I may be the only one harping on the Italian Agricultural Ministry's decision to allow wines graded DOC to be “bottled” in the fairly ubiquitous bag-in-a-box container but I think it will have a significant impact on the way the Italian's present and sell their wines.
The first notion that needs to be dispelled is that the DOC wines in question will be of higher quality and uniqueness than the currently available IGT wines available in alternative containers. There are vast swaths of Italy dedicated to the production of everyday, easy drinking wines that have long been sold in such boxes and I doubt the consumer will be fooled into thinking that Pinot Grigio Frilui Grave DOC will be superior to Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGT. The difference is that some oft maligned and undersung DOCs will now have a chance to shine in the market where their bottle offerings no longer compete on price and quality.
Here are my picks for the potential winners and losers (with a note of caution):
Winner: I'd like to see regions like the Oltrepò Pavese raise their game by putting some of their more unique still wine offerings in box. The Oltrepò is a region that has not much to lose in its mid-tier offerings and precious little high end wine to protect. I can envision a day when white Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero Bianco) in a 3L box is standard fair at any BBQ or picnic. What consumers may not take a chance on in bottle they may just take a look at in box. Lower the per-liter price through packaging and not quality reductions and you may have a winner. This region also has oceans of easy drinking Barbera that would look handsome in cardboard.
Loser: Multi-disciplinary and tiered production zones may suffer from a reputation hit. While the image of box wine is on the upswing right now (along with the quality) there are still many sectors that look down upon the category. The box is denied to wines labeled DOCG, riserva, superior or tagged with a sub-zone, but what consumer is going to make this distinction? Chianti is usually a good example for these cases but even lowly Chianti DOCG is box exempt. However, Italy provides plenty of regions where the quality spectrum is very broad within DOC confines. Valpolicella DOC is such a zone and begs the question, will consumers stop paying attention to the classico or superior versions if a large amount of generic Valpolicella DOC becomes available in box? We will have to wait and see.
Caution: To all Italian producers looking to dump wines on the international market by leveraging the new freedom to box DOCs. What people want most of all from a glass of wine is simple enjoyment at a fair price. The aspirational and the geek markets are fun to play in but they represent a tiny fraction of the wine made and consumed. Here is an opportunity to show what legions of tourist already know, that local wine based on indigenous varieties can provide an extremely satisfying experience. Don't box up that Italian Chardonnay that isn't selling and for the love of momma please don't start shipping Montepulciano up from Puglia to sell as Sangiovese from Tuscany – you know who I am talking to. Give us clean and honest wines - show me the Dolcetto and the Asprinio, the Grillo and the Teroldego. This is an opportunity to raise awareness of lesser known growing regions, so don't blow it on a grape-grab that is bound to fail.
Robert Scibelli is a lecturer and administrator at New York's premier wine school, International Wine Center.