The wine industry is abuzz with talk about alternative wine packaging. More environmentally friendly options, ideas that reduce carbon emissions, better recycling potential, etc. In this post, I'm going to cover two bargain wines that utilize such methods in ways relatively new to the US market.
First up is the 2008 Don Simon Cabernet-Merlot. From the Castilla–La Mancha region of Spain, $7, 12.5% abv, half Cabernet Sauvignon and half Merlot. Pretty basic red blend, black cherries and blackberries. Touch of sweetness on the first taste, with full fruit flavors following. Firm tannins with a drying finish. It's not the most complex Spanish wine I've ever had, but for the price it's serviceable. What about the packaging?
This is a 750mL PET bottle (polyethylene terephthalate). Because the plastic is much thinner (think a plastic soda bottle), this looks smaller, like an odd 500mL glass bottle. Also, it's squeezable, both before and after opening. Because the empty bottle looks, from a distance, like a real glass bottle, I plan to keep it around and bonk unsuspecting guests on the head, where it will do no harm but will generate great mirth at their fearful reaction. Because of the squeeze factor, it didn't feel like pouring from a regular bottle. With the thinner walls, this is more susceptible to temperature variations--chilled whites will warm up quicker, for example.
2008 Yellow+Blue Malbec. $11, 13.5% abv. Pure Malbec from the lesser-known San Juan Province of Argentina. Overall plum jam profile, softens out with breathing and achieves a sort of Beaujolais-style "juice" flavor. Big, mouth-drying tannins.
This is a Tetra Pak, popular for years in Europe for everything from shelf-stable milk to soups, but is a more recent addition to US markets (aside from the juice boxes packed in kids' lunches for decades). It's comprised of layers of plastic, paper, and aluminum and, unlike the PET bottle, can be smashed flat for lower volume refuse. I preferred this to the PET bottle, because although it felt nothing like a wine bottle, it was like pouring juice or chicken stock or condensed miso soup or any number of products currently packaged like this. (And specifically for this reason, keeping a few around for cooking purposes might be a good idea.)
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There's an inherent logical flaw in conservatism, and I'm not talking about politics. Let's look at the Martini. Various groups have their "set in stone, handed from God to Moses to my cocktail glass" recipes that are inviolable and are the One True Martini. But we don't even know precisely where, how, or when the Martini began, and the earliest versions were so heavy on vermouth as to be undrinkable to most modern cocktail sippers. So people are selecting an arbitrary decade of the 20th century as their source, and they're not all picking the same decade.
It's the same thing with wine bottles. Some people refuse to purchase screwcap wines. Some people get annoyed at a Chardonnay in a Bordeaux-style bottle. One day I hope to meet someone so pure that he only consumes wine that's been packaged in ceramic amphorae. After all, that's what was used to store wine 3,500 years ago, and not only are they really organic and made from natural materials, but even today we keep pulling up intact versions from the floor of the Mediterranean.
The point is that it's what's inside the container that matters. Neither of these are spectacular wines, and I tried them more for the novelty value than anything else. But screwcaps are beginning to catch on as a respectable alternative, and I think other packaging might as well. Give it a generation. And if the thought of serving wine from a plastic bottle or paper box offends your very soul... Use a decanter or a carafe. Classy, attractive, and provides some pleasant aeration. Or I have another suggestion:
Use an empty glass wine bottle. Keep a clear bottle and a green bottle with shapes that you like, and--very important, because you don't want to mislead anyone--remove the labels. Maybe even add your own, and decorate with glitter and unicorn stickers. Or hand it off to an artsy niece and let her paint it. Whatever floats your boat. There's no shame in reusing old bottles if you want that "authentic" tactile sensation.