Go into a bar and ask what's on tap, and as well as the usual array of beers, you could increasingly be offered a selection of decent wines served straight from a keg. These aren't the bag-in-box abominations of yore, but better technology that's being embraced by some big names in both wine and hospitality who've been convinced of their benefits both environmental and commercial.
From the Hard Luck Cafe to Al Brown's Depot Eatery, kegs have started to roll into some of the hottest joints in town. And rather than dispensing dubious house wine, much of this new breed of cask contains some seriously good stuff: from single vineyard Marlborough sauvignon blanc to Central Otago pinot noir.
"Like the trend for craft beer, it presents the wine closer to the form that winemakers intended," comments Allan Scott winemaker, Josh Scott, whose confidence in the cutting-edge KeyKeg technology he's helping pioneer in the country with distributors, Hancocks, has meant he's committed his top Scott Base wines to keg. "The system we are using is unique and the latest technology. It's very gentle for the wine and should prove a great alternative for serving high-class wines."
I sampled some Scott Base on tap and it did indeed appear that being served from the keg was certainly not to the detriment of the wines. Using kegs also ensures the freshness of wines by the glass through avoiding the oxidation than blights bottles if they're left open too long for by-the-glass wines.
"We started looking at kegs from a quality angle rather than a faddish way of dispensing a product," explains Joe Jakicevich of Hancocks, which was persuaded to take the plunge on discovering the new stainless steel KeyKeg system in Europe. "In choosing the Scott Base wines, it's definitely about the quality approach for us rather than dispensing litres of the cheapest wine."
However, bypassing bottling and drastically reducing transport costs, means that wine served in this way can be considerably cheaper, enabling bars to sell something like the Scott Base wines for $10-$12 a glass rather than the $16-18 they would be from a bottle, according to Jakicevich.
Making wine more affordable and accessible is one of the motivators behind young wine entrepreneur, Byron Henry's promotion of the keg in his newly formed business, Revolution Wine Company. He first saw wine being served on tap at pizza joint in Berlin, which inspired him to research their use in Europe and the US, where the concept has already taken off, before introducing a different type of keg from Hancocks over here.
"I wanted to simplify wine drinking and provide something tasty and affordable," says Henry, whose wines sell for as little as $7.50 a glass. "I also wanted to gain new wine drinkers, such as younger males, and with wine cocktails for the late night market when wine wouldn't traditionally be poured."
There's also an attractive environmental angle that comes with the keg. "Our kegs are 50 per cent lighter than the same wine in the 40 bottle equivalent and is 100 per cent recyclable," observes Hancocks' regional manager, Michael Bayley. "The savings in energy in transport, weight, keg returns, sterilising and bottle production reduce the environmental foot print of getting wine to the consumer by a minimum of 80 per cent."
Feedback from the bars and restaurants that are using kegs appears positive, especially in terms of reducing waste and speeding up service. Consumer acceptance is also on its way.
"It's going to challenge a lot of operators and will be a polarising thing," acknowledges Jakicevich. "However, it seems much like the screwcap: some people were initially really against it, but it's now become a way of life."
ROLL OUT THE BARREL
FIERCELY PRICED PINOT
Wild River Waipara Valley pinot noir 2011 $16.99
Rare is it to find a single vineyard pinot noir at this price, especially one that's as classy as this, with its light and tangy plum fruit and hints of flowers and forest floor. (From Fine Wine Delivery Company.)
AFFORDABLE ORGANIC GRIS
Momo Marlborough Pinot Gris 2011 $22.95
a really characterful drier style of gris in which concentrated notes of baked apple and clove are counterpoised by an elegant freshness. (from point wines, fine wine delivery company and other selected fine wine stores.)
BARGAIN BORDEAUX BLEND
Abbey Cellars "Prophet" Hawkes Bay Cabernet Blend 2009 $19
This great value blend of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec and merlot is brimming with ripe and supple dark berry fruit. (From Matakana Liquor Centre, Super Liquor Warkworth, Liquorland Orewa, Kumeu Cellars, Liquorland Forrest Hill, New World Victoria Park, Liquorland Newmarket.)