25th Jul 2012
Too much bottle?
by Simon Woolf
It's the wine industry's dirty little secret. The back label tells you about the wine producer's respect for the environment, their commitment to preserving the terroir and farming sustainably. But that great big heavy glass bottle could triple the wine's carbon footprint by the time it reaches its final destination.
Of course, wine needs to be kept in a sturdy receptacle - and if it's a bottle for long ageing, thick, dark coloured glass to keep out the light is a good idea. That can all be accomplished with around 400gr of glass, bringing the total weight of a 750ml bottle of wine to 1.25Kg. But winemakers with big egos or ambitious marketing departments often plump for much, much heavier bottles, to ensure that their product shouts “Look at me, I'm premium”.
Many high-profile wine writers have campaigned against “bodybuilder bottles”, as Jancis Robinson dubbed them. But there are still plenty of muscle-busting examples on the market. I wanted to find out just how much heavier the heaviest bottles are, and whether there is a significant correlation between the quality of the contents, and the weight of the bottle. I selected 12 different wines, from as wide a range as possible – old and new world, from cheap mass market producers to iconic wines sold at super-premium prices.
Since the Co-op has publicly made a commitment to using lighter bottles, I selected three wines from their range. First up, the Coop Argentinian Torrontes-Chardonnay 2011. A sprightly 1.158Kg (420gr bottle), and not a bad wine either – a hint of that lovely Torrontes blossom, lots of tropical fruit flavours, and a fresh herbaceous finish. Personally I would have preferred less Chardonnay in the blend, but it wasn't offensive. 86 points, and outstanding value at £4.99.
Also from Co-op, and also Argentinian is the Pacha-Mama Torrontes 2011 (£6.99), organically certified and in a much heavier bottle (1.336Kg). A delicate floral nose, very dry and pure white peach palate but slightly unbalanced alcohol lending it a hot finish. 84 points, and no justification whatsoever for the extra 200gr of glass being trucked across the planet. Especially since the back label says “We try to produce our wines with a commitment to our environment...”.
The Coop own-label Chilean Fairtrade Carmenere (£5.99) was disappointing, with a youthful boiled red fruit nose, a smack of spice and tannin just leading to a rather thin and uninteresting finish. 74 points, and a not especially light 1.260Kg (510gr bottle)
Much better was Sainsbury's “Taste the difference” Fairtrade Pinotage, a step up in price at £7.99, and a tad lighter at 1.222Kg (470gr bottle). If you like Pinotage, this is a good expression of it – wild, smoky, almost tarry flavours and a fresh saline finish. 86 points.
What about something really mass-market? Gallo Family Vineyards Summer Red (no declared vintage, no declared grape varieties, 10.5% alcohol, “serve chilled”) sells for £6.99 in Sainsbury's. It wasn't the lightest bottle, at 1.198Kg, but it was certainly the most disgusting wine. Cloyingly sweet, with an unpleasant confected finish and no discernible fruit or varietal character whatsoever. A grudging 60 points.
Getting back to drinkable wine, Majestic has the Contesa Pecorino 2011 at £7.99 if you buy two or more (Otherwise £9.99). A mid-weight 1.276Kg bottle, 516gr empty, but a wonderfully fresh, generous, citrus-fruit palate. 87 points.
Staying in Italy, let's try a premium red for size. Fulvio Bressan's Schioppettino 2004 (Caves de Pyrene, £20) has masses of wild raspberry fruit and serious structure. The bottle comes with an extra long cork, but weighs a mere 1.182Kg (430gr empty). Quite refreshing, like the wine. 92 points.
Naked wines are the exclusive importer for many of their wines, and these have a little “light glass for low CO2” logo on the rear. Benjamin Darnault's Reserve Familiale Faugeres 2008 is one such. There's plenty of leathery, smoky dark fruit, but rather unbalanced high alcohol. An admirably light 1.182Kg however. 86 points.
Next up were two Bordeauxs. As these are some of the longest lived red wines in the world, it might seem reasonable that they'd use a heavy bottle. Petit Bocq St. Estephe 2005 (£22 in bond, from Fine and Rare Wines), is an easy-going merlot dominated style, with good crunch and ripe fruit. 87 points, 1.302Kg (516gr bottle). The rather more prestigious Ducru Beaucaillou 2002 (£73 in bond, also FRW) comes in a rather more “prestigious” bottle – a hefty 1.374Kg. It's classic claret, from a cool vintage - fresh, focused and elegant – 90 points.
How about Burgundy? Bernard Ambroise's 2005 Nuits San Georges Vielles Vignes (Christopher Keiller, £33) is a muscular, vigorous, fruit laden Pinot just getting into its stride. And the bottle will help build your musculature at 1.378Kg. 91 points.
But the bad boy in my line up is Roxanich's Ines u Bijelom 2008 (Available from Pactaconnect, RRP £31), a fantastically complex skin-contact white blend from Istria - and a fantastically over the top 1.714Kg on the scales (960gr bottle!). That's over half a kilo more than the Co-op own label Torrontes. Let's put that into perspective – 6Kg of extra weight per case of 12. Roxanich knocks out 70,000 bottles a year. So that's an additional 35,000Kg being shipped around the world. The wine is amazing however – 96 points.
It's clear even from this slightly random selection that more serious wines still tend to come in heavier bottles. But the exceptions – notably Bressan and Darnault – prove that this needn't be the case. I didn't have any Portuguese wines on hand at the time of writing, however at the recent “50 Great Portuguese wines” tasting, selected by Julia Harding MW there were some monstrous bottles on show. One was so heavy that I made two wrong assumptions – first that it was a magnum, second that there was actually wine left in the bottle, as I went to pour a sample.
UK retailers are now pioneering use of bottles as light as 300gr - “lightweighting” is a term that's fast gaining acceptance in the trade. There's no longer any excuse – or logic - for butch bottles, and their overweight carbon footprints. Let's out the wine industry and force them to be transparent about glass.
Simon Woolf writes on wine at www.themorningclaret.com
Related topics: Portugal, Column
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