September 14, 2005
Juice-box wine an instant hit for LCBO

It's bad enough that we have a whole world of quality wine to choose from these days. It was so much easier when French wine (meaning Bordeaux and Burgundy) was the best, and the rest was plonk.

Then they started putting screwcaps on quality wine. Now it's impossible to tell good wine from bad just by looking at the closure; we have to look at the label instead. And screwcaps deny us the ritual of fighting with resistant corks to get them out, and the pleasure of struggling to get them back in the half-finished bottle.

We're losing all this tradition merely to ensure that wines taste fresher and to reduce the rate of spoilage from one bottle in 12 to practically nil.

The latest blow to our hallowed wine culture is Tetra Pak packaging, like the four wines reviewed today. This doesn't look like wine. It looks like juice for a kid's lunch. Where's the stupid little straw with the pointy end that never quite reaches the last of the juice?

If this is the way you think about wine, you're way out of touch. These wines in Tetra Pak containers were introduced by the LCBO five weeks ago and are so popular that Ottawa stores have been totally sold out of stock for days at a time.

The LCBO apparently got behind wines packaged like this for environmental reasons. This packaging is more easily recycled than glass and, because it's lighter, it requires far less energy to transport the full packages and the empties. (You can put them in your recycling box.)

But will they sell? First indications are that they sure do and the LCBO plans to introduce more wines in this format than the five recently available (the four reviewed, plus a French Rabbit Merlot). Novelty and pricing are driving sales. These containers are lighter and less fragile than bottles and ideal for patios, beside the pool, at cottages, on boats and for picnics.

They come in manageable sizes, unlike three-litre bag-in-boxes. They also reseal easily. You squeeze the soft package to get rid of the air, then screw on the cap.

Do they taste the same as bottled wine? I blind tasted French Rabbit Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from bottle and soft package. There were slight differences, but no more than you'd expect from different lots. The quality, which is average (the Vendange wines were better), was the same from both. In other words, the packaging does not affect quality.

The LCBO says it currently has French Rabbit Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in Tetra Paks, but not the Chardonnay. But they assure me the Chardonnay will return, so at any time you might find one, two or all three out of stock.

The success of this format will depend on how many wines are eventually available in it. Consumers might well buy French Rabbit and Vendange now and again, but until there's a much bigger range, Tetra Pak packaged-wines won't make a huge impact.

The downside? In terms of what you get in the glass, there aren't any, and the environmental case seems solid. Resistance to Tetra Pak packaged wine, like resistance to Ontario wine and wine sealed with screwcaps, is likely to come mainly from people who are stuck in vinous ruts.

Now, if the LCBO could only get a good Chateau Something from Bordeaux, put it in a Tetra Pak container, seal it with a cork.

In today's reviews, there are four Tetra Pak packaged wines. To launch the new containers, the tradition-bound French went with a fun design (iridescent colours, hopping bunnies leaving carrots in their wake) while the adventurous Californians attempted (and failed) a sophisticated presentation that includes, of all things, a French name! Is the wine world upside down, or what?


The annual Ottawa Art Gallery Wine Auction will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in the Arts Court Theatre at 2 Daly Ave. Highlights this year include California cult wines, super-Tuscans, rare Australian reds and sought-after Bordeaux and Burgundies. Registration, preview and reception (wine and appetizers) start at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25 in advance and $35 at the door. Call 233-8699, ext. 221 or visit the gallery's website at www.ottawaartgallery.ca.


FRENCH RABBIT CHARDONNAY 2004 A simple Chardonnay, with sweet fruit (peach, pear, some tropical) to the fore. It's a bit flabby (lacking acidity) until the finish. You can sip this alone or pair it with grilled chicken. Alcohol 13 per cent; $12.50 a 1-litre pack. LCBO No. 621706.
VENDANGE CHARDONNAY 2004 A clean, refreshing Chardonnay with bright peach, sweet pear and apple flavours, nice balance and a crisp finish. Drink it alone or with grilled pork chops and apple slices. Alcohol 13 per cent; $6.95 a 500-mL pack. LCBO No. 621565.
VENDANGE SHIRAZ 2003 Medium bodied and dry, with fairly solid fruit (blackberries, plums, black cherries). The balance is good, although it finishes a little tart. Pair it with seasoned grilled lamb chops. Alcohol 13 per cent; $6.95 a 500-mL pack. LCBO No. 621540.
FRENCH RABBIT CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2004 A straightforward Cab with ripe dark, spicy fruit (plums, berries) and a hint of vanilla in the aromas. Tannins are light and the balance is good. Try it with grilled red meat dishes. Alcohol 12.5 per cent; $12.50 a 1-litre pack. LCBO No. 621680.