The debate on how to package wine has raged for millennia. Historically, consumers brought containers to wineries for a fill up, but today there are many clever ways to make wine portable. The key to taking stock of the best is considering history, quality, environment and cost. For sealing a wine bottle, cork has a long, embattled history because corks do not create a perfect seal. About 5 percent of corks either fail at sealing bottles or contaminate the contents with trichloroanisole. Consumers have long wished they could reduce this error margin, giving rise to alternative stoppers like screw caps, glass seals and synthetic corks.
These cork alternatives have now been in use long enough to form an educated opinion about them. While the screw cap was essentially a punch line for generations, these days it’s regarded as great for inexpensive wines meant for early drinking. There is research to suggest it’s also adequate for aging wine, but in my opinion cork is still king for that purpose. Wines age more slowly with screw cap closures and I also feel the romance is lost when a sommelier twists opens an expensive bottle of wine like he would a Budweiser.
Another interesting tech is Vinolok’s crystal closures in a variety of colors and sizes. This method is expensive but it has benefits. The stopper is made of glass, a taste and scent neutral product. It has a soft plastic band around the top of the neck that acts like a gasket providing a reliable seal and repeated reseals. And it is also somewhat more interesting when sommeliers open these bottles because they come in custom colors, frosts and can be branded, adding to the impression of the bottle.
Another trend is rethinking the bottle itself. Wines now come boxed and bagged, tetrapaked, kegged and even sealed in pouches like “Capri- Sun for grown-ups.” My pick among these options in the bag-in-box as it preserves the wine best. (The bag collapses as the wine is dispensed, keeping it fresh.) The format works equally well in restaurants and at home, and the quality of boxed wines is steadily improving. The tetrapak resembles a milk carton and also offers good value and protection for the wine. The problem here is that the cartons cannot be resealed.
As for kegs, the jury is still out. I admit I’m a little dubious, because this idea relies heavily on restaurant employees to maintain the keg lines and spigots. Still, while there will inevitably be hits and misses among the modern packaging for wine, I do urge drinkers to embrace the new. Demand always leads to innovation, which will help all of these options evolve and improve.