Time to smash through the bot­tle fix­a­tion

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Front Page -

Bub­bles on tap. This is an idea I like very much and at Vinoteca, the Lon­don wine-bar­wine-shop-restau­rant, they have been serv­ing it for three years. “Peo­ple love the idea of prosecco on tap,” says founder Char­lie Young. “It feels lux­u­ri­ous and it does very well for us – al­though we’re about to re­place it with some­thing else. When it’s good it’s good, but we can’t get the con­sis­tency of tem­per­a­ture and fizz we’d like.”

What they are not about to re­place are the bag-in­box wines they be­gan to list back in 2010. De­fy­ing con­ven­tion, th­ese do not con­tain ropy plonk. It’s good wine that would re­tail for £8 to £10 a bot­tle: it just hap­pens to come in a bag in a box.

“We’ve done a Crozes-Her­mitage, which sold well, a pale rosé from St An­dré de Figu­ière in Provence [a prop­erly good pro­ducer] and a Touraine sauvi­gnon blanc.”

At the mo­ment they’ve got a rich white from the Rhône – a grenache blanc, bour­boulenc and clairette blend that works well in a restau­rant set­ting but prob­a­bly wouldn’t feel quite so friendly at home – and the red is a de­li­ciously fruity, vi­brant montsant. A poor man’s pri­o­rat if you like: a grenache-carig­nan blend with some oak age­ing, from Spain. Th­ese ar­rive at the ta­ble ei­ther by the glass or in Vinoteca’s own ster­ilised, clear glass bot­tles. The restau­rants that buy th­ese wines like it be­cause it’s a good way to serve wine and keep it fresh. The din­ers like it be­cause they like the wine.

Vinoteca is not the only one at it. At Pizza Pil­grims, which has just opened in Soho, where the sight of fresh dough be­ing slapped into the dome-shaped oven has you sali­vat­ing like Pavlov’s dogs the minute you walk through the door, most of the wines are on tap, from spe­cial kegs that col­lapse once empty and save a for­tune in rub­bish col­lec­tions. Its tweaky Ital­ian mer­lot and crisp-lined chardon­nay veer to­wards the plonk cat­e­gory; but I tasted them on site with the smell of pizza crust and nduja sausage up my nos­trils, and I know, served in a beaker, they are ex­actly the thing.

So my ques­tion is: if some of our most loved restau­rants are prov­ing that peo­ple love the ca­sual vibe of wine put on a ta­ble in a carafe or poured into a glass not from a bot­tle – why can’t we have bet­ter bag-in-box wines at home?

I know at least one de­cent pro­ducer – the re­source­ful Gavin Quin­ney of Château Bauduc – is con­sid­er­ing it. “I look at all the tons of glass com­ing into the win­ery, crate af­ter crate of it, and watch it go­ing out again and know it’s go­ing al­most straight in the bin. It just seems silly, as well as an aw­ful waste.”

I hope he does it soon. Re­search shows 51 per cent of fre­quent wine drinkers have bought bag-in-box. But only six per cent buy it once a month or more. We want it,

Cap­tion but we don’t go back.

Pack­ag­ing tech­nol­ogy is so much bet­ter and so much more di­verse than it used to be – we don’t just have bag-in-boxes but also kegs, pouches and car­tons. The big prob­lem is a) the wine in­side it, which is al­most with­out ex­cep­tion dire to just-be­low-aver­age, and b) lack of imag­i­na­tion and so­phis­ti­ca­tion in the way it’s pre­sented. If you’ve seen Waitrose’s Diego de Al­ma­gro bag-in-box from Valde­peñas, which has the misty colour­ful look of a box of toi­let tis­sues found in a cheap mo­tel circa 1978, you will know what I am talk­ing about. (And the wine is DNPIM – for those who missed last week’s tast­ing notes guide: Do Not Put In Mouth.)

It seems crazy that in the minds of those who con­trol what is avail­able for us to buy, bag-in-box has still not es­caped Seven­ties camp­ing plonk sta­tus.

Con­tem­po­rary bag-in-box doesn’t need to be about low prices. More about choice, freedom (as we be­come more health-con­scious about

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