What’s in a case?

The question is of course prerogative, as what I am asking here is that when you order a case of wine from your good Wine Merchant, and i mean 75 centiliter sized bottles of wine. How many bottles of wine do you expect to receive in your case?

12? maybe 6? or as I see these days, sometimes just 3 bottles! Most of the Petrus I buy and sell these days comes in lovely little wooden cases of 3 bottles.

Once upon a time, in the West, it was as easy as spreading soft butter on toast, to understand exactly what a case of wine meant. When ordering a case (or a box as they used to say in Pimlico) of wine from anywhere in the world, it always meant correctly, 12 bottles, 24 half bottles or six magnums, depending on your formatted appetite, in that moment.

However, since my first Italian encounter, back in 1980s, when I ordered 50 cases of a Brunello di Montalcino, direct from the winery in Montalcino. It was shipped and delivered to the bond in London, in cases of 6x75cl, rather than 12x75cl, that I had expected. When I did the maths, pro rata, as to the cost of the wine it was indeed correct. They had not billed me for 600 and then delivered just 300 bottles. The bottle price was not out of order, I was just expecting more wine that’s all. I don’t think it was so unreasonable of me to expect 50 cases of 12, as that is what was the norm then.

I remember asking the owner, the supplier, of the said Montalcino winery. What was the main reason behind this change from 12 bottles to six bottle cases. I had never seen this before. The reply made total sense, as it was all about the space available to store wines in the cellars of restaurants. Italian wines, of course, in Italian restaurants.

Ahhh I see. It seemed perfectly logical at the time that if you had a city restaurant, or a restaurant where space is of a premium, then what better than to receive smaller sized cases of wine to store. Easier on the back, 9kilos to hump around rather 18kgs to carry, and also, if you wanted to have a more extensive wine list, you could store and list double the amount of wines for your wine list. A great idea to be able to list twenty five different wines, with the same storage space, rather than just ten wines, taking up that valuable storage space.

But, then my next question was how did it go from this restaurant idea to becoming a global wine trade phenomena? From Bordeaux to Montalcino, Hunter Valley to Napa, Santorini to Brighton. Everyone, almost everyone now packs their valuable vinous produce in 6x75cl cardboard or wooden cases, depending on the level of the wine. And as a total coincidence, I have just received some wines from a wonderful producer, Andre Perret in Condrieu, that is now packed, can you believe, in 4x75cl cases, and on the same day, arrived a case of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, housed in 3s.

2010 Screaming Eagles

My discursive mind tells me that there is also a connection to all of this packaging theme, to the general increase in wine market prices. Nobody really flinches at the idea that a £120 case of wine, that has the quality of a £10 bottle of wine now costs us £20 for the same wine. Yes, I know that there have been increases in duties and shipping costs, but somewhere in our vinous dream world, I think that we have slept through the change. My osteopath bill is now much less than it used to be, so there is a positive sign, and also like most of us wine collectors, I do indeed have a much more varied wine cellar than I could ever have imagined I would have had a few years ago now.

South Africa, Lebanon, Italy, Spain, Greece, Chile, USA, Vintage Port (now there is one for you, as 9 litres of Port would always be inside a case, and now it is half, at 450 litres). Germany, Austria, Slovenia, England and the Antipodes. All of the wines from these countries are now in six packs, as it where. I have just looked in the cellar to double check.

I also have left France out of the equation so far, as this is a slightly more complex theme. It would appear to be a regional one. I maybe totally wrong of course, but the majority of Burgundy, Rhone, Loire (except Mr.Condrieu) are still all packed in cases of 12 bottles. Generally speaking that is. Bordeaux has gone from a traditional wooden 12 bottle case, to the 6 bottle wooden case. And if you still do purchase ‘en primeur’ (total madness) you have the option to ask for smaller or larges cases, at an extra cost, and well in advance of course. The wooden 12 bottle case still has no extra charge at all. Any other size does come with a fee. Champagne, now, all come in sixes. Okay, I can actually thank them for that, as carrying 12.5kilos of Champagne up and down the stairs is a lot more comfortable than 25kilos. Alsace comes in sixes. French country wines, generally in sixes. Chablis and Macon in 12s. The Jura, top flight stuff, comes in cases of ONE bottle only. Wow! now this does become a bit more complex. Dear old Petrus (sorry for using this one as an example) now is packed also in 1 x 75cl inside an original wooden case. And yes the prices on the market are, much much higher than reality should allow for this wine. Let’s go north east a bit, to Romanee-Conti, the Mohammed Ali of the wine world now pack their mixed case in, wait for it, 13 bottles inside one wooden case. I am not going to go further than this, as I am sure if you are the faithful reader of this column, you have now got such a headache (not from last night’s wine obviously), that does anyone really care anymore how and in what does one’s wine get delivered in and by who?

So, this is all just a detail, sorry for that. But please do keep an eye out, as one day you may be paying for a wine (purchased by the case) that may just seem a little too expensive than you had originally planned for. Not just paying over the odds for a country wine in a six bottle case, or a first growth Claret in a six bottle case, but how quality and price ratio seem to have slipped through the vinous net, as it where. Well, it could just be your problem that you are paying too much for some wines, because the packaging has been reduced in size substantially.

NB … packaging manufacturers!   does the cost of making one of these cases cost more or less, depending on the size and quantity of material you use to make them?

NBB … I was offered the other day a rare case of 1982 Le Pin (you know the famous super expensive Pomerol) in a wooden case. When I looked at the photograph, the bottles, six of them only where all packed in a wooden case perfectly organized for their safe travel. Alas, I reminded myself that in 1982, no Bordeaux was packed into sixes? I pointed this out to the dealer in USA, and he thanked me for this valuable information and promptly removed it from the market and had it sent back to whence it had come from.

Wakey wakey rise and shine!