The trend of rising alcohol in wine is, to me, neither alarming nor threatening. It is something else: boring. Yes, we all see it and taste it, but we seem to forget that we can avoid it. There are still a plethora of wines available to the average consumer with ethanol levels below those considered “high.” Simply consult your friendly wine label, required by law to state the alcohol by volume, and ignore those particular wines that offend you. Problem solved.
My concern is with a trend I find much more disturbing. More and more wines are coming in heavier packaging. Bottles are becoming bigger, glass is becoming thicker, and I’m becoming irritated. Weighty bottles are a pain. Cases of it are hard to lift and cost more to ship. Heavy bottles make it difficult to pour without the use of both hands. They are a general hindrance to the pleasure of drinking.
The other day I weighed ten unopened wine bottles on a postage scale. The wines were of various price points, grape varieties, and regions. Their common elements each was a red wine in a 750ml Bordeaux bottle. The lightest bottle (Coastal Ridge Merlot 2005) was 2 lbs. 12 oz., while the heaviest (Shafer Hillside Select 2003) weighed in at 4 lbs. 6 oz. That such a disparity exists is absolutely absurd.
Heavy bottles are useless to the consumer. The only entities that benefit from this bulky packaging are those who sell wine. Quite simply, weight connotes price, and, indirectly, quality. Over the last decade, winemakers and marketers have become hip to this association and now consumers and cellar workers are becoming stronger as a result. Once the provenance of expensive California Cabernets, heavy wines now hail from all over the world at every conceivable price point. And why wouldn’t they? However misguided, the consumer is likely to assume that a $10 wine in a $50 dollar bottle is a great value. It looks like–and certainly feels like–one when you pick it up.
I wish that inexpensive wines would spend less on their packaging and more on what’s inside, while the expensive ones would lower their price a buck or two and use a bottle that weighs less than four pounds. I’m afraid, however, that this is only just the beginning. The good news is my biceps are showing some tone.
By Scott Rosenbaum, director of operations for the International Wine Center and wine buyer for the retailer DrinkUpNY.