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Originally published Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Wine Adviser

Big, heavy wine bottles are a real waste

Wine columnist Paul Gregutt has bone to pick with the really heavy Oregon pinot noir bottles. Apart from landfill issues, he says, what do you suppose are the added transportation costs to ship the glass and then to schlep the finished wines around the country?

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the week

Castle Rock 2010 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; $11

THIS UBIQUITOUS brand does a fine job with its Willamette Valley pinot. A spicy, peppery wine, it smoothes out into a broadly flavorful middle with streaks of light cherry and caramel apple. (Noble distributes)

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THE WINE industry does a lot of things right, environmentally speaking. By and large, wineries and vineyard owners are excellent stewards of the land. They respect wildlife and monitor issues such as erosion, water use, carbon footprints and so on.

So when a number of extraordinarily heavy boxes of wine thumped down on my Waitsburg porch recently, I was mildly shocked. Still?! Massively, monstrously heavy wine bottles?

Yup, and I was pretty sure what it had to be: Oregon pinot noir. For some reason, Oregon pinot noirs — not the cheap ones — seem to be setting the new world standard for over-the-top packaging. The thinking? (I suppose): If you want your single-vineyard, single-clone, special-block, reserve old-vine, hand-picked, limited-edition winemaker's-select pinot noir to be noticed, well, you had better put it in the right sort of bottle.

Massively heavy, deeply punted, thick as a brick; intended, I suppose, to make your wine look more impressive. But it does not. What it does, instead, is make the winery look like it has no interest in its impact on the environment.

This is especially galling in Oregon, a state that often eclipses even California in its eco-dedication. Oregon wineries are forever trumpeting their Salmon Safe, LIVE certified, pesticide-free practices. I mean, they even take the trouble to recycle corks in Oregon. And yet the mania for gargantuan bottles persists, in wineries both large and small.

In a recent tasting of 20 wines, I totaled up the production numbers, which came to more than 30,000 cases of these big-bottle pinots, from just three producers in a single vintage. That's well over a third of a million bottles! Apart from landfill issues, what do you suppose are the added transportation costs to ship the glass and then to schlep the finished wines around the country?

The wines I tasted were good, not great. I can point you to many $40 to $60 Burgundies that are just as good or better and come in normal-sized bottles. So my earnest request, at this time of good cheer and gift-giving, oh big-bottle wineries, is to reconsider your bottle options. Do something positive for the environment. Choose less hulking bottles; preferably some using the new, lighter glass. I promise you, consumers will not think less of your wine. But they will think more highly of your winery.

Affordable pinot noir, both domestic and imported, is not the oxymoron it once was. And I love pinot noir as the go-to vino for holiday meals, because it really is the perfect late-autumn wine. Even inexpensive pinot can be delightful, if it is well-made, varietally true (not doctored up with other grapes), and appreciated for its elegance rather than criticized for a lack of power. Here are several examples:

Firesteed 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir; $12. Registering just 12.7 percent alcohol, this Euro-styled wine offers varietally correct scents and flavors, with a lightly woodsy character.

Oak Knoll 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; $15. Delicate, almost ethereal, scented with a wisp of cherry and caramel and moist earth.

Red Door Cellars 2009 Oregon Pinot Noir; $15. A pleasant, broadly fruity wine, already soft and on the road to maturity.

Foris 2009 Rogue Valley Pinot Noir; $17. Nuanced scents and accents of berry, herb, earth and stem come together in a subtle, balanced wine.

Coelho 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir; $20. Pure fruit flavors of cranberry and raspberry, tart and forward, introduce this light and approachable pinot. Elegant and stylish.

The revised second edition of Paul Gregutt's "Washington Wines & Wineries" is now in print. His blog is www.paulgregutt.com. Email: paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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