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Jackson Triggs' Sauvignon Blanc is a good example of a quality boxed wine.Handout

Ask ten wine lovers to define “fine wine” and you can expect to hear 11 answers. The responses may range from “wines that I like” to ones made from “the best grapes” or “by the best wineries” to bottles of wine “with a potential to age.” Rarity, pedigree and price play a role in elevating a wine’s reputation.

Ask those same grape nuts their opinion about bag-in-box wine and you can expect an overwhelming consensus: Cheap. Plonk. Trash. Drinkable, but barely.

Despite wine producers’ efforts to improve the quality of wine going into alternative packages, like cans, pouches and cartons, they cannot shake the bad reputation. Consumers equate a glass bottle with quality wine, as a viral video this week clearly reveals.

A TikTok post questioned whether there was an “Olive Garden Scandal” as it broadcast footage from an Olive Garden restaurant where empty wine bottles are shown behind a counter where boxed wines were sitting open at the other end of the bar. “So, I noticed when we were at Olive Garden, they poured our wine from the bottle, but then we saw the boxes, and then they were keeping the empty bottles, so obviously they’re filling the bottles with the boxes,” comments @witchdoct0r777.

The horror expressed by the TikTok user is about the perceived bait-and-switch tactic. But also, I imagine, that boxed wine touched her lips.

Many current and former Olive Garden employees wrote comments to dispel any wrongdoing. The red and white wines in the boxes are used to make sangria. The wines served to customers are poured from the bottle that they come in.

What’s surprising is that wine on tap hasn’t become more prominent for restaurant chains with serious wine-by-the-glass programs. Introduced more than a decade ago, kegged wine remains a small category, but one with increasing interest from a sustainability and cost standpoint. (The shipping and manufacture of glass bottles equates to more than half of a wine producer’s greenhouse gas emissions. Canadian wineries are saying supply issues have seen the cost of empty bottles double during the pandemic.)

Restaurants can serve wines by the glass that are fresh and lively, which isn’t the always the case serving from wine bottles that have been opened for hours or even days. There are also fewer empty bottles to deal with at the end of service. Wineries save money on bottles, capsules, corks and labels as well as shipping. (Some wineries are using keg systems for core brands at their tasting bars.)

The downside? Kegged wine is dogged by the same poor public perception as bag-in-box, paper bottles, cans, Tetra Pak cartons or pouches. There’s a serious need to educate consumers why they will increasingly be seeing these formats for top-selling wines, what the commercial benefit of that packaging is and why they are using them for their quality wines. That type of education worked to introduce quality wines with screwcap closures instead of cork, 20 years ago. It can work again.

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