Saturday, June 09, 2007

Boxed Wine is the Ultimate Cooking Wine

The Tasting Lab of Cook's Illustrated asked the question "Do boxed wines stand up to bottled when used in cooking?" The Tasting Lab conducted a blind test of a red wine pan sauces using premium 3-liter boxed wine, 5-liter boxed red plonk, and a $10 Cotes du Rhone. The results? All the sauces were just fine. They repeated the test 2 weeks later, and all the boxed wine sauces were fine, but the Cotes du Rhone had gone "off." Again, 7 weeks later, all the boxed wines were fine for cooking.
The Ultimate Cooking Wine—Boxed Wine
Can boxed wine compete with bottle wine—at least in cooking?

Granted, a cardboard box may not look as classy as a slender green bottle, but we wondered if boxed wine could compete with bottled wine when used in cooking. First employed in Australia and Europe and now widely available in the United States, spigot-released boxed wine is both inexpensive and convenient, and it has a long shelf life, which makes it appealing to the cook who may need only the occasional cup.

To find out if boxed wine belongs in the kitchen, we tasted an array of boxed varietals ranging in price from $12.99 to $19.99 for three- or five-liter boxes, including Shiraz, Merlot, and Burgundy. As a control, we included a $10 bottle of the Cotes du Rhone we often use in the test kitchen for cooking. Sampled fresh out of the box, some of the wines did not impress, tasting sweet, simple, and sangria-like. But others were quite good, and tasters actually preferred them to the bottled wine. For the next test, we used each of the wines in our Modern Coq au Vin (page 19) and a red wine pan sauce. To our surprise, all of the sauces-even those made with the wines we didn't like straight from the box-were fine.

After the bottles and boxes had been open for two weeks, we tasted them in pan sauce again. As expected, the recorked bottle of Cìtes du Rhìne had skunked, depreciating to a flat, alcohol-flavored sourness, but the boxed wines were still going strong. Even at a full seven weeks, the unrefrigerated boxed wines were fine for cooking.

How do boxed wines stay fresh for so long? An airtight, bladder-like plastic sac collapses as wine is removed (the box is there only for stackability and portability), making the wine less susceptible to oxidation. Price is another plus: Those we tested cost the equivalent of $2 to $5 a bottle.

The Ultimate Cooking Wine—Boxed Wine-Taste Tests-Cook's Illustrated 11/2006

Related Tags: box, boxed, cask, wine, cooking