Taste the bargains with boxed wines
If you ask most any wine enthusiast about box wine, he will say it isn't very good. And for what it's worth, that is usually true.
But, if you sneak box wine into a blind tasting -- one where the judges have no idea about the wine except what they can see and taste in the glass -- you often get surprising results. The box wine may be rated one of the best, and from time to time, it even walks off with the best of show award. What's going on here?
First, in our opinion, the best wine is the one that tastes best. You cannot tell the best wine by which grapes were used to make it. Nor can you tell by which country, nor climate, nor style, and you certainly can't tell by the price.
Granted, if you haven't tasted the wine, you can guess which ones are likely to taste good by these parameters, but they are indicators not determinants. To investigate the properties of box wine we must talk about both of its characteristics -- the box and the wine. They are independent.
The box is cardboard and it never comes into contact with the wine. It is a container to hold a plastic bag that is filled with wine. Millennia before glass bottles were invented wine was stored in bags -- bladders made from sheep stomachs or wine "skins."
Christ advised his apostles to not put new wine in old skins. Of course, Christ was not talking about wine, but the fact that he used this allegory indicates that the listeners were familiar with wine in bags.
As the bag empties, atmospheric pressure causes it to shrivel so that there is no air space -- air does not percolate back into the bag to fill a void left by the wine that was removed. Because there is no ullage, or air space, there is no oxygen to spoil the wine and no vinegar spores either.
The wine in the opened container will last unspoiled for 45 days. Keep it in the refrigerator. The low temperature will not hurt the taste and you can pour it 10 minutes before you drink it and have it be at the "right" temperature.
Does the plastic taint the wine? We think not. We look around the grocery store and see lettuce, sausage, cheese, milk and even spring water in plastic containers. If plastic did cause the wine to taste funny, the funny taste would show up in the spring water. If you go to Paris or Marseilles, you may be surprised to find liter plastic bottles of wine in the grocery stores.
The wine put into boxes generally is not the best quality, although some very good wine is beginning to show up in these containers. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon, both red and white merlot, Chardonnay and "chillable red" among others are $12 to $17 for 5 liters or the equivalent of $2 for a 750-mililiter bottle -- Two Buck Chuck. Many of these wines are from California's central valley and are boxed by Franzia and Almaden among others.
There are also some more expensive wines available in boxes. Try Hardy's merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and, of course, Shiraz, because Hardy's is in southeast Australia at $16 for a 3-liter box. Corbett Canyon, Black Box, Vella and La Tresor from California offer comparable box wines. We tasted a 2003 Block Wine Cabernet Sauvignon costing $12 for 1.5 liters. We found the wine intensely tannic (but that is a style -- one that we don't like, by the way) with a hint of fruit in the background. As promised, the small cubic box fit on the shelf in our refrigerator door.
A 3-liter Delicato Bota Box that sells for $17.99 and offers a choice of Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Shiraz or Chardonnay has won "best buy" awards for five consecutive years, 2001 through 2005, from Wine Enthusiast magazine. At the equivalent of $4.50 per 750 mililiters, these "award-winning premium quality California wines" are indeed a bargain.
Because there is no glass to break and because the wine is inexpensive, the vintners tout their boxed wines as being ideal for block parties, wedding receptions, picnics, camping or the beach. A neighbor tells us that they are great with meals at his hunting camp.
Jo and Tom Chesworth are both AWS-certified wine judges and can be found in the firstname.lastname@example.org.
Right on, Jo and Tom!! It's very cool that the real experts are more open to the box. But I guess I should not be surprised that the trained nose and palate is able to judge objectively and set preconceptions aside.