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Monday 12 June 2023

Cask wine moves seriously upmarket


A two-litre wine cask? Certainly sir. That will be $85. 

That's not a joke. Wine industry newcomer UnBottled Wines is aiming to completely reimagine the cheap-and-cheerful bag-in-a-box wine concept. 

Melbourne-based co-founders Ann Marie Grace and Mike Banks are trying to convince lovers of premium wines that the cask format is worthy of reconsideration. 

The couple has started to collaborate with leading winemakers for regular seasonal releases of premium wines in the convenient packaging - targeted at anyone who wants to enjoy a glass or two over a few weeks. 

First up is McLaren Vale winemaker Brad Hickey, known as Brash Higgins, who has created four wines  for the the first UnBottled release. 

"We want to deliver seasonally curated, ultra-premium wines from acclaimed Australian winemakers," says qualified sommelier Ann Marie. 

"We partner with five-star wineries to offer limited box releases. Each quarter we will select four wines curated for the new season. 

"We source interesting and impressive wines [single varietals, unique blends and wines people might not know very well]; minimal intervention wines that speak to their sense of place."

The boxes are $85 each ($75 for those who take out subscriptions) and available online at

The winter Unbottled wines are Brash Higgin’s 2022 Chenin Blanc, Brash Higgins 2022 Cinsault, Brash Higgins 2022 Cabernet Franc and Brash Higgin’s 2022 Grenache Mataro - and Higgins will conduct an online launch tasting on Tuesday evening.

I've tried the chenin blanc and the cinsault. The white was definitely on the spectrum - one for lovers of "natural wines" with its dark colour and funky flavours. The cinsault, made from a rustic grape from the south of France, was impressively rich and chocolately - a serious winter warmer. 

I presented the cinsault as a mystery wine to my tasting group - none of them identified it as a cask wine. My wife proclaimed at as "delicious". So that's a double win. 
"Although the cask was invented here in Australia; the Australian wine industry has been slow to embrace the box," says Ann Marie. 

"Until now only cheaper plonk has found it’s way into the 'Chateau Cardboard' with wine snobs and the industry turning up their nose."

But a May 2023 survey of over 1067 'wine snobs’ run through LinkedIn’s Wine Connoisseur and Fine Wine member groups, found many wine drinkers happy with the idea. 

“I was forever tipping out a half bottle of really nice wine because I didn’t drink it fast enough,” says Mike. 

“And I was forever not opening a bottle from my cellar; I just couldn’t justify a whole bottle on a Tuesday night, when all I really wanted was one glass,” adds Ann Marie. 

While bag-in-box wine technology suggests wines will keep fresh for 40 days or more the pair could not find any producers putting high-end wines into the box.

“Research showed that other markets around the world are embracing the box so we’re putting our necks on the line in the belief that Australian’s are ready, too," says Ann Marie. 

"We figure we’re not the only ones wanting to maintain a healthy lifestyle and moderate our consumption while also enjoying up-market wine.” 

# New Zealand's only Master Sommelier, Cameron Douglas, points out that in in Kiwiland, the Dice X Dicey 2021 Central Otago Pinot Noir in a 2-litre box is impressing - and retails for $NZ110. 

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