The Great Wine Debate: Does Packaging Influence Quality and Taste?

The Great Wine Debate: Does Packaging Influence Quality and Taste?

The world of wine is changing. Just as the faces of wine consumers continue to evolve, so does the way brands cater to them and their lifestyles.

History has taught us that wine in anything other than a bottle is not worth the time or money if you are looking for quality and taste. In addition, many will argue that there is a story to be told with each bottle from its shape to the design of the label as well as an experience to behold from selecting the bottle, opening it and pouring it into the glass for others. This is what many wine enthusiasts live for.  The game is slowly changing, but the majority of brands will most likely never entertain the thought of packaging their wines in anything other than a bottle.  However, some are going rogue in a fun and inventive way. From pitches on the hit show “Shark Tank,” to trade shows around the world, entrepreneurs and brands are hearing the unspoken demand from many consumers for portable as well as smaller wine container options that don’t sacrifice quality and taste.

So the question becomes, “Can you have the same great wine experience from a box or can as you would with a bottle?”  We reached out to three industry experts for their opinions as the great wine debate continues.

The Bottle vs. the Rest

Currently, in a store near you, you can walk in and find boxed wine brands such as Bota Box, Black Box and the ever-so-popular Franzia, to name a few.  Select varietals are offered in sizes ranging from five liters to single servings.   For many boxed brands, the goal is to offer more than quality wine in convenient packaging.  It is also about offering options in size (whether you are serving one person or five), using green packaging, lessening one’s carbon footprint and taking away any intimidation.

“For me, the main thing is that we are seeing an evolution in where, when and how people are drinking wine,” says Hal Landvoigt, winemaker for House Wine which is available in bottles and cans.  “When we talk about different packages, what it comes down to is portability and about the right format for a particular occasion.”

“I prefer bottled wine. I know the quality of boxed wines is improving. However, with many of the boxed wines being reported as having higher arsenic contents, I think I’ll pass on drinking them,” says Nicole Kearney, founder of Sip & Share Wine who shares her love of all things vino via tastings, a mobile wine bar and podcast.  “I see wine in cans as the newest trend to get people to try single servings. I haven’t tried the cans yet. It’s on my summer to-do/drink list.”

“If you travel to countries in Europe, you’ll see a lot of wine in plastic bottles, large and small. Some of this is really low-quality bulk wine, which in France, for example, is sold in plastic bottles as we would sell milk in the U.S. (if you can think way back, milk used to be sold in glass bottles before plastic and paper cartons took over),” shares Dr. Greg B.C. Shaw, professor at California State University in Sacramento and Cuisine Noir’s wine editor.  “We’re very particular about wine packaging in the U.S. Screw caps have been hugely popular in South America, Europe and Australia, even for very expensive wines. But in the U.S., we haven’t really wrapped our heads around that yet for anything but the cheapest wines. Plastic will be an even harder sell for U.S. consumers, but it’s also sturdy and portable.”

Are American wine drinkers relaxed enough to enjoy wine in a can?  It is surely catching on as brands such as House Wine and Underwood present their offerings in an ever-changing consumer climate.  From picnics, concerts, tailgate parties, backyard BBQs and more, consumers are loving the can packaging that was introduced a few years ago.  In fact, wine in a can is doing so well that according to an article by Business Insider, sales by canned wine reached more than $6 million in 2016.  In addition, just this week Winesellers, Ltd. announced the debut of its Tiamo organic wines in a can. Their white and rosé wine selections are sold as individual cans or a 4-pack.

“Cans are perfect for the cooler at your Super Bowl party or any other function whereas a host you don’t want to have to worry about opening bottles as your guest consume the wine. If you’re thinking about your clean-up, cans don’t require a separate glass to drink out of as bottles and boxes do – you can drink right from the can. Cans are portable and easy to store,” says Shaw. “Downside to the can, especially if you’re going to drink right from the can, will be decreased aromas which are a big part of wine drinking, especially for red wines. Cans are also much more limited in terms of options than bottles with very few types of wine being widely distributed in cans.”

There are definitely pros and cons to each, but one thing that Landvoigt points out is that it shouldn’t matter if the wine is in a bottle, box or can. “From the consumer’s perspective, what they are tasting shouldn’t be any different.”

As a consumer, the only way to truly know is to do a little taste test for yourself and where is the harm in that.  Consumers drink a variety of wines for different reasons as well as purchase them in different packaging for certain occasions. It is all about preferences.

“Consumers should do their research. Again, I see the value in can wines as well, just not for every day drinking,” says Kearney.  “And twist tops need to be the thing winemakers should continue. It’s always frustrating wanting to try a new bottle (or old favorite) and no one has a corkscrew.”

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Sheree has been penning stories since the fifth grade. Her stories took a delicious and adventurous turn as an adult when she became a foodie.