Gilded in Gold – Old Practice Resurfaces in Bordeaux

Have you ever wondered why Rioja Reserva is bottled gilded with a gold coloured wire net? Nowadays it is part of their marketing and helps them stand out as a brand but the wire mesh around the bottle had a practical purpose in the late 1800s and early 20th century.

The wire netting acted as protection against counterfeiters. Bodegas producing Rioja discovered that unscrupulous merchants were pasting labels from the top wines onto cheaper bottles of inferior wines. Empty bottles were also refilled with cheaper wine and passed off as the real thing.

To prevent this, the Bodegas began the practice of putting wire mesh around their bottles. The mesh was held together at the bottom of the bottle by a lead seal stamped with the Bodega’s mark. This could then guarantee that the wine in the bottle was not tampered with as you could only remove the cork if you broke the wire.

Wine bottles encased in wire mesh therefore acquired a certain status; that they were worth protecting – that they were something a little bit special. The tradition is still carried on today in Rioja and you will see Gran Reserva wines in wire netting. The only difference that I can see is that the wire is a gold colour rather than the plain metal used centuries ago.

The custom was not limited to Rioja – you might be surprised to learn that Bordeaux used the same technique – see the image of the Sauternes Chateau d’Arche bottle, vintage 1881 to the right. However once Baron Philippe de Rothschild began estate bottling the practice fell out of favour in Bordeaux. However it has recently resurfaced.

L Meynard & Fils on the Quai de Chartrons in Bordeaux dates back to 1880 and specialised in the production of wire sleeves for bottles. When Patrick Meynard became head of the family business he revived the practice of encasing wine bottles in wire sleeving – spotting the potential in upmarket packaging for premium wines and spirits.

He purchased Chateau Lalaudey in Moulis en Medoc in 2007 and also now owns its neighbour Chateau Pomeys. Both these wines now come packaged in wire netting and Meynard has a long list of customers from Marqués de Riscal, Diageo, Domecq Bodegas Felix Solis, Francis Ford Coppola and Yves Saint Laurent perfume.

If you know of any other wine making regions dressing their bottles in wire netting please let me know!

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