Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Noble Writ: Wine on the Run

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2009 at 3:00 PM

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From time to time I feel obligated to investigate new products I see on the market. Were I "just" a consumer, I might well pass them by, not willing to risk my hard-earned money -- but since I can at least write about such things here, I'm a bit more adventurous. A recent pre-camping trip wine run led to me to purchase several new offerings that are not packaged in glass bottles.

Glass certainly has its advantages: It is inert and does not allow oxygen into the wine, which would spoil it. However, glass is breakable, making it an explicit no-no in many locations, and it is heavy, which raises concerns when you're the one responsible for schlepping the alcoholic beverages in your backpack. Until purchasing the wines for this post, I hadn't realized how heavy a glass bottle was. While both of the alternatives packages weighed in at about two ounces, an empty glass bottle is fourteen.

For many years, if you weren't buying wine in a bottle, you were buying it in a box. In the wine trade, this packaging is known as "bag in box" as it's actually an oxygen-impermeable (well, they try) bag that holds the wine. There are several quality wines now being packaged in this manner, but here we'll explore two alternatives that were new to me: the Tetra Pak and the plastic bottle.

click to enlarge From left to right: two Tetra Paks, a standard glass bottle and a PET plastic bottle. - DAVE NELSON
  • Dave Nelson
  • From left to right: two Tetra Paks, a standard glass bottle and a PET plastic bottle.
Tetra Paks are familiar to the parents out there as the packaging used in juice boxes, but they also hold all sorts of other consumables: soups, dairy products and shelf-stable soy and rice milk being some of the more common examples. Tetra Paks are made from a multi-layer material that is largely paper but incorporates some plastic and metal foil. They are theoretically recyclable, but few facilities are currently able to process them properly.

A new venture, Yellow + Blue, is importing organic offerings from Argentina and packaging them in one liter (25% more than a standard wine bottle) Tetra Paks. The price is very reasonable, especially given the larger size and the use of organic grapes.

2008 Yellow + Blue Torrontes Cafayate, Argentina ($12, 1-liter Tetra Pak): Pale yellow. Incredibly floral nose -- almost over-powering. Very muscat-like, but I am not a particular fan of that grape. Medium in the mouth, and a bit flabby despite torrontes' reputation as an acidic grape. More flowers, perhaps a touch of lemony fruit on the palate, but this is a flower show. I expect this wine will be somewhat polarizing. There is nothing technically wrong with it -- I am just not into the aroma, though others will probably adore it. Worth a shot to see if it appeals to you, but I wouldn't buy in bulk until you sample it. This held up well over three days in the fridge. Organic.

2007 Yellow + Blue Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina ($12, 1-liter Tetra Pak): Dark ruby. Rich plum fruit dominates the nose. No evident oak. Good intensity of fruit on the palate, without going overboard. Some earthy notes add complexity. Good length and decent structure with some tannins on the finish. I can see this working well at a cookout. Much more of a surefire crowd-pleaser than the torrontes. Organic.

The other new package comes from Louis Bernard, a large Rhone Valley-based producer (and part of an even larger conglomerate), who has bottled a wine in a PET bottle with a screwcap closure. PET is the plastic of choice for soda and water bottles, so its properties are well known, and it is easily recycled. For wine, a special oxygen barrier is added to the bottle, but this process is in the early stages of development, so these are for wines intended to be drunk sooner rather than later.

2007 Louis Bernard Bonus Passus Côtes du Rhône ($8): A bit more purple than I'd expect. Plush dark cherry and ripe strawberry. The wine is a traditional Côtes du Rhône mix of grenache, syrah and mourvedre (80/12/8), but the winemaking is very modern in style. No oak, but plenty of emphasis on fruit at the expense of potential complexity. A frisky puppy of a wine and, like a puppy, starts to annoy me after 15 minutes. A bottle of this accompanied me camping recently, and it was a more than serviceable companion to a cookout.

(All wines were purchased at the Clayton location of the Wine & Cheese Place.)

Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.

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