Cask Wines

Martin Field 2005-04-01T00:16:44+00:000000004430200504 Wine Tasting

‘What is it with cask wines? Are they any good?’ The question arose, yet again, at a recent wine course.

I replied that casks (foil or plastic bags of wine in a cardboard box) have their place – in the home – if not in the restaurant. I argued that cask wine is a useful standby in the kitchen, in the same sense as instant coffee, tea bags, and dried milk, and not only is cask wine handy as a cooking ingredient but also for a quick snort when you don’t have an open bottle handy.

The cask’s lowly status means that people can be a touch sniffy about it. They forget (if they ever knew) that this revolutionary Australian application (developed in the late 1960s to early ’70s), led to a dramatic surge in wine grape plantings, which in turn laid the foundation of Australia’s current disproportionate success in world wine export markets.

To the dismay of the brewing industry, cask wine also radically changed Australian drinking patterns. Traditional beer drinkers tried this newfangled and cheap alternative and liked it; this resulted in a long-term decline in beer sales that continues to this day. As we have seen, Australasian brewing giants have since diversified their investment strategies. Into wine.

Over the years, as the population has become more wine literate, cask wine consumption has declined but it still accounts for nearly half Australian domestic wine sales. And why wouldn’t it? The cask provides a decent, inexpensive, quaffable beverage that, while it is no better than it ought to be, is also the cheapest deliverable alcohol in this country.

Too cheap, some would say. Cask wine’s downside is that it is the preferred tipple of alcohol abusers, typically alcoholics and binge drinkers. Health and medical authorities have long recognised this and have responsibly lobbied the federal government to impose a volumetric tax on wine in place of the current tax on value.

But wine producers have also spent countless dollars lobbying to maintain the status quo, as they don’t want their bulk wine profits to diminish – at whatever cost. But we shouldn’t be surprised at their stance. Nobody ever accused corporate Australia of being too ethical.

I won’t recommend current brands here but I have to say that the best wine I ever tasted from a cask was the 1973 De Bortoli Cabernet Sauvignon. The rarely available Pirramimma ten litre cask red runs a close second.

If you’re not sure which cask to buy I’ve found that as a general rule whites are less risky than reds.