We are already familiar with cartons of wine. But just as you got used to that, wine is now being sold in aluminum cans. Yes, cans. Going through the internet, here are some of the worries I have heard about the canning of wine (despite its advantages–portability, recyclable) :
1. Are we going to have wine energy drinks next?
2. They have a lining the inside of the can…with what and can I pronounce the chemicals name.
3. Isn’t “on the go” drinks the antithesis of wine? Barreling through a six pack of Riesling does not sound appealing.
4. Can anything healthy actually come out of a can? And wine is healthy.
5. Will soon we be expected to age wine in cans and manage the temperature of aluminum cans?
That is not to say cans are not convenient for certain occasions, and I am opposed to them. But the habits people have for the technology (in this case aluminum cans) prevail on the product, and if wine fades into mass bottling, then this may kill what is special about wine. And remember there was a day when Coca-Cola only came in bottles. Now there is only nostalgia for those days. So let’s remember why glass wine bottles work before we get carried away.
Luckily, wine in a can is mostly in Europe and Australia. I know a lot of you shudder at the day that it crosses the Atlantic, and wine is sold in 6-packs at 7-11. But rather than focusing on the bad, we should learn a little about glass bottles and how glass is the optimal container for wine.
Glass Too Fragile for Wine
Wine was invented before glass, but only by several millennia. Both date back to the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia, and both mark two of civilization’s great initial advances. Yet, wine was not initially bottled in glass, but pottery. Sometimes, the wine makers used jugs & sometimes much larger containers made from earthware. Through much of antiquity, wine was either kept in these kinds of jugs or stored in wooden barrels. Glass was rarely used as glass was fragile, and wine was precious beverage (just as it is now).
Wine started to be moved over to glass in the Middle Ages as glassblowers got better (quality improved with artisan guilds). Still, wine bottled in glass was the exception and not the rule as this thin glass had to be handled like crystal. One strategy was to protect the glass in straw as Chianti is still to this day (although it no longer needs to be).
Technological Advances in Glass
Glass’s fragility came from how it used to be made. Sand needs 1500 degrees to become glass, and the glassblower’s wood-fire ovens only reach that temperature. The invention and popularization of the coal burning ovens, which could sustain higher temperatures (around 1800 degrees), led to thicker, sturdier glass. In fact, soon glass wine bottles were able to handle pressurized Champagne and not be a deadly explosion risk.
The wine industry didn’t switch over to what you find in your wine store overnight. Initially, glass wine bottles were not used for shipment and sale but the consumer used their own glass bottles for storage and serving. Customers bought the wine from a merchant filling up their glass bottle from the merchant’s wine barrel. This was because it was very difficult to figure out the amount of wine in the non-standardized bottles of the day. So an unknown bottle had an unknown amount of wine.
Strong Glass Lead to Better Wines
Glass contributed to other wine innovations. Glass was soon combined with cork stoppers, and wine producers started realizing the benefits of aging wine. Accordingly, wines bottles became cylindrical to ease storage for aging, moving away from a bulbous base. Also, the darkened color serves as a protection against ultraviolet light and damaging the wine.
Only in the last half-century has a wine bottle been internationally standardized at 750ml. Never afraid to acknowledge wine’s roots, that is about the volume of a glassblower’s lungs. It fit perfectly the needs of wine drinkers (most bottles were around 750ml). Still, different regions kept slightly varying shape. A Bordeaux wine bottle is not the same as a bottle of Burgundy, and the practice of different bottles for different varietals became commonplace (maintaining the 750ml however).
The advantages of wine bottle are not only the glass’ practicality and elegance (but that helps) but its size, which is sized for a communal meal. A can is antithetical to the sharing and savoring we associate with wine drinking. Sure, you may go through more than one bottle. But no matter how many bottles, with a glass bottle, you will appreciate the amount of care that went into every glass.
Creative Commons Photos on Flickr