Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Boxed Wine Is the Party Solution

CityPaper (Wichita, KS) published this excellent boxed wine article for the holiday party season.

I can't bring myself to refer to glorified juice boxes as "cask wines." And there was a missed opportunity to debunk the "hint of plastic in the aftertaste" myth. But, all in all, a great article. The writer's favorite bag-in-box wines brands are Banrock Station, Delicato, Hardy's, and Black Box.

Box wine to the rescue

By Elizabeth Stevenson

Dec 14, 2006

As we would all probably agree, an important component of the holiday season is The Party; some of which you are invited to, and some of which you host yourself. And, as we also might agree, the key to hosting a successful party is to ensure that no one is without a drink for more than 30 seconds. If your guest list reads like a county census, however, the two conditions may start to appear mutually exclusive.

So, how does one keep a houseful of guests pleasantly buzzed for three hours without taking out a mortgage on said house? The only answer is to buy one’s wine in bulk, better known as “box” wine, or “cask” wine to the people who don’t want to admit that they’re drinking box wine.

Let me begin by stating that there is nothing wrong with box wine — price or label notwithstanding — if you’ve found something that you genuinely enjoy.

Many a fine Hearty Burgundy has enlivened an otherwise deadly office Christmas party, and a 3L carton of Sunset Blush is unblushingly dispensed at most summer barbecues held on this continent. Some box wines — such as Banrock Station, Black Box, Delicato and Hardy’s — are clandestinely poured into crystal decanters and presented with much √©lan; completely deceiving even the most sophisticated palates.

Box wine is an infinitely useful invention and can claim devotees from all walks of life; from charity-event-trophy-wives to one-glass-with-dinner singletons. It stays fresh for weeks, can be easily stored, and is crafted to be inoffensive to the average taste bud.

If, however, the word “Franzia” usually stops you in your tracks and causes you to slowly put down your plastic cup, there is still hope, should you have invited half the population of Wichita to your holiday party this weekend.

There are many worthy cask options these days, some of which are even drinkable.

For example, last year I discovered Tavernello, made by Caviro, an Italian producer. It comes in 1L Tetra Pak boxes and retails for about $10, but I’ve seen it on sale recently for a couple dollars less. (Tetra Pak boxes are those collapsible plastic-and-aluminum-lined paper boxes that you’ve seen holding fruit juices in children’s lunch boxes for years.) Both the Grigio/Bianco blend and the Sangiovese are extremely good value for money, and would be a welcome change from the traditional festive domestic or Australian adorable animal-themed brands. The only disadvantage is that the containers aren’t terribly elegant, so you might want to present them in a nice glass carafe.

For a box that you can actually set on the table, check out French Rabbit. They’re vintage-dated, appellation-specific wines from Southern France, and come in unique 1L octagonal Tetra Pak boxes, accented by snazzy (albeit adorable animal-themed) graphics. Plus, the wine is exceptional, even by wine-snob standards, and quite affordable. Unfortunately, it isn’t available in Kansas yet, but if the majority of your Christmas parties will be thrown out-of-state/country this year, I would suggest a few boxes of each varietal — this is a outstanding product across the board.

Regarding packaging, there are two different types of boxes: one, the above-mentioned Tetra Pak (also labeled as Prisma Pak or B-Pak as a Ford may be labeled as a Mustang or a Taurus), and two, the large box with plastic interior bladder.

Both are well suited to large gatherings and easy pouring, but the bag-in-a-box wine will last considerably longer. The bag deflates as the wine is dispensed, so air never touches the contents; reducing the potential for oxidation and therefore increasing its shelf-life to around a month or so.

My favorites of the plastic-bladder genre would be Banrock Station Shiraz and Chardonnay, Delicato Shiraz, and Chardonnay and Hardy’s Merlot (all around $16/3L), and Black Box Merlot and Chardonnay (around $25/3L). These are each accomplished, vintage-dated examples of their respective varieties, and a few of them are even excellent wines regardless of the rather tacky packaging. In fact, the house white at my favorite bar is a Delicato Chardonnay, and I have watched many times, without flinching, as it is poured out for me from a box. I would proudly serve the Black Box Merlot at almost any party, and am comfortable defending the honor of the Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Shiraz.

Some purists have stated that they can detect a hint of plastic in the aftertaste of their cask wines, but a palate that sensitive is rare and probably will not show up at your fraternity Christmas party, so don’t let that dissuade you from any future box wine acquisitions.

Appealing to the environmentally conscious consumer, box wine produces far less waste and is more energy efficient to transport and store. Tetra Paks reduce packaging waste by 90%, reduce fuel consumption and emissions at every stage of the manufacturing process and can be recycled just like glass bottles.

Added to the fact that buying in bulk translates into about $4 a bottle, box wine is a wise holiday investment for any budget. Spend a few dollars more at the DAV on interesting old glass carafes or bottles to put it in, and your guests will be so impressed that they’ll feel obliged to really splurge on your present this year.

The Wichita City Paper

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