It's astonishing how much importance we invest in tradition when it comes to wine.
And one of the problems with presenting alternatives to tradition in the world of wine is that, for the most part, the alternative concepts already exist. When you talk to people about alternatives to wine bottles, you're either a fringe revolutionary or some sort of prehensile luddite. Put wine…in a keg? Shakes head, walks away.
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So what would a wine world without wine bottles look like?
Well, at the very least it would put a dampener on the ridiculous levels of label fetishization that is only being amplified and further enabled by social media. My Insta feed would not be populated with overworked-yet-minimalist pictures of a famous bottle of wine (nine times out of 10, the bottle is unopened, which basically encapsulates everything that's wrong with this), an accompanying, somewhat authoritative, text either lifted direct from someone else's website or repurposing something that the poster has only just read, a question (for "engagement") either at the beginning or the end of the text, a couple of emojis and some hashtags. If this is the future, it's not just bottles we have to re-evaluate.
And all the while my Instagram feed is filled with people waxing lyrical about Coravins and WineEmotion tasting cabinets – you know, the ones where you press a button and it pours you a glass of wine? And you know what they are don't you? They're miniature kegging systems. They're Barbie and Ken pub taps. Scale it up and you have a larger vessel, a tube, inert gas and someone holding a glass of wine at the end of it. Just with less waste and a bit more organizational gumption.
I mean, talk about fraud protection: you could order your kegs ex-winery, direct. Some of them even come with GPS tracking, scanning, barcodes, etc. You can watch the wine you ordered make its way from the domaine to you door.
Everything already exists to cater for this because between transport logistics options and beer companies, you can move all sorts of quantities almost anywhere. It's going to take a bit of organising but your local wine merchant can surely help put a bunch of like-minded people together to buy a 20L keg of Bonnes-Mares, right? After all, what are the chances of premox if it's in a 20L or a 50L vessel?
Or club together and start a wine bar serving wine from kegs. Kegs on rotation. Just like a coffee roaster: what's for sale is what we've got in at the moment. We've just had a keg arrive from the Douro, and a Western Australian aromatic white field blend is due next week. Come on, be honest: you were never adventurous with your wine purchases in the supermarket, so hand all that decision-making over to the person running your local wine bar. You could even have a customer vote on the next keg purchase.
But how do I get it home? You buy a jug, stupid. Or use an old bottle. Preferably not something like an old vinegar bottle or the petrol can you had for the lawnmower. (Interesting aside: many New Zealand World War II veterans who fought in Europe had their first taste of wine in southern Italy, filling up empty petrol jerrycans to transport it. The taste, they said, was unforgettable.) You could get creative – get your aunt who's into pottery to throw you a special ceramic bottle or simply reuse that Sepp Muster bottle you're using for the roses.
Even in supermarkets. Just do that with kegs. If the majority of supermarket wine is consumed within six hours of purchase, there's absolutely no excuse here. Bring your own bottle, or gourd, flower vase, or whatever, and pay by the milliliter. Like a petrol station, you could have credit card terminals where you pay before you pump. If you must, get producers to send out rolls of mini labels with their kegs so that you can put a sticker on your re-purposed Black Tower bottle that you use to avoid light-strike.
What if I can't get hold of a bottle I want? Well, be honest, if the supermarket wasn't stocking it, would you not buy any wine on that trip? The supermarkets' approach to choice is that you can choose what they have available or choose not to buy it, so that's wrapped up. You could argue you might want to try a bunch of wines but why not get them in a smaller, more postable format, filled at the merchant or winery itself and sent to your door in screwtop 200ml bottles you can then send onto your next experiment purchases for refill there? That's responsible drinking – and you'll taste a whole lot more wines. If you want, you could even try throwing a few bottles in your car and whipping round to your nearest wineries for a refill. This won't work for everyone, but let's face it, you know more about Vosne-Romanee's terroir, more about alluvial fans in Chambolle-Musigny and winds from the Combe d'Orveaux than you do about the suitability of root vegetables in your own backyard.
The final category to explore is that of aging. What if you like aging claret, or Port, or a bit of Corton-Charlemagne? Well you buy wines for aging in large volumes to start with, right? A 12-bottle case is nine liters. Just upscale a little. Or maybe the Grands Crus producers can invest in 10L kegs? Maybe we can invent a CoraKeg that both intermittently keeps any ullaged kegs gassed up while still allowing a measurable volume of oxygen into the keg to simulate aging? Or just watch it evolve hermetically. I can hear the cries of anguish as collectors of top Bordeaux wring their hands over the absence of technology to do their aging via keg when they are precisely the people who can (a) get it to happen and (b) afford it. It's not like the sort of people who can buy 12 bottles of Vieux Chateau Certan don't have the cash to invest in these problems.
And then there's tradition. Well, I can't argue with that. But the wine bottle tradition as we know it is relatively new. You don't have to go back very far to realise that everything I've described above was how we used to drink wine.
Back then, even presidents used to scrawl their signatures on misshapen bottles someone had filled for them.