The crowd that hates screw caps is going to love this one. My ears perked up the other day over lunch with an Australian vintner when he said that his inexpensive (but pretty good) Thirsty Lizard Sémillon-Sauvignon Blanc tasted better out of the TetraPak than it did from a regular bottle under screw cap.
TetraPaks, for those who haven't experienced them, are made of coated cardboard that's similar to milk cartons. The latest versions use a plastic seal that twists off, which makes them as convenient to use as bottles. They are gaining in popularity as packaging for inexpensive wines, basically replacing the old gallon jugs and bags in boxes.
"We bottled the same Sémillon-Sauvignon in glass bottles under Stelvin (the metal twist-off) and in TetraPaks, so we could taste them blind, side by side," said Hugh Cutherbertson, whose Australian winery, Cheviot Bridge in Victoria, makes Thirsty Lizard and another brand, Long Flat, also available in what they call the "B-Pak." "We were pleasantly surprised that the B-Pak always tasted fresher and fuller."
As in the early days of screw caps, TetraPaks carry an unfortunate association with cheap, barely palatable wine. That's mostly what was put into them until fairly recently, when some pretty decent everyday wine started appearing in the packages. It's mostly been supermarket brands in Europe and Australia, although a few American wineries are using the process as well.
Cuthbertson, who rose to vice president of marketing for Beringer Blass in his 15 years with that company, now has an array of brands he has developed through Cheviot Bridge. That includes Long Flat, a brand he purchased from Tyrrell's. Thirsty Lizard is his own invention. The wines are not exactly world beaters, but they're appealing for their freshness and simple flavors at a decent price.
What's interesting is that both the 750ml bottle and 1-liter TetraPak sell for the same price, $10 at full markup, though they're usually available at discount. You get one-third more in the B-Pak, which is not a bad incentive.
"And if you squeeze the air out of the pak before you put the cap back on, the wine keeps really well in the fridge," he pointed out. "You can't do that with a bottle."
It's also greener. The number of empty, flattened TetraPaks required to package the equivalent of a carload of bottles takes up about the same space as a coffee table, and weighs less. It saves on shipping because it weighs practically nothing. Like a bottle, it can be made from recyclable materials, and be recycled itself.
In Australia, a nation of environmentalists, Cutherbertson thought that would be a great selling point. But consumer research found that, by far, the No. 1 aspect consumers liked was convenience. No. 2 was perceived wine quality, and No. 3 the edge in price.
So, who's ready for everyday, drink-me-now wines in TetraPaks?
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — June 7, 2008 11:58am ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 7, 2008 12:58pm ET
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