Drink Outside the Box

Tell a party of wine buffs that you are providing a range of wines in boxes to accompany a tasting menu and for some the sky might as well be falling in.

But the sky isn’t falling in. Wine is going green (er), and for even the most diehard connoisseurs, not serving wine in a glass bottle makes sense environmentally and economically.

Take an Italian cantina; as far back as the 1740s people were taking their own bottles to wine shops to get a refill as Joe explained to Matthew Rhys recently.

Wine in alternative formats has been around for more than 50 years. The Australians were the first to use a ‘goon bag’ as a way of storing and selling their cask wines. In the UK this practice was hampered by the poor quality of boxed wines we were forced to drink in the 70’s and 80s, but, like many things wine-related, it has improved substantially with age. Today, hardly a fridge in the south of France is complete without a box of rosé during the warmer summer months.

Now that wine producers are taking their carbon footprint seriously —particularly in the packaging and transportation of wine — asking them to put it in alternative, lighter packaging instead of heavier glassware really isn’t a silly request.

Another reason we should all consider drinking wine in an alternative format is the sheer volume of the wonderful stuff we now consume in Britain. The UK remains the world’s second biggest importer of still and sparkling wine; we are behind only Germany in terms of the still wine we bring in and only the US when it comes to bottles of fizz. On average in the UK, we each drink around 108 bottles of wine a year, which adds up to more than two billion bottles in total. Each of these bottles is responsible for more than a kilo of carbon emissions, which emphasises the need for producers, retailers and customers alike to more rapidly adopt lighter weight and recyclable alternatives such as bag in box, cartons and cans.

Although some sommeliers may scoff at supping their wine from a plastic spout or spigot, bag in box wines, for example, are perfect for storing wines that don’t need to age, which is to say, all but a relative handful. What’s more, boxed wine is superior in resolving that age-old problem of not being able to finish a bottle in one sitting. Once open, a box preserves wine for more than four weeks compared with only a day or two in a bottle.

In pure economic terms, not opting for purely bottled wine also makes a lot of sense. The recent trend for UK wine drinkers is to buy less but spend more, which looks set to continue. Therefore, buying better quality in a format that keeps longer may represent the best of both worlds. And of course, as the prospect of Brexit looms still, producers from within and outside the EU may soon be faced with new trading tariffs, so transporting wine in lower weights and higher volumes keep costs down for the suppliers, which can be passed on to us as consumers.

The main obstacle to a smaller carbon footprint for wine seems to be the inaccurate perception that unless it comes in a heavy glass bottle, what is contained must be of poor quality. That theory is out of date and anyway we think there is a simple fix to that problem – raise the quality.

We are encouraging consumers to start demanding higher quality wines available on the shelves in some other form of packaging. This will persuade producers everywhere to deliver better wine in alternatives to glass bottles and quickly. Perhaps a case of thinking inside the box.