Is the wine cask dead?

Cask wine was once a dominant player in the Aussie wine market, but its popularity is falling. We assess the available casks to see what the segment’s doing. 

Words by Tyson Stelzer

The days of the goon bag may be numbered. Domestic sales of Australian casks are plummeting by six per cent every year. Of the seven leading cask manufacturers I invited to be part of this feature, more than half responded that their priority is “premiumisation” so they’ve scratched casks completely. 

It looks like the bag in box may be slowly shrivelling up. I certainly thought so. But there’s a lot more to the humble cardbordeaux than it might first appear.

Even in the wake of diminishing sales, more than three in eight glasses of Australian wine poured in this country are from a cask. And that’s a lot of wine.

But are they worth drinking? I put 70 casks to the test for this feature and the photo of my burgeoning tasting table on Facebook solicited some 35 comments, mostly derogatory. The prejudice against casks is strong, and it needs to be said, largely unfair. Unfair because attempting to judge cask wine by bottled wine standards is like trying to race a Hyundai Getz against a Porsche Boxster. Of course, the humble Hyundai will lose on every test, but not everyone can afford to drive a Porsche every day.

Most casks retail between $12 and $20, but to understand their real appeal, think in terms of the equivalent price for a 750mL bottle. Suddenly the numbers plummet to well under $6, and in some cases as little as $2.80. On current specials, this comes down to $2.24. I challenge you to find a truly drinkable bottle of wine with a (full) retail price under $6. I’ve been looking for a long time and I’ve resigned myself to the realisation that it simply doesn’t exist.

Glass for glass, dollar for dollar, bottled wine effectively begins where cask wine ends. For all intents and purposes, it’s a completely different world. From the outset, it’s nonsensical to write off casks because they’re inferior to bottles. Of course they are. But there is some joy to be found even at this lowly price.


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Special Value

Wines considered to offer special value for money.