Aug 16: For various practical reasons including ease and convenience of carrying, storage, serving, environment, lower carbon footprints, when new containers like Aluminium cans and paper bottles are finding acceptance, it is an opportune time for the 2 litre casks (Bag-in-box) to penetrated the market, writes the Aussie wine journalist, write and taster, Dan Traucki suggesting it could be a practical step as well for India with high import taxes
Casks have been around since they were invented in Australia in the 1960’s. At one stage more than half of all the wine sold in Australia was being sold in casks (known universally as Bag-in-box) mainly in 4.0 Litre & 5.0 Litre sizes.
Rise and Fall of Casks
At one stage in the early 1990’s when I was working for Orlando Wines, we were selling 65 million litres of wine in casks per year. Gradually, over time the quality of the wine being put into the casks was significantly downgraded from the original decent quality simply making a blend of Sultana (Thompson Seedless) & Gordo (White Muscat) grapes with varying, mind blowing levels of residual sugar.
To compound the problem these casks were given labels like White Burgundy, Chablis and worst of all, Riesling. Riesling casks almost wiped true varietal Riesling off the map; at one stage proper bottled Riesling was being called Rhine Riesling in order to differentiate from the cask swill.
Today, there are very few of the larger format cask brands around and their sales volumes have fallen dramatically.
The only beacon of light in the sad cask saga has been the 2.0 Litre casks, which have been championed by Yalumba & Renmano. Both of them packaged the majority of the casks as varietal wines which were pretty darn good.
In recent times, whilst we have been busy shying away from casks and stigmatizing them, Europe has been headed in the opposite direction.
Cask or Bag-in-Box?
Right from the very early days, the rest of the world called them “Bag in Box” (BIB) which has terrible, down-market connotations instead of the much more positive “Casks” as we labelled them. The BIB in Europe were made from the very dregs of their wines - just one step up from the wine that was being sent off to be distilled into alcohol. Thus not surprisingly BIB has a woeful reputation around the world.
In more recent times as the reality of global warming and the significance of the “carbon footprint” has gradually sunk in on most of the world, the tables have been turning. As we continue to head away from casks in favour of bottles, the Europeans are heading much more towards the Bag in a Box.
The extent of this shift towards BIB is reflected by the fact that the ultra-conservative French winemakers and industry have recently approved the packaging of Bordeaux AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controllee) wine into BIB. Of course, this does not apply to any of their more upmarket wines, but the approval for the AOC wines marks a massive step forward in French wine thinking. At the same time, 25% of all wine imported to Sweden came in as bulk wine to be packaged into 2.0 litre BIB.
Advantages of Cask (BIB)
One of the big advantages for BIB is their environmental credentials. The carbon footprint of one 2.0 litre cask is considerably smaller than that of the equivalent three glass bottles of wine, mainly due to the enormous amount of energy used to make the glass bottle in the first place. I have heard figures one eighth mentioned, but have not seen any empirical evidence to prove this thus far.
Furthermore, an empty cask weighs around half the weight of one empty standard glass bottle, so in comparison it has a two and a half times smaller carbon footprint in the transportation of the wine than the equivalent three bottles of wine. Incidentally it is important when recycling to separate the bladder from the cask to avoid recycling contamination.
Ease and Convenience of 2 Litre Casks
The ease and convenience of 2.0 Litre casks is another factor that they have going for them. A two litre cask is significantly easier for a shopper to carry home than three bottles due to its considerably lower weight (between 600grms and 1.0 kilos) and the ease/simplicity of handling one carton instead of three bottles.
Then on the consumption side, a 2.0 Litre cask fits easily into the refrigerator, so that there is always an abundant supply of chilled white wine in the fridge as needed. Due to the design of casks the wine stays significantly fresher in an open cask than in an open bottle. The shelf life of modern casks at 12 months + is such that the most casual of wine drinkers can enjoy a glass of wine, whenever they want with a minimum of effort and fuss and not have the wine in the cask fail them through deterioration.
Unfortunately, today in Australia there are just a small number of 2.0 litre cask brands available to consumers. The ubiquitous Yalumba and Renmano casks have been joined by Banrock Station, Brooke James Vintners (Aldi) and De Bortoli. In total there are less than forty variants available in the marketplace.
Tasting of cask wine
We tasted twenty of these casks for this article. None of them were faulty, bad or poor wines, that is they were all drinkable, however as with bottled wine, the quality varied quite a bit. Most were non-vintage but a few had vintage specified too. They varied in price from A$9 to A$16 with a majority at A$11 from Brooke James Vintners, Yalumba WineSmiths, De Bortoli and Banrock Station.
To put the cost of these wines into proper context, the shelf price of these casks works out to be the equivalent of from A$3.99 per bottle, through to A$5.99 a bottle. In most instances these casks compare favourably with bottled wines priced up to about A$8.00 a bottle, making them great value as well as being much more practical and socially responsible.
So whether it be for convenience reasons- cartage, storage and wine accessibility or availability, or for environmental reasons, now is the time to reconsider 2.0 Litre wine casks, as the quality is certainly there, along with the environmental credentials, the value and convenience.
Scope for India
They ought to be particularly attractive to India with the heavy taxation that makes it very difficult for imported wines to compete for the shelf space in the supermarkets/retail stores. They would do extremely well as house wines in restaurants too.
Dan Traucki has been in the Australian wine industry for 33 years in a wide variety of roles. He has spent the last ten years as a freelance wine journalist writing for two of the largest selling Australian wine magazines. His real passion is writing on “Emerging Varieties”. To date he has written about 60 different grape varieties. He has also written about the wines of several lesser known wine producing countries such as Thailand, Japan, Turkey and the Netherlands. He also judges wines internationally.