As a sommelier it is important to know the distinction between a product that will alienate guests and one that offers an educational opportunity. When screw caps became popular for fine wines, wine buyers everywhere were faced with this exact dilemma. Hundreds of years ago cork bark was found to be an efficient way to stop wine from leaking from a glass bottle. Since then, wine making technology has improved greatly but consumers were attached to this archaic closure. Corks do have some benefits, in that they allow a minute exchange of oxygen with the wine. The downside is that they degrade over time, there are challenges in producing enough to meet demand, and they have a tendency to absorb a nasty chemical called trichloranisole, or TCA.
TCA is a compound that occurs when mold and chlorophenols combine. It is detectable in the smallest amounts and gives off flavors to wine. Have you ever had a wine that tasted more like old newspaper than wine? It was probably corked. The bummer for wineries is that most people don’t know what this cork taint tastes like, and thus, when they have a first taste of a tainted wine they just assume that the wine as a whole is bad, not that it is a flawed bottle. Think about it another way: If Coca Cola bottles had stoppers that required a special tool to open them and 5% of the time the product inside was bad as a result of that stopper, don’t you think they would change the technology? So voila! Out came alternative wine closures.
The hospitality industry was hesitant to turn our guests off with these new twist tops. But we understood that especially for young wines, the screw caps made sense. It was risky, but the tipping point came really fast. I only had a year or two of people questioning why we would have a screw cap wine at a fine restaurant. Now people get it. Age worthy wines haven’t gained acceptance under anything but cork yet, but I believe that that will change too.
The newest risk that restaurants are taking couldn’t make me happier. I have always thought that the concept of boxed wine was brilliant. The reduction of waste is huge- think about how much 6 empty bottles weigh and take to produce vs. a plastic bag and cardboard box. Also, that plastic bag of wine collapses as the wine is taken from it. Therefore there is no air contact and the wine stays fresh for so much longer than last nights’ half full bottle sitting on the counter.
I know, the image you all have is the big box of Hearty Burgundy your mom drinks. But what if the wine inside was good? I’m not talking about Opus One, but just a decent every day drinking wine. And what if it was served to you in a restaurant where they go through dozens of bottles per day? Think of the waste reduction. Believe it or not, this trend is coming. Several companies offer glamorous versions of exactly this concept. There are tapped wine barrels that sit on the bar hiding the giant bag inside and wine-in-keg is proudly being offered next to the beer taps. Mindsets are changing around what vessel wine comes in as fast as the quality of the wines are changing. Just think about how much lighter your recycle bin will be in the future without those bottles.
Photo Credit: quinn.anya