Sunday, October 29, 2006

Boxed Wine Skepticism

Thursday's Tahlequah Daily Press featured an article about the boxed wine phenomenon. Good article, but I am surprised that someone who works in a liquor store is so poorly informed as to subscribe to the myth that a bottle of red wine will "breathe" if you simply pull the cork.

The fact is, exposing less than one square inch of wine surface in the neck of the bottle accomplishes next to nothing. As I have said before, (in the Breathe Easy post) this is what decanters are for. Let it breathe in the glass, or let it breathe in a decanter. But breathe in the bottle? Sorry, just ain't happening. Anyway, it is a good article, so read on!

Wine aficionados skeptical about boxed concoction

By Teddye Snell

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — So you think you’re a wine connoisseur?

You subscribe to “Wine Spectator,” you have tasting parties and you certainly know a Merlot from a Pinot Noir. But do you buy boxed wines?

Stop laughing. Some of the best-selling wines no longer come with corks. They come with spigots and plastic bladders.

Boxed wine has been around for years, but traditionally it was synonymous with sticky sweetness, cheap thrills and bad hangovers.

According to a report in the Detroit News, the latest “bag in a box” wines – so-called because of the wine-filled bladder that comes inside a box – have come a long way. They’re not the sweet pink mystery wines Americans are conditioned to seeing in a box.

In fact, they aren’t even called box wines anymore. The preferred name is “cask” wines. Cask wines are being made by top producers, with premium grape varieties – including Syrah and Pinot Grigio – and are vintage-dated.

Ryan Lester, clerk at Mary’s Liquors, has reservations about the trend.

“If you’ll look, all boxed wines come with dates on them,” said Lester. “Franzia has dates on its boxes, but it’s certainly not a vintage date. Others, such as Black Box and Corbett Canyon, have vintage dates.”

The plastic bladders and spigots boxed wines feature keep air out, which prevents oxidation and extends the shelf life. That’s great, if you enjoy Chablis and Blush wines.

“With the plastic liner [which holds the product in a casked wine], red wine fans can’t open a bottle and let it breathe properly,” Lester said. “I personally prefer red wines, and you can’t tell me a plastic liner allows that part of the process [breathing] to happen.”

Connie Jolliff, co-owner of J&J Liquors, said the industry has a recommendation for red wine fans. “I understand you’re to pour a glass of red casked wine and let it breathe from the glass,” said Jolliff. “Of course, the proper glass is required.”

Each wine, be it Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot or Chablis, has a different glass assigned to it. According to Jolliff, the size of the mouth of the glass is very important, as it allows the wine to hit the tongue in different ways.

An ACNielsen report indicated sales of premium-priced, 3-liter boxed wines are increasing faster than any other segment in the industry. Jon Fredrikson, a San Francisco Bay area consultant, told the Associated Press convenience for a fast-paced lifestyle may have something to do with boxed wine’s growth in popularity.

“The advantage of boxed wines is just one of extreme convenience,” said Fredrikson. “Once they’re open, it’s just so easy to draw a nice glass of wine. It’s ideal for working couples, people who are kind of passing in the night.”

Could this be the death of the temperature-controlled wine cellar whose owners treat each bottle like a newborn child?

That’s certainly not yet the case in the United States, but looking at European countries and Australia, you might say the future is now. According to the United Kingdom’s Decanter magazine, Norway’s boxed wine sales now exceed 40 percent of its total wine sales; Sweden is experiencing 22 percent annual growth in boxed wine sales, with 65 percent of all wines sold in the summer packaged in boxes. In Australia, 52 percent of the wine sold is in boxes.

“Cask wines are the hottest trend in Australia and the U.K.,” said Marc Jonna, national wine buyer for Whole Foods Market, with 145 stores in the United States and one in Canada.

While it may be a growing trend in other parts of the country, Okies still seem to like their wines bottled.

“We haven’t had any requests for the casked wines just yet,” said Jolliff. “I suppose mostly because people are slow to change, that and the casked wines are more costly. Customers see boxed wine and expect it to come with the older, lesser-quality wine price. That said, I do see them [casked wines] becoming the latest trend in the industry.”

A customer in Jolliff’s store let her purchases speak for themselves. She had brought several bottles of wine – the kind with corks – to the counter.

When asked if she’d ever purchase a boxed wine, her response was a vehement, “Never.”

Mary’s carries a variety of casked wines, including Black Box, Corbett Canyon, Delicato and Franzia.

“Black Box is probably the most well-known upscale boxed wine,” said Lester. “It’s even had a rating in ‘Wine Spectator,’ which says something. I’m just not completely convinced.”

Teddye Snell writes for the Tahlequah (Okla.) Daily Press.

The Edmond Sun, Edmond, OK - Wine aficionados skeptical about boxed concoction

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