A window into US enjoyment of Spanish wines does not contain glass. Boxed-wine options are rising steadily, but it’s larger and smaller vessels that are arguably the hottest options these days.
Wine stores are devoting much more space to cans, where Ah-So Rosé leads the way from Spain. Perhaps more surprisingly, kegs are gaining a strong foothold in restaurants. Among the strongest proponents of kegs, is Andre Tamers, owner of De Maison Selections, an importer working with many family-held properties in Spain who is bringing in 20-liter vessels from several regions.
“It makes all the sense in the world,” Tamers says, “as America becomes a country that drinks wine on a regular basis. It’s a very exciting category, and we even have some people selling growlers.”
Tamers has been experimenting with kegs for 18 years, starting with txakoli, “and it was a big success but we didn’t know how to return the kegs to Spain.” The plastic containers he’s using now can be “emptied, punctured, crushed and thrown in the recycling bin.”
For the last six years, De Maison has been expanding its keg lineup, which now includes two whites (Garciarevalo Finca Tresolmos Verdejo Lías and Artomaña Txakolina Xarmant), a sparkling wine (Avinyó Petillant) on pre-sell, two ciders and three vermouths from Spain. “We have a very, very good presence in keg wines from multiple producers,” Tamers adds.
Convincing vintners to go with anything but glass bottles hasn’t always been easy, partially because many Spanish producers worry that anything else will feed their fears that Spanish wines have a “too cheap” stigma attached to them. Happily, Tamers says, with kegs the image problem is nonexistent.
“We can have high-quality wine coming out of the tap, a win-win for Spain and for the producer,” Tamers explains. “It doesn’t hurt Spain. It helps Spain.”
Tamers likes the concept of boxed wines (“great for the environment, a really good option for the consumer”) but “the problem I’ve seen is that degradation is really fast, 30 to 60 days.”
For US consumers, though, 30 days is a more-than-acceptable lifespan for 3-liter bags in boxes.
Interestingly, for years, both categories — boxed wines and Spanish wines — had perception problems around cost and quality in the United States. Now that victory has been achieved in both realms, 3-liter Iberian bag-in-boxes are starting to make significant inroads.
Brands such as La Nevera and Borsao Viña Borgia are popping up on more retail shelves and restaurant lists. And one Midwest importer even has jumped on the bandwagon by aligning with a Spanish producer to bring in red, white and pink boxed wines.
Besides being environmentally friendly, boxed wines’ durability makes it easy for consumers to enjoy one glass (or none) on a given night and not worry about spoilage. So it’s not surprising that in the last year, savvy Spanish producer Juan Gil has expanded its line of Shania boxes, adding sangria (which has been a successful venture for Reál) and Cabernet Sauvignon to its Monastrell, Garnacha Blanca and rosé options.
“We added Cabernet in January because all the data tells us that the explosive growth is in traditional varietals,” says Guy Willenbacher, Midwest regional manager for Juan Gil importer Blue Ventures Wine Marketing. “And it might actually outsell our Monastrell this year.”
In Minnesota, the Shania line recently moved to a larger distributor, prompting the “spurned” importer to improvise. This year, the Wine Company aligned with a Spanish producer to bring in red, white and pink wines under the Viña 425 label.
“We are killing it with these wines, says portfolio manager WilCQ Bailey. “We just kicked them off in mid-May, and we are already well over 1,000 cases. We had planned to crush it, but honestly, we are ahead of our own rosy projections so far. We are selling tons to retail, obviously, but perhaps less obviously also tons to restaurants as ‘house wines.’ ”
The process Bailey used to find the wines speaks to the up and downsides for Spanish wineries in the boxed-wine world.
On the plus spectrum, “You can’t throw a stick and not find a good cheap wine in Spain,” he says. “So we came to the conclusion that Spain would be an excellent candidate for where to start a box program.”
On the other hand, the Viña 425 wines do not carry the producer’s name, Bailey said, out of concern that there remains a lingering stigma with some consumers around boxed wines. Two wines from bulk US producers, Black Box and Beta Box, still dominate the market. Because of the popularity of those two inexpensive domestic offerings, boxed-wine producers strive to keep their prices at or under $20 (which comes out to only $5 per 750 ml).
“There’s a $19.99 threshold that seems to be where everybody wants to be,” Willenbacher said.
There is plenty of incentive to hit that mark, he added, because boxed wines enjoyed 20% growth every year until 2017 when wine sales overall fell slightly. And now, a new demographic might further enhance sales of bags-in-boxes.
“There’s an established boxed-wine customer, a mom looking to simplify things,” reckons Willenbacher. “Now there’s also a new consumer. For the first time in my 25 years, we can market to people when they turn 21.”
What makes these Millennials different from previous generations, he adds, is that “first and foremost they do not want to drink what mom and dad drink and boxed wine provides a lot of the things they’re looking for: portability, affordability, and they are slightly better for the environment. “We’re really bullish on this.”