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This Wine is in the Bag

Wine-in-a-bag has a deservedly bad rap, but Clif Family Winery's Climber Pouch Chardonnay could change all that

"I'd like to drink more wine but …." This is a comment I hear frequently from new acquaintances when they learn I am in the wine business. Not, I hasten to add, because they are on day release from the drying-out clinic and functioning under a prohibition. Rather, it is usually followed by an observation along the lines of "but I don't like to open a bottle when I only want one glass." While this demonstrates a commendable frugality—no one wants to pour away the undrunk remains of a $15 bottle when it has turned to vinegar three days later—it is now an entirely avoidable dilemma. Welcome to the world of wine-in-a-bag. Yes, wine-in-a-bag-in-a-box has been around for years, but while it's popular in Scandinavia, it has never really caught on in the U.S. Because it's a country new to the pleasures of fine wine, the whole bag concept just seems, well, a little déclassé here. It doesn't help that most of the stuff so packaged is pretty awful dreck, rubbish that Two-Buck Chuck would reject as not up to Trader Joe's usual standards. This is a pity, as the concept is eminently sensible. Pernicious Oxygen

When you open a bottle of wine, you expose the contents to the air, and its destructive effects begin immediately. When you draw off a glass of wine from the sealed bag, however, the bag simply contracts so the remaining wine is not exposed to the detrimental effects of oxygen. While I have long liked the idea of packaging everyday wine like this, I have not enjoyed the products on offer. Until the other evening, that is, when I pushed the button on The Climber Pouch Chardonnay from the Clif Family Winery in California ($17 for 1.5 liters) and out flowed a stream of fruity, immensely quaffable, unoaked Chardonnay. The wine is redolent of pears and peaches and, with its captivating freshness, is superior to many California chards at the same price for a miserly 0.75 liter bottle. There is also a similarly priced Cabernet Sauvignon. And as far as its preservation qualities go, it really does work—two day later the wine was as fresh and sprightly as when I first opened it. Unlike most previous efforts in this field, which were utilitarian at best, the well-sthought-out packaging is both attractive and practical. A carrying handle on the top also serves as a means of hanging the pouch when camping, picnicking, or indulging in similar rural activities, while at the same time featuring a firm, flat base that allows it to sit securely on a counter or refrigerator shelf. Charming wine in an appealing package? Could it be that wine-in-a-bag's time has finally arrived? When to Drink: Now

Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary

Food Pairing: Fish, chicken, lighter pasta dishes, hard cheeses

Grapes: 100% Chardonnay

Appellation: California

Region: California

Country: USA

Price: $17 for 1.5 liters

Availability: Moderate


Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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