These peculiar ceramic penguins which visitors to Buenos Aires often see in restaurants across the city have been used by Argentines now for almost a century. The origin of the “Penguin” is believed to have arrived with the mass Italian immigration on the 1930’s along with a boom in the local production of wine and the need to create a receptacle of practical size.
The large wineries of the interior (Mendoza, Rioja, San Juan) began to transfer wine in bulk to the cities and big consumption areas, to be marketed in various sizes of packaging and in general that task was done by the owners of the “Cantinas”, “Pulperías” or wine sellers. Often the wines were adulterated or blended and quality was not a big concern at the time. Quantity and speed of of getting the product to market was their main priority. The most common receptacle used for storage at wholesalers or restaurants at the time were huge glass bottles called “Damajuanas” often holding over 20 liters of liquid (around 5 gallons) but with no specific measurement and scarcely any labeling but when the waiter had to serve wine to his customers he needed a smaller jar to place on the table. This is how this funny animal appeared across Athe country and was used extensively in shops and also in Argentinian homes especially between the 1950’s and the 1970’s. Some may say that the shape of it was useful so as to pour the wine easily and freely through the beak and at the same time it was easy to refill for the next use. On top of that it looked nice as well! The original ones were of a liter but now we find them in many shapes and sizes.
After a law was sanctioned to standardize wine measurements, the industry had to adjust the bottle to one of 750ml, also the label and packaging of the product. At the start of the 21st century, a new period of the visual aspect and packaging became a very important part of the wine industry, also the production of different varieties and better quality. The wineries needed to present the bottles in an elegant way to add value. All the activities related to wine became trendy, like wine tours, or eating in exclusive boutique wineries combined with high end cuisine. Leaving behind the tradition of drinking wine for the more simple pleasures that it entails.
This is where the “once famous penguin” went out of fashion.
Fortunately, as happens in many aspects of life, trends come and go. And now we find the penguin once again on the tables of restaurants and also in bars across the country. Today they are often still filled with wine from Damajuanas or wine boxes but unlike the cheap wines of 50 years ago, it is of a much better quality and at a good price too. So, next time to your some wine to accompany your meal don’t let fancy labels and clever marketing influence your taste buds, order a penguin and rely on your own senses to determine how much you truly really enjoy that authentic Argentine wine.