Casks reach a new apex

WE think of the 60s of an era of Beatles, bongs and bodgies, of flower-power and protests, but in wine terms a remarkable discovery took place in this decade for it was the era that saw the birth of the bag-and-box.

Around 1967 a strange metal cask appeared wearing Penfolds and Wynn’s labels.

Within it was a bladder full of wine that was pierced with a plastic tap.

This remarkable Australian invention was the answer to the wine companies’ dreams.

At last, table wines could be delivered in bulk within the home and there would be a space in every refrigerator in the country from which wine would be dispensed.

Oxidation was beaten because that evil, spoiling bogey, which is borne by air, was excluded, thanks to the extraordinary plastic bladder.

This wine delivery dream was soon shattered. The casks didn’t work.

With food stuffs, perishables, wine included, the oxidation bogey is always lurking turning apple slices brown and orange juice bitter and, worst of all, attacking table wine once exposed to air.

The sceptics of the bag-and-box stuck with their flagons and bottles and were rewarded when air got to the wine around the hole where the tap pierced the bladder.

In addition, they often leaked and it was found minute amounts of oxygen were penetrating the plastic bag and this spelt disaster.

The metal and plastic cask was withdrawn and it was back to the drawing board.

History proves that perseverance in research and development pays off with handsome rewards and today there is a cask in most refrigerators.

Large and small, they serve the domestic and catering markets beautifully.

But, in most cases, the cask has been aimed at the lower rung of the wine-drinking market using what the French would term as Vin Ordinaire.

Much of this ordinary wine comes from the heavily irrigated vines along Australia’s greatest river—the Murray.

I see it almost as an exercise in filling a cask with the Murray River without passing it through a grape.

Many wine cask enthusiasts would be surprised to learn of the inclusion of South American table wines from Chile being blended into Aussie wine for use in casks.

This can be purchased cheaply on the international market for very low litre-age prices.

Yalumba were the first to lift the standard of the table wines in their two-litre casks and they remain excellent value for money.

However, the home-cask, so domestically convenient, continues to evolve and the message a new-comer sends loud and clear is, wine in a cask can have class and need not be Vin Ordinaire.

The conduit for this news is a bag-and-box with a radical new triangular shape called Quintessence.

The Quintessence policy is two-litres deep.

To source parcels of good table wine and package it, selling it at around $18 in the market place.

This equates to the price of a single 750ml bottle of mid-range table wine.

Quintessence are not wine growers but rather wine marketers, they are on the hunt Australia-wide for good quality, fruit-powered wines, both red and white.

Certainly this pack will work if they maintain the quality.

After all Quintessence means the purest form of substance.

Their initial pair of wines is a fine beginning.

The white is a tidy sauvignon blanc/semillon (the classic white blend) from down Margaret River way.

It flashes fruit like a can-can dancer exhibits underwear.

The dry white is remarkably well structured with a bright zestiness and clean, refreshing finish.

Most winemakers would be happy with this quality and when you think you are getting 2.6 bottles of wine in your Quintessence cask for $1, the quality makes it value for your money.

While there are stocks of fine young whites all over Australia, reds are a different yarn; they are in short supply by comparison.

So Quintessence has chosen to go to a blend of regions and varieties.

True to their policy, the vintage, varieties and regional origins are on the cask’s label, it tells us this is a 1999 cabernet merlot from the Murray, Darling and Cowra.

This red bounces with fruit, it is medium bodied and charmingly uncomplicated.

There is an attractive softness of finish that makes for easy drinking and I can see harmony with food such as pastas with rich sauces and dishes like roasted baby goat.

Even black mussels in wine, rosemary, garlic and tomatoes.

If restaurateurs are searching for a house wine they can be respected for, this deserves being considered.

Quintessence the cask, has taken off in Australia with embarrassing success.

In the east, the red is more sought after but here in Western Australia the sauvignon blanc/semillon is the preferred wine.

The wines won’t always be the same and I find that attractive, different vintages, blends and batches of high quality will keep Quintessence interesting and value.

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