Plastic wine bottles

Plastic wine bottles. Must be some Frankensteinian fad from California, or maybe an awful Aussie aberration. Right?

Try France. Try Languedoc, the large-production, value-centered region in southern France near the Mediterranean.

“A glass bottle with a natural cork is engraved in our genes,” one producer protested as he pondered plastic’s prospects. Still, he ponied up for plastic bottles with screw tops when buyers demanded. French wine makers may not like it, but—duh—they dislike ripping up vineyards and going out of business even more.

Airlines, supermarkets, and restaurant chains are positive about plastic because they want unbreakable, easily resealed, lighter wine bottles. Less shipping cost—plastic bottles are almost 90 percent lighter than glass—means same wine costs less in plastic than in glass, which pleases them very much, even if they do not pass savings on to consumers.

Glass always will have a place. Plastic bottles are made with polyethylene terphthalate (PET). In tests performed by the French Institute of Vine and Wine Sciences, wine stored in PET containers may begin oxidizing in as quickly as six months. The problem appears worse for white wines than reds.

Plastic practitioners pounced on the problem by producing bottles with multi-layer materials, and they will keep at it until they overcome oxidation obstacles.

Bottle bottom line: don’t look for first growth Médoc makers to patronize plastic, but plastic wine bottles are here to stay in some form, especially for value-driven wines you buy with your plastic card today and drink in your plastic “glass” tonight.

Recommended (none in plastic):

• McManis Pinot Grigio. Californina. Pale straw color; melons and lime; rich mouth feel, crisp. $12

• Mulderbosch Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé. Watermelon-pink color, strawberries and raspberries; nice acidity, soft texture on the mouth; ideal for summer. South Africa. $12

• Bogle Phantom Red. Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Mourvèdre; appeals to many palates; berries and cherries. California. $20

• Alexander Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc. Unusual varietal well done by AVV. Blueberries and mocha and pleasing softness overall. Excellent summer wine. California. $22