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From the Wine Cave

BY KIMBERLY FISHER

When choosing wine, it can be both difficult to pick the wine that suites you and it may be confusing to understand the different types of packaging and closures. There are a wealth of choices in the way wine is packaged today. Traditions have been slow to change, but as more options become available, it is worth taking time to explore and find a hidden gem.

To start this exploration, two principals that affect the shelf-life of a package are the size of the unit and the oxygen permeability of the material. Most of the changes that occur in a liquid, takes place between the liquid and the walls of the container. The change in ration depends on the size of the container.

Glass Bottles: One of the best containers for wine that has yet been invented. It is inert with no possibility for taint; it is impermeable to gases and is available in almost any shape and size.

Plastic Bottles: There are two types of plastic Bottles; PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and PET (polyethylene terephthalate). PVC bottles are used widely in producer countries where wine is regarded as an everyday commodity. They are cheap, lightweight and have virtually no barrier to gasses. It is intended for rapid distribution and immediate consumption. PET bottles are used widely for beer, soft drinks as they combine better oxygen barrier properties with a reasonable shelf life.

Bag in a Box: The purpose of this packaging is to provide a means of purchasing a large quantity wine that can be drawn off a glass at a time over a long period with minimum deterioration. It was invented in Australia in 1965 by Thomas Angove. Inside the box there is a flexible bag, which collapses as the wine is drawn off so the air is kept away from the wine. This package used to be criticized for the quality of wine that is in the box. Nowadays, there is a large range of good quality wine available with a reasonable shelf life.

Natural Cork: A very useful and traditional bottle closure. It is cheap, comes from a renewable source, is biodegradable and is a good oxygen barrier. It possesses an amazing anti-slip property which holds it in place without undue force. It is composed of hollow cells containing air. Natural cork has been considered the ideal closure for a wine bottle for many centuries. The increased demand for cork has forced cork producers to start cutting cork too close to the ground and using corks of a lower grade and a shorter length. The result was an increase in what we call “cork taint” commonly called “corked” wine. It is this cork taint that has led us search for alternative closures.

Synthetic Closures: A vast amount of research has been conducted to produce an artificial replacement for cork to avoid the possibility of TCA taint. This type of cork closure has become controversial. One of the disadvantages of this stopper, or anything made from any form of plastic, is that it does not provide a good oxygen barrier. This is not as much of a concern for everyday drinking wine with a relatively short shelf life.

Aluminum Screw caps: Screw caps have become fashionable after having endured criticism for years as being indicative of a cheaper grade of wine. After years of experimentation and research, screw caps have proven to be an excellent closure to keep the oxygen out. This closure is great for wines for everyday drinking, but to most, cork still reigns supreme for few wines designed to age.

Zork Closures: A plastic device which is easy to “zip” off. It has an integral tear strip and does not require a corkscrew.
This month, travel down the path of closures and packaging and see what kind of inspiration in the bottle or box that might excite you. With so many options, a little exploration of the wide variety of vessels and closures is well worth the effort.

Kimberly Fisher is the Director of Fine Wine sales for Badger Liquor – Wine & Spirits

One comment

  1. Kimberly,
    I read with great interest your article on wine packaging and closures. Thank you for taking the time to explain all the different packaging and closure options available for wines. A very good read!

    There are a couple of facts in the post, that I would like to address. Regarding the harvesting of cork, (“due to increased demand”), facts you stated, please allow me to set the record straight. Though the demand for cork has increased, there has never been a “shortage” that required cutting closer to the ground or created need to use shorter corks. Right now, in the seven million acres of cork forest there is enough cork to close every bottle of wine produced, for the next 100 years.

    In fact the cork industry has instituted harvesting guidelines that removes the cork harvested closest to the ground from cork stopper production. This cork bark is now used for industrial and non-wine related products. The length of a cork has nothing to do with harvesting or production, the length is chosen by the winemakers needs regarding to cost and bottle size.

    Regarding “cork taint”, there have been a number of well respected studies that have proven that a wine can be affected by TCA 2,4,6, “taint” regardless of what closure is used. If a winery is affected by TCA, the wines they produce can have a very high chance of being tainted. TCA taint is not only caused by natural cork!
    People read your posts because they trust the information you are providing, it is imperative that, that information is not adding legitimacy to common misconceptions or rumors spread by those invested in selling “alternative” closures.

    To learn more about these remarkable trees and our conservation efforts, please visit: http://www.corkforest.org

    Best,
    Patrick Spencer
    Executive Director
    Cork Forest Conservation Alliance

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