First, let’s dispatch with the idea that wine in boxes — actually bags/pouches inside of boxes — can’t be good, even very good. Truth is, it can. Plus, it can be economical and easier on the environment than conventional bottles.
Wine drinkers all over the world have figured out that some wines will do just fine in the box/pouch delivery method –– some will even do better. Whereas wine in a bottle, once opened, ought to be consumed in the next few hours or certainly days, wine in a box can hold its own for four to six weeks in some cases.
The enemy of wine is air. Once you open a bottle of wine, the battle is on. But wine in a box is essentially in a collapsing bladder. You pour a couple of glasses, the bladder shrinks, you put it away and pick up where you left off the next time you need a glass. Plus, there is no bottle to carry around or dispose.
But let’s get real. This isn’t collector wine, wine-cellar wine. Box wine isn’t made to age, it’s made to drink sooner rather than later. In my opinion, box wine is designed to be consumed on weeknights and maybe at casual gatherings –– like Super Bowl parties. Because of the handy tap systems it is convenient to serve and guests can help themselves.
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One of the most common-size “boxes” is 3 liters –– which is the equivalent of four 750-milliliter bottles of wine. There are larger and smaller boxes (5-liter and 1.5-liter), but I think most of the better boxed wines I would steer you toward come in the 3-liter size.
There is a big world out there in box wine these days. What started out decades ago with a couple of overly sweet offerings from Australia (pink Zin and perhaps a Chablis or a Merlot) has grown to more than a dozen different varietals and blends.
Some labels such as Bota Box and Black Box have made it a point to offer everything from Chardonnay to Malbec to “Old Vine” Zinfandel. So those labels might be a nice place to begin your experimentation.
Many of these 3-liter boxes sell for $15 to $20 — which translates to roughly $4 to $5 “per bottle.” But there are higher and more expensive tiers beyond that.
Here are some 3-liter boxes I tried and enjoyed — including two middle-of-the road price points and one at the higher end:
2014 Loft Chardonnay, $19 from WinCo. Though some box wines are aged in oak and buttered up like bottled Chardonnays, this Monterey County Chard was just nice and flavorful with crisp-to-tart stone fruit notes. Though some box wines tend to have lower alcohol levels, this one came in at 13.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Vin Vault Red Blend, $16 from WinCo (no vintage noted). I was ready to not like this Central Valley California Gallo product, but the measured berry and balance with other red fruit notes kind of won me over. Listed at 13 percent ABV, just remember that blends can taste wildly different from year to year.
2015 La Petite Frog Picpoul de Pinet 2015, $36 from the Boise Co-op. At 12.5 percent ABV, this Picpoul is a semi-tart varietal from France that is very crisp with competing green apple and lemongrass notes that make it nice for sipping or pairing with appetizers or light small plates. Even at $9 to $10 per bottle, I love having this around to please a crowd. It is delicious.
A few Idaho non-bottle containers
▪ During certain times of the year, Coiled Winery makes a very nice Chablis-style Chardonnay and some red blends that end up in a pouch that you might see over the summer.
▪ Last year Syringa winery put some beautiful Tempranillo-based rosé in a pouch. I sure hope they do it again.
▪ Split Rail Winery’s Strange Folk sub-label offers white and red wines in cans, which are equivalent to half a bottle of wine. You can find those all over town.
Found on Shelves
I have been getting tons of response from people signing up for “Found on Shelves,” an email-based newsletter about value wines ($5 to $20) I find around town. If you want in, just shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org