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Will Tiny Bottles Bring Big Benefits?

According to Trefethen Family Vineyards, I was among the first to receive their brand new wine samplers. The wine came in teeny-weeny little bottles. Each bottle holds 50ml, that’s 1/15 of a standard bottle. They are closed with a Lilliiputian screw cap which is in turn sealed with a plastic wrapper. Trefethen wisely shipped two of the baby bottles for each wine.

The reason for downsizing the samples is, to be blunt, money. While some might see it as cheap, I’m looking at it as responsibly frugal. If all goes well, it should be a win, win, win, win, win, win, win scenario. Trefethen, and other wineries who take the same approach, win because they save money. They win again if, instead of saving every penny, they take the opportunity to send more samples to more writers. The earth wins because less glass is used and less mass is shipped so less carbon will get pumped into the atmosphere. I win because I may get a wider range of samples. I win again because I don’t have to feel guilty about having to dump, or make vinegar out of, all of the wine that’s left over when I’ve finished my blind tastings. You win, because there will be more wine reviews for you to consider when deciding what to buy. And you win again, because wineries may be able to keep their retail prices down and/or stay in business a while longer.

see a few downsides with respect to the new samplers. There isn’t enough wine there for me to evaluate the samples immediately after opening and then again after decanting. There certainly isn’t enough for me to do a panel tasting. Another drawback is that the packaging is not retail packaging. Publishing photos of the wee bottles in a review won’t do the reader any good. Nor can I see what closure is used on the retail bottle. If wineries adopt this type of sample, they need to provide full info about the wine, including digital photos, either included with the package or posted someplace online that they clearly identify in the mailing.

taste-bottle

IAnother obvious concern about new packaging like this is sample quality. Trefethen is using “T.A.S.T.E. technology.” This technology, offered by a company called Tasting Room, Inc., is intended to ensure that the wine in the sampler is identical to the retail product. The acronym stands for Total Anaerobic Sample Transfer Environment. That is I’m-desperate-for-a-catchy-acronym-speak for moving something from one place to another without exposing it to oxygen.

Tasting Room, Inc. essentially has created an environment that allows them to open and pour a retail bottle of wine into a beaker, transfer that liquid into a whole bunch of munchkin bottles, and then seal those bottles – all in the absence of oxygen. I don’t know how they do it. Maybe they’ve got one of those clear boxes with the rubber gloves sticking into it like they used in Andromeda Strain. Or maybe they’ve hired a bunch of space aliens that breathe argon. Whatever their method, Tasting Room, Inc. says the that resulting samplers are representative of the real deal. Presumably Trefethen has tested them to their own satisfaction.

glove-box

Other wineries are doing the same, or similar, things. Shana Ray blogged about Seghesio’s 6-bottle sampler. That one uses the same technology but is sold to consumers via the Seghesio website. This gives you the opportunity to try the wine at home before you buy a bottle online. Or, you can buy a whole bunch and start an airline.

Crushpad is offering a similar Tiny Bottles service through a company called Brixr. Brixr? Anyway, Crushpad does the bottling and Brixr works with the wineries and can, if the winery likes, also sell the samples to end-users.

I'll review the Trefethen samples soon and let you know how T.A.S.T.E. wines taste.

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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved. Glove Box photo by Argonne National Laboratory.