Glass and its alternatives 2-22-2023

Glass wine bottles have enjoyed a long and storied run since they were adopted after advances in glass making in the 1600s. Now, however, glass has competition.

Prior to glass bottles, wine was transported and stored in wooden barrels, clay amphorae, and sheep skin bota bags. Glass provided instant advantages. Glass is durable, strong, inert, transparent, can be formed in attractive shapes and sizes, and is relatively easy and inexpensive to make.

Glass allows wines to age gracefully for years without degradation or imparting taint or unwanted flavors. No other container offers those properties. Glass will remain the go-to container for wines made for aging for the foreseeable future.

But glass is not the best container for all wines, or even most wines. The majority of wines are consumed shortly after purchase. Glass offers no advantage for such wines and has disadvantages. If glass goes into a landfill, it remains there for tens of thousands of years. Glass is heavy, incurring costs in transportation and storage. Although glass can be recycled, recycling glass is an expensive process in transporting to recycle centers and in the recycling process.

The wine industry—the beverage industry in general—is working the problem. Some alternatives:

• Lighter glass bottles, bottles made with recycled glass, reusable bottles. The thickness of the glass in a wine bottle has no impact on wine.

• Bag-in-a-box, aka “boxed wine.”

• Aluminum containers.

• PET bottles (recyclable plastic, often found in bottled water).

• Aseptic cartons (milk and juice containers).

All non-glass alternatives deliver significant advantages in weight, recyclability, and cost. None of them offer proven ability to store wine for extended lengths of time, but less than 10 percent of wines improve with aging. Currently, 77 percent of all wine is sold in glass bottles. Glass bottles—manufacturing shipping, warehousing, and disposal—account for 40 percent of a typical winery’s carbon footprint.

Glass wine bottles are here to stay, but environmental and cost concerns makes it increasingly more likely you will be pouring from a non-glass container in the future.

Tasting notes:

• Herdade do Esporão Monte Velho Rosé 2021: Demure, lilting rosé charms with delicate red fruit, food-friendly acidity. $8-12 Link to my review

• Feudo Montoni Nero D’Avola Lagnusa 2020: Sicily’s signature red. Gentle tannins, relaxed acidity, smooth, easy drinking. $18-23 Link to my review

• Ram’s Gate Sauvignon Blanc, Carneros 2020: Tart, tasty, good acidity; lemon-lime, grapefruit, and pineapple, green apple. $30-37

Last round: Pavlov at a wine bar enjoys a glass. The phone rings. Pavlov jumps up and shouts. “Darn, I forgot to feed the dog!”