Wine boxes give great flexibility with the prospect of guaranteed quality, minimum wastage and best use of space. We investigate.
No doubt about it, wine is lovely stuff, the only difficulty comes with the packaging.
Glass may be sterile and traditional, but it's heavy, potentially dangerous and difficult to dispose of efficiently and in an ecologically-friendly way.
Not so much of a problem when offering and serving wines at mid- to upper-range prices for service in a table-dining scenario. Customers enjoy the business of proffering the bottle for inspection, cutting the foil, drawing the cork with a satisfying 'plop' and offering wine to taste.
But when considering the far more practical systemof listing a large number of wines by the glass for snacks and bar meals, bottled wines bring problems. Bluntly, they take up space and may suffer from quality deterioration.
Some years ago, efforts were made to introduce wines in PET bottles - the type of thin plastic used extensively for bottled waters. This material appeared to have a number of advantages, light in weight, as sterile as glass, unbreakable and bio-degradable. Airlines fell in love with these assets but they simply didn't catch on with the public. It was a change too far.
But nowadays for pubs wanting to help customers match wine with food or select a wine bar drink of their choice by offering a full range of flavours and styles by the glass, there's another hugely practical alternative to glass bottled wines already accepted by millions in their homes - boxed wines.
It's true boxed wines didn't get off to a good start in the UK. The Aussies invented the system (they also called them "bladders", an accurate but unfortunate description) which allows continuous pouring over a period, if necessary, of several days with no deterioration in wine quality as, unlike pouring and re-stoppering a bottle, no air can come in contact with the wine.
At the outset, back 15 years or so, Australia sent us boxed wines containing substantial wines of good quality and the system looked set for popularity as many sectors can take advantage of this method.
Caterers obviously, but also singles or couples who just want the occasional glass or party hosts who find ten litres of two wines in boxes takes up far less space than a case of a dozen bottles.
Then came a problem. Importers saw potential in this new packaging, focused on the "party wine" aspect, and brought out a set of UK-filled three-litre boxes containing "party wines", a phrase known everywhere as a euphemism for lowest-common denominator wine.
In those days semi-sweetened Anjou Rosé, cheap Muscadet or Soave, dull unfruited Valpolicella or Bordeaux, with a very few exceptions these were a range of wines you would hardly take to someone else's party never mind offer at your own.
And largely as a result of this attempt at quick opportunism boxed wines' reputation slid down the chute, a position they have only recently started to climb out of.
Now things have changed. And serious efforts are made to offer boxed wines in styles, flavours and quality attractive to consumers yet at prices still interesting to caterers. With a view to the possibility of recommending boxed wines as a space-saving and stock-control-friendly system for restaurants and gastro-pubs offering wines by the glass, I recently arranged a tasting of the complete range of Matthew Clark's boxed wines.
I have to admit, with memories of boxed wines of 10 years ago I approached this tasting with no little trepidation, but am here to admit I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality transformation, so much so I arranged a second tasting for a number of friends where wines were tasted from decanters so no-one realised they were from boxes.
Again, considerable surprise when all was revealed, for these tasters, like me, had pre-conceived ideas.
So I'm today saying quite clearly, if I come into your pub and ask for a wine by the glass, I'll be perfectly content if I see it being drawn from a wine box.
And as an added advantage, many of the extensive Matthew Clark range of boxed wines are also available in conventional 75cl bottles and "air-line style" 25cl screw-top single-serve bottles as well, increasing the flexibility.
On one side of the wine list a range of wines available in 125cl, 175cl or 250cl glasses, and on the other the same wines in conventional bottles for the purists.
Wine boxes give great flexibility with the prospect of guaranteed quality, minimum wastage and best use of space.