Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Upscale boxed wines

From the Champaign Illinois News-Gazette

A new trend: Upscale boxed wines

News-Gazette Staff Writer
December 5, 2003

With Christmas and New Year's Eve parties coming up, have I got a deal for you.

If you are having trouble ponying up money to supply wine for a large group, now is the time to think about a big ol' box of wine. And no, I'm not talking about Franzia, Peter Vella or Almaden. There is a new trend in boxed wines: quality.

The 5-liter boxed wines from Franzia, Peter Vella and Almaden are cheap, about $10. The problem is they taste cheap. Up until now, I've never found a boxed wine I like.

That changed several weeks ago when I bought the Hardys Stamp of Australia Shiraz and later the Chardonnay. A 3-liter box from the Hardys Stamp collection sells for $15 to $16 and can be found on sale at $13 to $14. A 3-liter box is the equivalent of four 750 ml bottles, which works out to about $4 a bottle, a very nice price indeed.

I've also had 3-liter boxed wines from Corbett Canyon (they sell for $9 to $10), both the Merlot and Chardonnay. They are a step up from Franzia et al, but not as good as the Hardys. The owner of Corbett Canyon, by the way, is The Wine Group, which also owns Franzia.

Other makers of quality boxed wines include: Trinchero Wine Cube ($16); Delicato Bota Box ($18); Black Box Chardonnay and Merlot ($20); Le Cask Old Vine Zinfandel ($24); and Sonoma Hill Blackburn Fine Wine ($36). Also, Australia's Banrock Station makes a boxed wine, but I do not have a price for it. All are 3 liter boxes.

Of those quality boxes, only the Hardys Stamp of Australia can be found locally. However, I would expect more liquor stores and other shops to start stocking others as they become more widely available.

What these quality boxes do is make wine more of a commodity than a drink only for special occasions. In Europe, Australia and other parts of the world, boxed wines are very popular. For example, 52 percent of all wines in Australia are sold in a box.

These buyers care less about the packaging of a wine than what's inside. That's largely because wines are consumed on a daily basis with meals. It doesn't matter that wine comes in a bottle with a screwtop or in a box with a spigot.

Boxed wines are tremendously convenient. Buying a box saves frequent trips to the wine shop; once opened wine stays fresh for four to six weeks; the per glass price is a very good deal; and the boxed wines taste exactly like their bottled counterparts.

To test this, I matched the Corbett Canyon boxes against their bottled brethren. I could tell no difference. The Corbett Canyon will appeal to people who like their wines on the softer, less oaky side. The Merlot had more plum than cherry taste, with a bit of prune and a vanilla, soft plum aroma. The Chardonnay tasted of pineapple, pear and vanilla, with a nose of pear, vanilla and a bit of fruit cocktail. Both rate fair to good. I liked the Chardonnay better.

The Hardys Chardonnay had more tropical fruit flavors and a light oak toastiness. The Shiraz tasted of dark plum and cherry, with a cinnamon finish. Both rate good to very good.

Of the box design, both have strengths and weaknesses. The Hardys spigot is a push-button affair, but at the end I found the bladder inside had a full glass of wine remaining. I had to open the box and squeeze the bladder to get the remainder out. The Corbett Canyon spigot has a screw knob that's a little less convenient, but fully drained the bladder.

While I like the idea of upscale boxed wines, the environmentalist in me bemoans the wasteful packaging. Bottles can – and should – be recycled. Cork quickly degrades. The cardboard containers of boxed wines can be flattened and recycled, but the plastic bladder is one more thing to fill up the landfills. Food