Cask wine makes a quality comeback (plus five of the best to try)

Sommelier Lillia McCabe pouring a glass of wine from bag to glass.
Sommelier Lillia McCabe pouring a glass of wine from bag to glass. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Forget magnums, embrace the "bagnum": large format wines that are fridge stable and respectable enough you can serve them to your friends. 

In today's Good Food/Sunday Life, columnist Max Allen highlights the growing trend of good quality cask wine. And no, that is not an oxymoron. It's a trend leaning into high quality, small wine producers both local and international. 

To begin with, he says, a lot of this trend was driven by marketing skewed towards upwardly mobile wine drinkers. Casks, cans and bags – anything but the bottle – were pitched as cute, retro alternatives. But now, it's become increasingly obvious the environmental impact glass production is having on the planet. Why not negate some of that, when it comes to wine you intend to drink now, not later? "If you introduced the glass bottle as a new idea now," says Allen, "it would never get up." 

"There is a growing call for this from a seriously environmental perspective," says Allen. "The environmental impact of taking glass out of the equation are enormous in terms of carbon energy use… there are people now that are saying let's stop talking about it and let's do it."

Ben Luker, manager of research and insights agency Wine Intelligence says the major barrier is the perception that anything in a cask is going to be low quality.  And that the average consumer is reticent to serve their guests wine out of a box - especially if it's a label or brand they don't recognise. "The positive of this is that a quality producer could potentially overcome these obstacles by leveraging their image of being a recognizable high quality 'wine in a glass bottle' producer."

"This is about perception, says Allen. "This is about the sheer volume of wine that is sold for Tonight Consumption in retailers, restaurants and bars. There's no reason why that has to be glass."

Decanting the wine from cask to glass.
Decanting the wine from cask to glass. Photo: Edwina Pickles

That's not to say bottles should be taken out of the equation altogether - there are a lot of wines out there that require glass to be aged properly. "If you want to age your bottle of Grange for 50 years, glass is still the best," says Allen. "It's an amazing inert container. But glass is also incredibly energy intensive to produce and very fragile."

Restaurants such as Bondi's two hatted Icebergs have long embraced the bag over the bottle and now independent bottle shops such as PnV liquors are producing their own large format casks and bags, in collaboration with young and emerging winemakers such as Owen Latta, of Latta Vino in Victoria and Sam Leyshon from the Canberra District's Mallaluka Wine. All going to plan, these new wines will be ready to sell by summer.    

PnV co-owner Mike Bennie says a big part of the appeal is that a cask keeps fresh for a long period of time when refrigerated in its original packaging. "In that respect they're a better option for home," says Bennie, "because you can drink as much or as little as you like. You can use a glass for cooking, have half a glass on a Monday without feeling guilty about opening a new bottle."  

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What to try now:

Bag in a Box
The next shipment is currently en route from Italy, but expect fresh juicy reds and crunchy orange wines, perfect for picnics. Irdb.com.au

Carussin 3L vino rosso
The Italian producer's dedicated casks can be purchased straight from sommelier Giorgio De Maria's website, Fun Wines, delivering across Sydney and Melbourne. Their vino rosso is a perfect table wine for long nights and even longer spaghetti. giorgiodemaria.com

Delinquente Portuguese red blend
These Melbourne wine slingers deliver across the country, which means getting your hand on this red blend from Portgual is as easy as it is to drink. Actofwine.com.au

Jilly Miami Bagnum
​A local, natural sauvignon blanc from winemaker Jared Dixon with nearly as much spirit as the bottleshop selling it. pnvmerchants.com

Mr West Party Bagnum
Ahhh, the bagnum. A boon for small gatherings and communal good times. This is a blend of shiraz/saignee shiraz and vermentino care of Tim Sproal from Minim Wines. mrwest.com.au