A round of seasonal entertaining means our recycling container is once again a box of shame; overflowing, a mini Matterhorn of glass so heavy that it has to be dragged to the kerb where it will taunt those neighbours we so conspicuously failed to invite to our festivities. Beyond insulting them and offering a guide to our drinking decisions, as we enter a new year I believe that sad-looking box of empties might offer a greater meaning, something more positive: a totem of a bygone way of enjoying everyday, easy-drinking wines.
Why? Because the sheer weight of the box presents a visual metaphor for one of the biggest single problems with glass, accounting, as it does, for around forty percent of the wine industry’s carbon footprint. Produced using vast amounts of energy to achieve the constant 1,700 degrees the manufacture of molten glass requires, the empty bottles then have to be carted off to a bottling line, probably hundreds of miles away. And that’s just the start of the shipping process, with the resulting full bottles often crossing continents.
Though our recycling box offers an opportunity to engage in some public virtue signalling – and the process is certainly preferable to clogging up landfill sites – glass is relatively complicated to recycle, requiring careful sorting, a process that’s also energy intensive. The clear glass favoured for Provence rosé and premium Champagne is worse still, as recycled material cannot be used in its production.
Back in April, I publicly pondered whether plastic was actually fantastic, with the typical PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) bottle around 85 percent lighter than its glass equivalent. In response, I received a few brickbats (arguably a form of recycling in itself, I suppose), but also comments from those in the industry who genuinely want to move on from glass, but still fear wrecking their business model in the process. Plastic is merely one option, of course, as the quality of canned wine is improving and there is plenty of untapped potential in bag-in-box. The big plus for a PET bottle is familiarity: it feels different, but it is the same shape and size.
DRC in PET is obviously never going to happen, but premium Provence rosé in plastic is already here
Are we ready to embrace a new way of enjoying wine? I believe we could be, but it will require a retail revolution to explain, encourage and perhaps incentivise as well. At the moment, our options for wine in anything other than a glass bottle are limited, but this last year we have all become familiar with significant price rises and shortages, from salad to sparkling water, that have forced us to change our shopping habits without too much pain.
Producers of wine are even more accustomed to paying more and going without: this year, most of them have struggled to source glass bottles with the price rising every quarter; bespoke designs have virtually vanished; even while labels and closures have been in short supply. It has been the perfect storm, but change is in the air. Compromises bring opportunities, and a typical PET bottle is now apparently cheaper to source than its glass rival.
We are not there yet; the glass bottle is undoubtedly a thing of beauty, sparkling wine requires its strength, and nobody is seriously making a case for ageing wine in any other format, but it is important to remember that the overwhelming majority of wine is entry level, consumed within a week or so of purchase. DRC in PET is obviously never going to happen, but premium Provence rosé in plastic is already here, courtesy of the pioneering Nomade from Möet Hennessy-owned Château Galoupet, launched last spring.
We need a concerted effort, more wines in alternative formats, better communication of the environmental benefits, more prominent merchandising… 2022 has challenged everyone – not least those of us who try to make predictions, but if there was ever a moment for wine without glass, it is surely now.
WHAT DAVID HAS BEEN DRINKING (all from glass):
- Champagne Palmer & Co Grand Terroirs 2015 (The Whisky Exchange, £65) From a highly-regarded grower co-operative, named after the British biscuit maker Huntley and Palmer, there’s fabulous freshness and purity to the fruit, with pear and hints of tropical fruit balanced by toasted brioche and creamy lemon posset. It offers incredible quality for the price.
- Marimar, La Maria, Chardonnay, 2019 (Frazier’s, £41) From the Don Miguel Vineyard, named after the late patriarch of the Torres family, located in the coolest, foggiest part of the Russian River. The beguiling nose offers apple blossom, lemon meringue, baking spice and struck match, while the palate balances plump orchard fruit with zesty citrus acidity and hints of vanilla pod. As American as apple pie and deliciously moreish.
- Ixsir Grande Reserve 2014 (Simply Wines Direct, £24) From a Lebanese winery with impressive sustainability credentials and altitude vineyards, this blend of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon offers strikingly fresh, concentrated foraged blackberry and sweet morello cherry, with a wonderful, summery Mediterranean herbal twist and a lingering finish. A winter wine that conjures thoughts of summer.