Is wine better out of a bottle or a cask? The answer might surprise you!

Is wine better out of a bottle or a cask? The answer might surprise you!

People celebrating with wine

Call it a goonsack, spacebag, bogan briefcase or plonk pillow, the humble wine cask is a uniquely Australian contraption that revolutionised large format wine sales through the 1970’s and to this day, remains as Aussie as vegemite on your toast or lamb cutlets on your barbie.

Since the design was first patented by Australian Winemaker, Thomas Angove, in 1965 the bladder in a box has evolved with advances in technology and the stats don’t lie. To this day, Aussies love their goon. It seems that the future for “cardboareaux” looks very bright, indeed.

I decided to investigate “Jesus-Juice” in a goonbag after a friend sent me some statistics in an article which suggested that Australians consume 180 million litres of cask wine each year. To put that in perspective, that means that cask wine sales account for about 40% of the total still wine that we consume each year! Who’d have thought?

Advocates for cask wine have no end of reasons why we should be buying “the box”:

  1. It’s portable and lifestyle friendly
  2. Its packaging is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than glass (which creates higher carbon dioxide emissions during manufacture)
  3. It lasts – the vacuum sealed bags can last up to 6 weeks after opening
  4. It’s cheaper – partly because WET tax is applied on wholesale cost rather than volume.

Back in the 1970’s cask wine accounted for about 50 % of domestic wine sales. As bottle sales grew over the next 30 years, the goonbox market share fell by about 30% but by the time we were all isolated in our homes and lathering ourselves in sanitiser during lockdowns in March 2020, cask wine sales surged by a staggering 21% in four weeks! It begs the question – is the quality and value of wine in a box getting better, or during the pandemic, did Australians just see the sense in buying a larger format that would last for weeks to avoid having to go out regularly for bottles?

They say that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, so my research into the issue found me enquiring at my local bottle-o as to which red and white cask wines were their biggest selling and most popular. And it seems the best sellers are De Bortoli Premium Cabernet Merlot in the reds, and the de Bortoli Premium Chardonnay for the blancs. The verdict?

Well what better way to find out than to do a little social experiment with a handful of “average” wine drinkers – those who enjoy a glass of vino but don’t see themselves as aficionados or enthusiasts (read “wine-wankers”). The test: present them with three blind white wines and the same for the reds and see firstly, which one they like the most and the least and secondly, if they could actually identify which of the three glasses contained the goon. The results were surprising!

The Chardonnay lineup included the Taylors Estate Chardonnay ($18), the Forester Estate ($32) and a 4 litre cask of Australia’s biggest selling cask white wine, the De Bortoli Premium Chardonnay. The players in the red wine space were the Oakridge Over the Shoulder Cabernet Merlot ($26), the Brokenwood Cabernet Merlot ($26) and the De Bortoli 4 litre cask of Premium Cabernet Merlot ($21 for 4 litres).

Out of the eight players seated around the boardroom table with a bunch of glasses in front of them only one correctly identified the wines by pricepoint but perhaps more striking was the ranking of the Chateau Cardboard. Out of the blanc wines, two of the tasters actually rated the De Bortoli cask wine as the “best” while four placed it as the second best. And it was a similar outcome with the rouge blend; two tasters thought the De Bortoli wine poured from a bladder was the most expensive while one placed it second. The majority though, identified the cask red blend as the cheapest.

It’s only a very small cohort from which to extract data, but it’s probably fair to say that our “average” wine drinkers thought that the cask chardonnay was perfectly palatable and the equal of the bottled wines, while the cask red blend was more easily identified as the quaffer. The outcome may have been different if we’d used wine buffs as our guinea pigs but from a commercial perspective it probably doesn’t matter given that wine afficionados account for a very small proportion of the wine buying public.

The humble box of goon may be much maligned by snooty connoisseurs but it clearly has its advantages and best of all, it doesn’t sound as bad as the embarrassing Sunday morning death rattle of a handful (or more!) of empties hitting the bottom of the wheelie bin after old friends have visited on Saturday night.

– As published on the Courier Mail


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