Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Old Style

My love of beer, and of the image of the ubiquitous Chicago favorite above, seems at odds with my love of wine. Beer on the tap, drank fresh from the cask or keg. Enjoyed young and fresh. Wine has a long and beautiful tradition of being stored in elegant fragile bottles, sealed with bark from a tree, aging undisturbed and never break or go bad or... wait. Not right. We all have opened a corked bottle, or had a bag break heading up the stairs to our apartment, and whoops. There goes your wine.

I love hearing the stories of the village wine shops that had the cask in the cellar that they used to fill the containers brought in by their neighbors and customers. Of course, there are also reports that these wines were plonk, by today's standards, but still, it was a truly local item that continued to age and serve the needs of the village. In recent weeks, I have been excited to learn about the resurgence of these old techniques being modernized with wine kegs making the rounds.

The wine keg is keeping the old principles in mind with new technology; ease of dispensing, shipping, and providing a larger quantity of wine at a less expensive initial cost to the vendor. The step up is is higher protection of the wine from oxygen, and rapid aging. The kegs pictured above are from Oregon, and are meant to be delivered to the tap via hoses, like any typical beer delivery system. The keg below is meant to be visible, and is available directly to consumers. Smaller, but similar in theory.
One thought that keeps ringing in my ears is the old wooden cask. Of course the common knowledge is that one must protect their wine from oxidizing and aging too rapidly, thus the minimal oxygen exchange of modern kegs is ideal for this. However, what of the wines of the (old) Piedmont, that were kept in cask for up to four years before bottling? What about the barrel tasting most of us have been fortunate enough to enjoy? Were those wines any less drinkable because they weren't in a bottle yet? Perhaps a large cask of wine can continue to age in the corner of a wineshop or corner store, just as well as in a cellar or cave. I have seen such setups still in use in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia. Certainly, not in the corner next to the stove, or in the sun where it would cook into vinegar, but in a cool corner where the bottles line the shelves as well. I am certain that there are a number of laws in the U.S. regarding the dispensing and transporting of wines from cask to home, but one sees brewpubs selling growlers (half-gallon jugs) from the tap, then sealing them with a shrink-wrap collar; who is to say that this method shouldn't be available to wine?

Provided microbreweries are converting to canning beer to save on bottle, label, and shipping cost, perhaps the end result will be wine in a can. Wait, too late. Ugh, that's unfortunate.