Changing the way people drink wine here in the UK is an exciting challenge and one that we accept wholeheartedly. If you’re a like-minded soul who shares our passion for great Italian craft wine that defies taste expectations – and want to keep track of the boxed wine revolution via – you can also sign up to receive our monthly news round-ups.
UPCOMING EVENTS come and say hello and enjoy a tipple with us at:
Ludlow Food Festival – Friday 8th to Sunday 10th September 2017, Ludlow Castle
Festival of Wine – Saturday 4th November 2017, Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh
Taste of London – Thursday 16th to Sunday 19th November, London
On a good day, Italians call their country “Il bel paese”, the beautiful country – so named for its mild climate, unique cultural heritage and beautiful landscape. On a bad day, they might call it something much less poetic, and that will often be thanks to one of two things: taxes and bureaucracy.
For the wine industry, it’s rarely the former. In fact – unlike the UK, where Her Majesty’s Government takes £2.88 per litre just for the privilege of allowing wine to pass Dover – there is no tax on wine in Italy at all. But whilst New World wine makers can make whatever they want, wherever they want and sell it in whatever container they like, what goes on in Italy’s 900,000 vineyards is subject to strict legal norms known as Disciplinari di Produzione.
At When in Rome, we often get asked why our wines have one grape name on the tasting card and another name on the box, at least when the wine first arrives in the UK. It’s thanks to the Disciplinari. For example, a Barbera or a Verdicchio might be made from the right grape, in the right region and by the right winemaker, but if it’s sold in the “wrong” container, it can’t be called Barbera or Verdicchio, just red or white wine. At least not until we’ve had a chance to persuade the local bureaucrats that our new fangled boxes are, in fact, a really sensible way to transport and sell their wonderful local wines.
Like everything in Italy, the idea of rules governing wine production is as old as the vine-covered hills. Under the Romans in 154 BC, growing grapes beyond the Alps was made illegal, forcing the poor, thirsty inhabitants of Gaul to send ever more slaves to Rome in exchange for wine. The modern rules in Italy that make it so hard to call box wine by the right names date from 1963, and – infuriating as it may occasionally be for a company like When in Rome trying to change things – they’ve done a very good job in protecting the public and improving the industry.
So for now, at least as far as Italian bureaucracy is concerned, it’s box wine evolution rather than revolution thanks to the Disciplinari. Having less rules, we don’t really have a word for Disciplinari in English. But then again, in Italian they don’t have a word for hangover, so who’s smarter than who?
You know the drill by now. Bank Holiday Weekend is fast approaching. It’s time to squeeze a weekend’s worth of canvas, clothes, food and booze into the boot of your car before heading off for a weekend under the stars.
On Friday morning, me and my rabble will head down the M5 – along with four other families – for our annual half-term pilgrimage to Dartmouth for a weekend of sunshine, relaxation, BBQ’s and al fresco drinkies. We’re even taking the kids out of school to avoid the traffic.
Some of us camp and a couple of families, ours included, will caravan it. We took the plunge and bought a second-hand van a few years ago. Bad curtains and carpets aside, I for one couldn’t wait to sleep soundly in a double bed. We love it so far.
Some things don’t change though. Jamming everything into the car (and now van) still stands.
But now, instead of stashing wine bottles inside wellies and sleeping bags – or giving them to the kids to hold – we pop a sturdy box of When in Rome (it’s Nero d’Avola or Falanghina for me) in the boot and stick a refillable bottle under the front seat. Job done.
On our first trip this year, I was delighted to discover that a When in Rome La Mezza (2.25L) box fits neatly inside our van’s fridge. Result. I was so excited I bought a box of Merlot for my Aunt and Uncle (it’s their favourite) who headed up to Scotland in their van last weekend. They were over the moon.
Camping-wise, the La Mezza (3 bottles) box also fits neatly into an electric-hook-up fridge. But if you’re short on space – or have scaled up to a La Grande box (5L / 6.5 bottles) – and need to chill a bottle of white, just decant it into a refillable bottle and pop it in the fridge.
For me, there’s nothing better than kicking back with a nice chilled glass of vino once you’re all set up and the kids have gone feral. In anticipation, I’ll pre-chill my box of Falanghina at home before popping it into the caravan fridge to keep it cold.
After all, don’t all the best things in life come in boxes? Caravans, chocolates, jewellery… and wine!
Anyone who reads me regularly will know that, whilst I’m madly in love with Italy, I also have a none too secret crush on France – their love of wine boxes, kissing and bidets. Now, I’ve got a man crush on their new President too. Emmanuel Macron – young, centrist, outward looking and a wine lover to boot! Whilst UK voters are facing a grim choice between two life-expired political philosophies at next month’s General Election, it seems France’s progressive approach to wine packaging has been finally reflected in its politics.
Meanwhile, in the UK wine market, nothing says strong and stable like a bottle, and at a recent food fair I came across a few wine lovers who steadfastly refused even to try wine from a box. This reluctance to embrace innovation comes at a price. Recent research by our somewhat larger peer, Laithwaites, has shown that UK households pour away over 600 million bottles of wine a year – which is enough to fill 333 Olympic-sized swimming pools and also happens to be nearly half of all the wine bought in the UK every year. Wastage on a truly awful scale.
The premise of Laithwaites’ research is that no one knows how long wine in bottles stays fresh for after it’s been opened and so – instead of trusting their nose and taste buds – people needlessly pour away good wine. Bravo Laithwaites for opening our eyes to such wastage, but I’ve got a bone to pick with their conclusion, which is this nice infographic informing the public how many days different kinds of wine keep for – once you’ve opened a single use bottle.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Madames et Messieurs, Signori e Signore, I bring you the wine box! Stronger than a brittle, heavy bottle and keeps the wine stable and fresh for a full six weeks after opening. Don’t believe me? Try it out!
I’ve got a bit of an etymology fetish, so when I looked into the history of the word “innovate”, I discovered that the original Latin meaning was ‘introduce as new’ or ‘restore’. So less ‘invent the wheel’, not even ‘reinvent the wheel’, more ‘wow I just found these wheels at the back of the garage, they were a bloody good idea, I’m going to start using them again’.
When in Rome hasn’t thought up an app (yet), nor made an electric car (though on that point I can’t help reflecting that the venerable 1970s British milk float was a lot more useful than a Tesla). But I think we’re an innovative company in the original sense of the word.
To see how, take a look at these holiday snaps from a recent trip to Italy of a good mate of mine. The subject is “le buchette del vino di Firenze”, or the wine portals of Florence, a quick and efficient way for Florentine bankers and wine merchants to flog their delicious wine to customers about 300 years ago. People brought along their own bottle (“fiasco”), passed it through the portal, had it filled and took the wine home to drink with dinner that evening. Fab idea, though sometimes the glassblower messed up and the wine bottle didn’t fit in the portal properly. That’s the origin of the word “fiasco” in English. I told you I had an etymology fetish.
In the same way that most visitors to Florence walk past these portals without noticing them, still less knowing anything about their origin, 97% of wine sold in the UK still comes in single use wine bottles. And nobody really knows why. Even I knew nothing about these portals when we started When in Rome, but I absolutely love the idea and it makes me far less terrified of our mission to change the wasteful way the UK drinks wine today. We’re not innovating at all, we’re just reminding people what a good idea wine portals were.
This summer I’m going to take my phone to Florence, bring up our wine portal at www.wheninromewine.com on the browser and take a picture of our wine portal inside a wine portal!
The last snap of course isn’t from Florence, it’s from another beautiful city founded by the Romans – Bath. More specifically Wolf Wine (www.wolfwine.co.uk ), who in their heroic embrace of wine refills are following in the footsteps of the great Florentine wine merchants who started these portals, many of whom are still in business 300 years later. Together, and thanks to our customers, we’re trying to make Wine Portals great again!