Skip to main content


20140915_171831*editAnd so into the box we dive. The box of wine that is. Is the blad­der, as pur­ists would have us believe, filled with cheap swill, unfit for con­sump­tion by the civ­il­ised? When put to the test, would ordin­ary wine drink­ers even be able to tell the box from the bottle?

Blame the Sri Lankans.

I was invited recently to host the annu­al Sri Lanka–New Zea­l­and Friend­ship Soci­ety Quiz Night (yes, it’s a mouth­ful). Speak­ing of mouths full, I was plied dur­ing the even­ing with small plastic glasses of red and had just been com­pli­ment­ing the drop when my host poin­ted out that it had come out of a cask.

One must be jok­ing,” one said. “One hasn’t had wine from a box since one’s 20s.”

The fact that I thought it “jolly drink­able” and was will­ing to say so around the office has made me the mock­ing-Joll of the work­place. So now, hav­ing been cast out of the vil­lage as a fool, I have resolved to restore hon­our to the fam­ily name by prov­ing the worth of the car­ton of Chi­anti, the port­manteau of Pinot, the card­board cube of Cabernet.

The experiment

On the one hand, a $20 bottle of Mer­lot with labels removed and the seal broken one hour pri­or. On the oth­er an identic­al bottle filled with cask ‘Mer­lot’.

Our test­ers: four people who like and drink red wine, but are not pro­fes­sion­al wine tasters. Their job is simply to identi­fy which was true bottle, and which had been borne of the box.

            James: A pro­fes­sion­al man with a good-sized office who does well enough in his work to be play­ing golf once a week in office hours.

Bar­bara: An IT expert cur­rently over­see­ing a major refit at a semi-private school.

            Ben: A pro­fess­or at Vic­tor­ia Uni­ver­sity with the let­ters PhD after his name and the smartest man in the room by some margin.

            Juli­ette: My wife. A teach­er. Most import­antly for the pur­poses of this exper­i­ment, she is French and there­fore has been drink­ing red wine since before she could walk. I might have that wrong, but I’m sure there is a rela­tion­ship between red wine and the abil­ity to walk that needs to be alluded to here.

The results

As an exper­i­ment they’re very close,” says James. “But I’d have to go with Bottle A being the good stuff.”

Bar­bara agrees. Ben does not. His first act is to sniff the bottles vig­or­ously, which res­ults in James sug­gest­ing that sniff­ing is some­thing he learned grow­ing up in Naenae. He sips and declares Bottle B the flash­er of the two.

Juli­ette takes it one step fur­ther and gargles each sample before shap­ing to spit it out. She agrees with Ben.

Even before reveal­ing which of our two pairs of test­ers is cor­rect, I have to declare the exper­i­ment a suc­cess. Four dis­cern­ing adults who know their wine, and would nor­mally be will­ing to pay reas­on­able money for a bottle they liked, can­not agree which of the bottles on offer is filled from a cask. Proof pos­it­ive that the wine snobs are wrong, and that per­haps in the 20 or so years since we last opened the tap dir­ectly above our respect­ive mouths, the liquid in the box has improved.

Giv­en that cask wine is sim­il­ar in taste and con­sid­er­ably less expens­ive, per­haps it needs to be con­sidered a viable option — for the ‘at home with din­ner’ wine drink­er at least.

For the record, James and Bar­bara were right. The $20 Mer­lot was in Bottle A.

Steve Joll

Steve works as part of the breakfast show on wellington's The Breeze radio station. In past lives he's been a sports journalist for ONE News, a presenter on iconic children's show What Now and one heck of a forecourt attendant. He has three kids: a talkative son (Theo), aged six, and twin daughters (Margaux and Lila), aged three. He adores them and yet is counting down the days until they leave home. It seems a long way off.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.