Last month, Lily and I found ourselves in Shoreditch for another wine tasting. (Oh what a tough life we lead!)
Normally we do our tastings at Merchants Tavern but this time we reached out to our good friends at Passione Vino, who were kind enough to lend us one of their tasting rooms, for our afternoon of drinking and chatting… sorry, I mean hard work.
We were meeting with a guy called Rob Malin. Rob is the CEO of a company called When In Rome, but also potentially the most popular guy in the UK wine industry.
He not only had met Luca, the owner of Passione Vino before, but we’ve done subsequent tastings and interviews with L’altreVi and Brewgooder Beer, and both companies seemed to know Rob personally. I guess it is a small world after all.
Anyway, the reason we were sitting down with Rob was to find out more about When In Rome. Since our inception 18 months ago we have grown and developed a bit of a specialism in wine that’s natural or has an emphasis on sustainability. So, when Lily first met Rob at Ruth Spivey’s Wine Car Boot last year, there was always going to scope for some form of collaboration between Wined Up & When In Rome.
I arrived back in London, headed to Shoreditch, met Lily and we walked to Passione Vino on Leonard Street.
Passione Vino, at first glance, is a wine shop but those who have visited will know that it is so much more. It’s effectively a wine tardis (I hope I got that Dr Who reference right). Past the shop, it has several different tasting rooms that are situated on all the different floors to of the building. We headed upstairs through a door that was disguised as a mirror into a beautiful tasting room.
Rob met us, we exchanged pleasantries, Luca (owner of Passione Vino) joined us and we started the tasting session.
When in Rome are the good guys of the wine world. They are the leaders of what has been coined as the ‘Box Wine Revolution’. Yes you heard right! There is a movement at the moment to shed the stigma of bag in box wine and change people’s perspectives on it.
Typically people associate boxed wine with being sub par, and I have distinct memories of only ever drinking it at family Christmas parties. However Rob and his team are tackling this stigma and have had initial success in getting their brand into respectable outlets such as Waitrose and Harvey Nichols. I could list possible reasons why When In Rome have had this success but to be honest, at its simplest, having a good product always helps (their wine is delicious).
So where did it start? How did When In Rome come to life? Well here’s the story.
WINED UP: Quite simply, how did When in Rome come about and what inspired you to start the business?
ROB MALIN: Basically, I was living in Italy for a few years, in Turin. We’d go to the countryside on a weekend with a three litre plastic container and fill it up from certain shops and that was our wine for the week. If I’m honest, before I met my wife I was strictly a beer drinker and it was only through her that I started drinking wine.
When I came back to the UK I was working in finance, and hated it. I had to go to Milan for a conference on foreign currency exchange and it was so boring. I’d been following these guys on Twitter who ran two shops there that just did ‘loose wine’.
They’d had the idea to do this because originally they sold wine ‘on tap’ so people would come to the shop with typically a dozen empty bottles to fill up and then cap which took an awfully long time and took up a lot of storage space. So they thought, “Why don’t we start doing five litre boxes of wine?” That way it cuts down the individual space taken up by multiple bottles and also keeps it fresher for longer.
I’d been following their story and walked into the shop and said, “This is great.” We went out for lunch and discussed doing it in the UK. Yeah so we hit it off and thought let’s go for it.
One thing refreshing about our meeting with Rob was that he was under no illusions. What I mean by this is that he knows full well the limitations of boxed wine but was clear as to where he thought his business would succeed. He knows full well that ‘bag in box’ wine won’t replace the bottle completely. There’s too much ceremony in the bottle. It’s elegant and there’s a whole ritual about opening one up. “I get that the boxes don’t look that stylish, like on a Valentine’s dinner you’re not going to hoist it onto the table.”
However, where Rob believes his business will succeed is the fact that being a bag in a box with a sealable spout, the wine will last for longer so you can keep it in the fridge and have a glass every other night without it going off and wasting a drop.
I personally agree with him on this. I have woken up too many times with a sore head because I’ve opened a bottle of wine to have a glass, then realised that for the next three days I’m working double shifts so just ended up finishing the bottle there and then because I didn’t want it to go off. We are living in a time where we are constantly trying to look after our money and make it go further and I think that this factor will resonate with a lot of people.
We are also constantly being reminded of the damage that we are doing to the planet. People, especially in the UK, have become a lot more environmentally conscious and to be honest there isn’t much excuse to not recycle. We have green bins, blue boxes, and different compartments for different materials in public bins.
If I look back at when I first started in the restaurant trade, so back in 2005, there wasn’t too much call for recycling. We would put pretty much everything in the same dumpsters except glass. Now, if you go outside the establishment that I currently run, I have several different disposal bins for our waste and only one of them is for un-recyclable rubbish.
With our society being so environmentally conscious, it makes sense for the people whose products we consume to make their products as environmentally friendly as possible.
Rob mentioned that the packaging for When In Rome wine is 90% recyclable. It’s just the bag inside that can’t be recycled yet. This is not actually because it can’t physically be recycled, more so that there isn’t a facility in the UK that is capable of doing it. Now I know what you may think and yes, a bottle is also recyclable but take into account that recycling cardboard uses considerably less energy than that of the process to recycle glass (see statistics on glass recycling here).
Given the environmental benefits and the fact that the bag in box packaging helps the wine last longer then it should be a no brainer that the 3% of the UK wine market that boxed wine holds should grow and potentially reach the 37% market share that it has in France but at the end of the day, the proof has to be in product quality. People won’t buy products if they aren’t very good, lucky for Rob the wine that his producers create for his When In Rome is very good.
Rob, Lily, Luca and I sat down and put it to the test. We tasted four of the WIR wines.
First up – 2016 Sauivgnon Blanc IGT from the Fruili Venezia Giulia region of northeast Italy, near the Austrian border. It’s produced for WIR by Grappolo D’oro winery. ¾ of the production of Grappolo D’oro is bag in box and they produce mainly for the local market so it’s a real treat that WIR are able to bring it to us folks in the UK. This Sauvignon has twice won the gold medal at the ‘Concours International Wine in Box’ (an international boxed wine competition held in France). It’s a lovely mid-dry and crisp white with slightly low acidity levels, a subtle red apple aroma to it. Interestingly, after a small trial, this is predicted to be very popular in Finland so the box wine revolution is going even further afield!
Next up with the whites was their 2016 Falanghina IGT – produced by Enzo Rillo of La Fortezza winery in Campania and this is one of their most popular whites. A reason attributed to the success of certain Italian grapes is because they sound Italian. Falanghina and Pinot Grigio are fun to say and sound exotic, where as wines such as the aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc are produced all over the world, so when a consumer wants to drink Italian wine they don’t necessarily think of Sauvignon Blanc. So this has all the potential to be a success commercially and it really helps that the wine itself is extremely nice.
The Falanghina had a very fruity and floral nose and was medium-dry with a slightly sweet finish and some very subtle acidity. There was a hint of mineral texture/taste to it and was really refreshing. We all agreed that it would pair well with fish & chips with a bit of vinegar!
Ok, so next we moved on to their London Wine Competition – Gold medal winning Nero D’avola DOC. This was produced by Cantina Sociale San Antonio in Sicily and is WIR’s best selling wine and personally my favourite of the day, and after the interview when the conversation digressed to regular, non-wine conversation we casually put a nice dent in the box.
The reason I loved this was because it was so well balanced. It had light but noticeable tannins that were pleasant and didn’t dry my mouth out like some hot climate reds can do. It had a lovely aroma. The classic rich aroma of dark fruit was there but not overwhelming and it was just a joy to drink. We had it with some of the fantastic coppa (meat) that Passione Vino kindly put out for us and it was a joy to have!
Finally we tried the 2016 Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, also produced by Grappolo D’oro winery. Lily was the designated pourer of the day and by the Refosco she was a pro, and by the fourth wine the portions got a bit more generous. This is a lovely, full-bodied red wine with strong tannin and a distinct liquorice and dark cherry aroma/taste. It was really easy to drink but boasted everything that you want from a full-bodied red.
So that was the four wines!
To sum this up, I genuinely wish Rob all the best with When In Rome. It appears to me that this company does wonders for all aspects of the wine industry.
First of all, I love the fact that this is a small company, working with small producers, which to me ensures quality and that the profits go to the people who actually make the wine. I got a sense of social responsibility from Rob when he was talking about some of the wines they sell.
For example, one of his stockists asked them to increase their output and they said no because it would put too much pressure on the producer and the quality would suffer.
I also love the fact that, in terms of sustainability, they have a near 100% recyclable product and when it is shipped over to the UK it comes by train so they don’t rely on long distance lorries to transport the wine. It just seems like this company are doing everything that they should be doing.
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