Why the Experts Say You Need to Go Wine on Barrel

Cask wine has become more mainstream than ever and there are many reasons to support it. It’s a functional and eco-friendly option that is being taken more and more seriously by wine pros and drinkers alike. Turns out tap lines aren’t just for IPAs and fresh-hopped pilsners; they are also for sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc.

First, a bit of history. Draft wine is not new, it first took hold in certain markets a few decades ago. The problem, however, was perception, as is usually the case with wine. Most people thought it was impossible to serve good wine from a handful of draws. And, sadly, many people continue to feel that way today.

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Jordan Sager is the co-president of Winesellers, Ltd in the Midwest. The Illinois importer began selling wine on tap in 2013, an organic Gruner Veltliner from Austria. “The trend is strong now, and the more diners see draft wines in restaurants and on wine lists, the more comfortable they’ll be with it,” Sager says of cask wine. “Similar to beer, at one point draft was abandoned for lower quality brands, but the craft beer revolution has proven that quality drinks work very well on draft.”

The draw lines themselves are super convenient, all the better for pouring efficiently and at temperature. “When it comes to wine, a well-constructed draft system will pour the perfect glass of wine at the perfect temperature,” Sager said. “The systems are dual-zone temperature controlled, so the whites come out at 45-50 degrees and the reds at 55-60 degrees, much cooler than that wine by the glass sitting at room temperature on the bar top. Plus, there is no oxidation in a draft system because the gas protects the wine from oxygen entering the barrel and line.

This is often superior to the old method, which involved capping a half-open bottle one day and pouring out the next. With more and more glass pouring lists in the mix and busy restaurants looking for ease of use, you can see why it would be popular. And that’s not to mention the sustainability implications.

Glass is not a good thing. It is resource-intensive to manufacture, heavy and therefore expensive to ship, and although recyclable, it is often dumped in landfills. Kegs can be used again and again and offer so much more in terms of liquid to container ratio. It’s safe to say that truly premium wines built for aging need a glass bottle to evolve over time. Very good, because most of what goes to the barrel is wine for immediate consumption. And again, due to the environment and being on a gas line, once this cask is tapped, the wine inside will fare much better than a bottle (at the rate of months , not just days). We don’t need to put a good Bordeaux in barrel, but many, many other wines are great candidates.

Bruce Schneider is managing partner of Gotham Project in New York. The company does the lion’s share of its work (80%, with the rest going into aluminum cans). “All wines intended to be consumed within 2-3 years of production, which are the vast majority, thrive with wine at will,” he said. “Another way to think about it is all wine that works well under the screw-on top is also a good candidate for wine in cask.”

Barrel wine has not taken over the market, but more and more options are coming online. Some bars, like Coopers Hall in Portland, have relied on draft wine. Conscious drinkers are encouraged to check out their local wine bars and restaurants to see what is available. Email your importers and see what they might have and where it’s distributed. It’s not something most would implement at home, but draft winemaking systems continue to be in high demand, especially in newer restaurants.

Producers are also increasingly dipping their toes in wine on tap. Many start out slow, making a few kegs here and there for certain distributors or restaurant or bar accounts. Eventually, once a system is in place and the infrastructure is there, it can become an important part of their wine program. Cooler, larger venues like music festivals and professional sporting events — venues that traditionally lacked quality wine in abundance — can take casks of fine wine.

Wineries like Mesina Hof in Texas are trying it, drawn to being genuinely green and saving money. They claim they save real money on bottle costs. Keep in mind that most wine barrels store around 120 glasses of wine. That’s over two cases of wine and almost 27 individual bottles that they don’t have to buy, refill, and hope people recycle.

Have you ever tried? Wine on tap is the way of the future, well worth checking out. And it will only become more widespread and accessible.

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About Irene J. O'Donnell

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