Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boxed Wine and Snob Appeal

From Chicago Sun-Times, February 6, 2006:

Once a joke, boxed wine acquires snob appeal: Tru sommelier

Chicago Sun-Times, Feb 6, 2006 by Janet Rausa Fuller

Avec, the chic restaurant on West Randolph, offers on its wine list what has long been considered extremely unhip: Wine in a box.

But this wine isn't a throwback to the cheesy, blush-colored stuff you may remember when big hair and stonewashed jeans were in.


Though it accounts for only 6 percent of total wine sales at supermarkets, boxed wine is selling faster than any other wine segment, ACNielsen reports. Last July, sales by volume of 3-liter boxed wines were up 77 percent over 2004.

But on the trendy restaurant scene, boxed wine has been almost unheard of -- until now.

"This can open up a new world to people to reconsider the possibilities of wine in a box. Why not?" asked Tyree, who has seen boxed wine at one other restaurant, chef Daniel Boulud's Restaurant Daniel in New York, where a three-course meal runs $96.
Take it from Scott Tyree, sommelier at upscale Tru restaurant, who saw the 2003 Cuvee de Pena on the menu while dining at Avec last month.

His first thought: "I gotta try it."

His next thought, after a few sips: "I was impressed with its richness and complexity. It had a high degree of the yum factor. It was just delicious."

Wine in a box never went the way of big hair and bad jeans. It's only gotten better, experts say.

Experts say there are many things to like about the new crop of boxed wines, which are made from single varietals such as cabernet and syrah, unlike their cheaper cousins made from a blend of grapes. The packaging technology involves a bag within the box that collapses as wine is drawn out, so there's no possibility of cork taint. Because no oxygen gets in, wine in a box keeps longer than in a conventional bottle -- some say at least a month after it's opened.

And consumers get a lot for their money. A 3-liter box is the equivalent of four bottles. The typical cost of a box breaks down to between $4 and $6 per bottle.


A survey in September of high-end wine consumers who drink wine at least several times a week found that 44 percent had recently bought boxed wine.

"It would be a mistake to think boxed wines are for the pedestrian market," said John Gillespie, founder of Wine Opinions, a consumer research firm that conducted the survey.

At Avec, where diners nibble on chorizo-stuffed dates and taleggio cheese foccacia, the 3-liter box is available by carafe -- $10 for about a third of a bottle -- or by the box for $89.

Eduard Seitan, Avec's co-owner and wine buyer, likes the wine so much he keeps three boxes on display at the bar.

"I'm very proud of it," he said.

But even Seitan admits boxed wine still faces an uphill battle, especially in restaurants. It's not exactly flying off the shelves at Avec -- they sell about one box a week -- but, he says, "I refuse to take it off the list."

'How do you serve it?'

Alpana Singh, director of wine and spirits for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, says boxed wine just doesn't seem as "service- friendly" or aesthetically pleasing for diners as wine in a bottle.

"The only problem I have with it is, how do you serve it?" she said. "Do you let it hang from the table?" (You do at Avec, if you order the entire box.)

Still, Singh and others say Avec is onto something.

Tyree says even at Tru, boxed wine wouldn't be out of place now.

"For me, it's about quality wine, and if the wine is of high quality and works with the menu, I certainly wouldn't rule it out," he said.

Once a joke, boxed wine acquires snob appeal: Tru sommelier Chicago Sun-Times - Find Articles

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