Today, we’ll take a look at the various containers used for the sale of wine and consider the implication of each on both the wine and the environment. One has to keep in mind that shifting from one form of container to another is an expensive proposition, accounting for much of the resistance to and denigrating of various alternate forms of containers.
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The wine bottle
The wine bottle is the classic wine container. It’s generally strong, recyclable, recycled, neutral and adds considerable heft to a package of wine. This helps to protect the wine from sudden changes in temperature. In addition, wine bottles can be colored to help protect wines from harmful UV rays and light.
On the negative side, glass is heavy to ship, is irregularly shaped, not inexpensive and breaks with some frequency. In general, each of these issues is less important as the bottle size goes up, so there’s a powerful reason to be buying more magnums! For cellarable wines, I can’t foresee anything ever challenging the dominance of the glass bottle. Regardless, this does not make it the best container for every wine!
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The plastic bottle
The plastic wine bottle is floating out there on the fringes, and for good reason. Take a glass bottle, remove all the positive attributes, make the negatives worse (with the exception of durability) and voila, plastic wine bottle.
These are expensive, are made of plastic and probably will end up in a dump. Seriously, the best use for one would be to drill a pair of holes in it and donate it to your favorite college student.
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The wine can
While still a relatively new phenomenon, wine in cans is probably here to stay. Though the name is a bit of a misnomer, since the can is actually lined with food grade plastic, the can offers considerable protection to the wine, blocking out light as well as oxygen. Cans can be made from post-consumer waste and are generally recycled at a high rate.
On the negative side, cans ,while recyclable, can be expensive. This is particularly true when produced in the relatively small batches these wine cans have been made in. Also, the aluminum can is a good conductor of heat with little glass, offering minimal protection against rapid changes in temperature.
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The wine bag
Some producers have pretty much done away with the box and are now selling pouches of wine. Like cans, these pouches are good for blocking out light and do a very good job of preventing oxygen from interacting with the wine, but offer minimal protection against temperature fluctuations.
They are awfully convenient though, and are economical to ship since the bags weigh next to nothing. I do not believe that the bags are recyclable.
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The bag in box
The bag in box is generally similar to the simple bag. There are some additional costs involved, but the main difference between the wine bag and bag in box is the volume of wine stored.
With the increase of wine found in a typical bag in box, the issue of rapid temperature swings is somewhat ameliorated. Also, the generally smaller size of the bag in relation to the volume of wine means less trash. The box of course can be recycled. Bag in box wine also has a mighty fine reputation for lasting weeks after opening, a distinct benefit. The opposing side to this is that the life of the wine before opening might only stretch out to a year or two, making this a poor choice for long term storage.
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Kegs of wine, primarily for wine by the glass programs, are catching on big time. Kegs are the ideal storage vessel for this type of use. They are big,have significant thermal mass, are reusable as well as recyclable, are lined with food grade plastics to keep the wine fresh and untainted, and protect from light and oxygen. Also they are dense, allowing for reduced shipping costs. What more could you ask for?
Well if there is a drawback, that is it, that there is more. There are gallons of wine to use and a relatively expensive and specialized dispensing system to deal with. Since wine wouldn’t like the CO2 used for most draft beer systems, nitrogen is typically used. Still, for its limited use, there is no better way to ship and sell wine. If this country begins to allow bulk wine sales, where we can mosey on over to the local store with bottles in hand to fill up on the wine du jour, I would expect kegs to absolutely explode. Bad choice of words, but you get the picture.
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