to see if the packaging affected the taste. Now, I admit this was not done blind, but I have no problem liking wines in other packaging, so I was not negatively predisposed. However, I found a very unpleasant aftertaste in the wine which I assume must come from the packaging as I do actually like their wines normally. I’d love to read more informed views on whether this is a truly inert packaging format for wine.

Finally, a niggle. If you look at the front of the packaging, you’ll see a badge which I also saw on the previous tetra pak I reviewed called masterpeace.

“33% free” and “33% more wine free compared to a standard 75cl bottle”

FREE? There are lots of objections to this statement, chief of which is that this wine is NOT available in 75cl glass bottles, so how can it possibly be compared? Also, this wine was already discounted, ostensibly for the launch, from £4.99 to £3.99. Quite how much of a cheap and “drink loads” mentality do they want to associate with this wine?

I do hope that 1L formats will not keep using this statement.

Overall review; nice idea, but once again more show than substance, largely due to the final quality of the wine.

Hand over your corks, no questions asked

When gun crime, or knife crime more recently apt, gets out of hand, the media and police often concentrate on creating “amnesties” where repentant gun & knife owners can hand over their abominable weapons with no questions asked. Better to get them off the street they say.

I’ve never been totally convinced about this, but anyway it looks good on television and sometimes gets unexpected results (one less rocket launcher on the streets of Devon!) such as this.

So I was intrigued by a neck tag on a bottle of wine promising a “cork amnesty”. As a proud owner of quite a few corks, mainly because I collect them for a mysterious project my sister is working on, I wondered if I might have to visit a local police station to assuage my conscience. Alas, the truth was more prosaic.

[I bought the RH Phillips 2003 Zinfandel, but I believe there are/were other wines out there too]

RH Phillips, a Californian producer from Esparto, CA, USA (erm, time for the Wine Atlas I think), HAD created a site at that gave ideas of all the many things one could do with corks EXCEPT put them in the neck of a bottle of wine. This is a slightly aggressive form of evangelism for screwcaps, and it certainly got my attention.

Their neck tag as well as their back label are all about how cork is associated with TCA (cork taint, musty cardboard and walnut smells in wine) and should therefore be avoided.

Now, there is a big debate about corks, screwcaps, TCA, reductive wines, etc. that I will probably have to write about at some stage, but is probably FAR too dull for most people out there. I applaud RH Phillips for making a virtue of their packaging, but like with my politics, I prefer a positive message rather than a negative one. I happen to think that cork has a very important role to play, but screwcaps do too, and any radical position is unnecessary.

Unfortunately I delayed writing this post for some weeks and in that time, RH Phillips’ new owners (Constellation having acquired Vincor International) have closed down the site and redirected it to their corporate page.

Not only is this dull, it is silly as they lose any valuable traffic them might have got. It also means I cannot post any clever suggestions they may have had.

I’d like to think that unlike automatic weapons and Rambo-style hunting knives, there is no need to be concerned about corks. In the right hands they do serve a purpose and can benefit humanity. However, if you feel at all ashamed of your collection and you have not yet created your own cork trivet, notice board or wreath, then maybe you could decide to turn them in to the authorities and hope they ask no questions about how long it took you to accumulate such a collection.

Wine in VOGA

VOGA wines
Continuing the theme of new wine packaging, some Italians (who else?) have taken wine packaging into areas usually reserved for perfume, and more recently branded water, with the launch of VOGA.

I like the packaging. It is simple, elegant and modern. We have seen things like this in water, and to be honest I like them, but I do usually think that those that use them are probably offering style over substance. However, it appeals to those with an eye for fashion and design, and therefore probably the younger fashion-conscious adults that establish trends (i.e. not me).

It seems that it uses a standard cork under there and that the cap is “resealable”. This is something new as well. They have also designed interesting POS materials to help to promote it, and sell it in a 15(!) bottle triangular case, although that last part is just silly.

As for the wine, the white is (surprise, surprise!) Pinot Grigio, and the red is a rather odd blend of international varieties from Sicily which seems to be designed to tick all the boxes (consumers should recognise and like at least one of them).

All in all, if this has actually made it to the market, it looks like something daring and inventive and I wish it luck. It does rather smack of a design student’s fantasy project rather than a proper commercial proposition, but then new ideas sometimes do.

Apparently it sells in the US for about $12 which isn’t bad, but the only stockist in the UK that I could find only sells it as a gift, and at over £20 at that.

If anyone comes across a bottle, please let me know.

New Packaging – Wine Tetrapack

I have been suffering from one of the worst chest infections in my life and have been unable to taste or even think about wine clearly for the last month, so apologies for the extended silence.

As I was shopping for milk in my local co-op convenience store the other day, I came across one of the latest novelties in packaging for wine. The tetrapack.

I have seen the format before, (I am thinking of French Rabbit from Boisset) but I hadn’t actually seen it on shelf before. I was intrigued to find this in a small store in my local area, so I bought it for curiosity’s sake. Unfortunately, when I opened it to try it, I couldn’t taste it, so I have no comments on the quality of the wine.

The wine in question is Andrew Peace‘s masterpeace Australian Chardonnay, launched at the Australia Day Tasting in January.

Is this the future for wine? Let me think about some pro’s and con’s first.

On the positive side;

  • It weighs less so it is cheaper and more environmentally friendly to ship
  • The opaque carton protects the wine from the harmful effects of bright sunlight and UV
  • It is a sterile, sealed environment unlikely to become “corked”
  • It gives greater surface for marketing messages and useful information
  • It is easier to store; no wine rack required
  • I believe it is supposed to be recyclable
  • It is not all that different from the bag-in-box format we are already familiar with and which is becoming more popular
  • On the negative side;

  • It has been done before for the cheapest of the cheap wines in the days that these were undrinkable (things have improved even at this level in the wine trade), and is therefore tarnished with this perception
  • It is still made from plastic and various metallic compounds, so how environmentally friendly can it be?
  • You get no visual clues at all about the wine. Think of the attractions of rose wines, deep gold sweet wines, etc. All wines will look the same, or at least the colour the marketer/printer want you to think it is
  • Bottle shapes have always been a differentiator, not just on weight for ‘better’ wines, but classic regional shapes like the tall bottles from Alsace, or embossed Chateau-neuf-du-pape
  • It is not all that different from the bag-in-box format we are already familiar with
  • None of the pros and cons immediately jump out at me as “killer” reasons for or against. This packaging is likely to be used only for cheap, young wine to be drunk immediately, so convenience will matter. And if, on balance, it is more environmentally friendly to produce and dispose of, then even better.

    So, is this the future of wine? I don’t consider myself an old-fashioned wine purist. I am all for the screwcap and other modern closures for example. However, I am not convinced by this format for the simple reason that it further reduces wine to a mere convenience beverage, one that happens to contain alcohol and be made from grapes.

    If we are to educate consumers about responsible drinking, encouraging them to drink wine but to do so in moderation and hopefully at a quality level that will bring them pleasure, then it is important we do not “dumb it down” too much.

    Wine branding is not only about building a name and image for the producer, or even of the region, but for the product category itself. This isn’t about being elitist (although I recognise it could sound that way), it is about building a sensible Culture of Wine. Quality packaging is integral to that I think. That isn’t to say we should stick to glass per se, but I would like to see something better differentiated than a carton.

    Unfortunately, I don’t think this is it, but it is certainly something to ponder further.

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