In the evolution of form vs. function in wine packaging, screwtops have paved the way for even more variety and . . . fun.
Anyone who tried keeping track of premium wines sealed with screwtops instead of traditional corks ran out of fingers long ago. The march toward twist-off closures has done nothing but accelerate in recent years. Why? Besides eliminating the possibility of cork taint, screwtops are just plain easier to deal with than corks.
What's more, the screwtop's success has emboldened producers and marketers, leading to other innovations in contemporary wine packaging—large, small, and . . . different.
Single-serving (187ml) packaging, for instance, is growing at double the rate of the overall market since 2003. Much of this boom comes from upscale bubblies. Taittinger, Pommery, and Piper-Heidsieck are a trio of famous French Champagne houses pitching teeny bottles (with chic straws attached). Francis Coppola went a step further, putting his Sofia mini in a (gasp) can. This wave of mini-vinos offers multiple advantages. They make it easier to enjoy single servings without having to deal with leftovers. They also are easier to tote on a picnic (leave that corkscrew behind!). There even are new plastic bottlings that are ideal for outdoor entertaining.
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At the same time that mini bottles have blossomed, so have big boxes. These days, some prestigious producers are putting their bottle-worthy juice into efficient glass-free packages. Logically speaking, boxes are superior to bottles for the simple reason that their push button dispensers allow wine to flow out without air getting back in. The collapsing "bag-in-box" technology lets the wine stay fresh for weeks instead of mere days. Moreover, boxes are incredibly economical, both in terms of production and shipping, and wineries do pass along the savings. The same wine that costs $7 to $8 in a standard 750ml bottle can be had in a 3-liter box (4 bottles' worth) for less than $20. Do the math, and that's under $5 a bottle.
What's next on tap? Could be Tetra-packs. The same technology used for juice boxes is being tried for Pinot Grigio in a 1-liter size by Three Thieves, the same California brand that scored big in 2004 with its consciously hip 1-liter jugs of red varietals. The snap closure doesn't preserve the wine any better than screwtops after opening, but the nifty rectangular container fits nicely in a fridge door.
Retro jugs and colorful Tetra-packs fit right into another palpable trend in wine packaging, namely the emergence of so-called "fun wines." There is no escaping the flood of bottlings that have their palates planted firmly in cheek, so to speak. Red Truck, Three Blind Moose, Jest Red, Fat Bastard, Twin Fin, Little Penguin, Smoking Loon, Red Bicyclette, Jake's Fault, et. al.... It doesn't take Spectator-toting connoisseur to realize that these are not serious wines. In fact, it doesn't take much more than a second or two. They just look like fun. And they taste fun, too: smooth, fruity, easy.
But before we start to complain too loudly about wine inventories sounding like rainbows, and shelves looking like zoos, let's give some credit. After years of various industry efforts aimed at telling people that wine is fun, these brands show people they're fun. And as long as the brands keep delivering on that promise, everyone is happy.
Think of it as form meets function meets fun—with a heapin' helpin' of good taste.