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Take my Styrofoam away

In 1973 Paul Simon didn’t want his Kodachrome taken away. With Kodachrome almost relegated to the dustbin of history, there’s something else that deserves a place there (or worse) as well: styrofoam.

We talk a lot in the wine world about clever packaging but what we really need to be talking about is clever packing–environmentally responsible packing material that is.

Like hotels not washing your sheets and towels every day, this is an example where business profit-maximization and environmentalism are aligned. Hundreds of thousands of cases of wine have no doubt been shipped across the country in this Year I of direct shipping and many gift boxes are set to fly with the holidays approaching. Wineries and shops that ship directly to consumers would be well advised to consider other alternatives to Styrofoam.

MacArthur Beverages in Washington charges $12 for the shipping materials plus UPS rates to ship. Astor Wines in New York City by contrast charges only the UPS rates for out of the NYC orbit (delivery can be free in and around the city). What’s the difference?

Astor, which is developing their organic and biodynamic section, also has a “green” approach to shipping. They ship wine with cardboard inserts to cushion the bottles. While they may make sacrifices to other line items of their cash flow, I wouldn’t be surprised if a main savings was the fact that these shippers can be stacked efficiently (see photo), unlike Styrofoam, before they are boxed and shipped.

So, shippers: think green and ditch the Styrofoam (especially peanuts, which deserve a special place in Dante’s inferno). And wine buyers: the shipping container is not going to make or break your order but if possible, let the shipper know there are alternatives out there. And if you do end up with some Styrofoam, try to take it back to a store where they can re-use it.

Paul Simon already had is Kodachrome taken away. Now let’s banish Styrofoam too.

Putting stemware to the test

It’s not often I retrieve a box from UPS on the doorstep, open it, and dump the contents in the sink. But that’s what I did the other day.

Fortunately it wasn’t wine. Instead it was crystal. Eegad–had I lost all sense with too much Sancerre? No, I was actually trying out some glasses that I purchased called Tritan Forte made by Schott Zwiesel. They claim to be unbreakable, or at least “impact-resistant.”

Granted, I didn’t want to have crystal shards flying around the kitchen so I somewhat wimped out and let one glass fall two or three inches–a height that would have shattered many stems. But this Forte was indeed tres forte and it didn’t even crack thanks to a lead-free crystal that has titanium in it. The best news may have been the price–eight stems for $60 from Wine Enthusiast catalogue (via Amazon has a wider selection). A deep bowl and tapered top makes it sleek, elegant as well as functional.

We decided to put several stems to the test. Heck, now that even Target has a line of Riedel crystal stemware, high quality wine glasses appear poised to be the hot gift for the holidays this year. So we lined up some other contenders for the Forte: Riedel O, Riedel Vinum, and Bottega del Vino. Here at the Dr. Vino world headquarters, we enjoyed the excellent Chateau Cesseras, AOC Minervois La Liviniere, 2001. I’m not sure of the price since it was a gift from a friend who brought it back from the south of France but the wine has an excellent balance, with wonderful aromatics and southern French jamminess.

Starting with the biggest glass, I recently received a press sample of the Bottega del Vino Rosso Burgunder ($48 per stem). Wow. It is the Cadillac Escalade of wine glasses, sparkling and towering over the others. One friend who is 6’7″ loved it christening it “le chalice.”

While I would definitely agree that it is impressive to look at and puts whoever holds it way at the top in the game of ostentatious one-upmanship, I’m not convinced that it’s the best vessel, particularly for everyday use. I found that the aromas dissipated too easily, thanks to the flared rim on the glass. And it looks so brittle that an enthusiastic clinking of glasses during a toast might bring more than good wishes raining down on your companion.

The squat Riedel “O” glass ($19 for 2) looks like a Weeble Wobble for grown-ups. The aromas were better concentrated in this glass than in the Bottega. But without a stem, I got goobery fingerprints all over the bowl and the wine started to warm up in the glass since there was no stem to hold. This glass is not good for cocktail parties therefore–try it while seated at the table if at all to avoid warming up the wine.

The Riedel Vinum Zin/Riesling glass that I use as a frequent red-white crossover vessel in this case provided the excellent results and was the runner up. Not as big a bowl as the other three but it captured the aromas and was goober-free. At $38 for 4 on Amazon, the price was comparable to the Tritan Forte. However, since I have (dangerously) broken many a Riedel stem while hand washing, the Tritan Forte edges it out for apparent durability. It’s an excellent glass for everyday use around the house that doubles as a great gift. I’ll drink to that.


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