Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wine - Thinking Inside the Box

Most of us, at some point in our wine drinking experience, have tried a boxed wine.  Back in the 80’s, Franzia and Almaden offered several wines in a fridge-friendly, easy pour spout box.  While not stellar wines, they were drinkable and cheap.  A great way to begin learning about different types of wines and grapes, and something you could afford that was not in the dreaded jug.

The concept of boxed wine actually began in 1965 with the Angove Family Winemakers in Renmark West, Australia.  Thomas W. C. Angove developed the idea of taking a one gallon plastic bag, placing it in a box and filling it with wine - the first “bag in a box ‘ or casked wine.  The idea revolutionized the world wine market.  By 1967, Penfold's Wines had patented an airtight plastic tap.

You may wonder why you would ever choose a boxed wine over a bottle.  It depends on what issues you consider important, eco-friendliness, convenience, value, taste...

First, in our green society, wine boxes are much more eco-friendly than bottles.  Landfill waste can be reduced by up to 90% when using a wine box as compared to using a bottle.  Greenhouse gases are reduced by 75% when compared to the glass wine bottle.  Most of the cardboard boxes are recyclable and, depending on where you are, many of the plastic bags may be.

Box sizes have also changed.  Gone are the 5-liter ‘party’ boxes of the 1980’s.  Now consumers can purchase 3-liter boxes (equal to 4 bottles.)  One-liter boxes are also offered, (the same as one 750ml bottle.)  And, yes, some have taken it a step further and are offering a mini-box that holds only two glasses (500 ml) of wine.

Manufacturers say that bag-in-box (BIB) technology has also improved. Bags are the heavier, food-grade versions, and collapse better. The tap spouts are airtight so oxygen can no longer seep in to ruin what’s left of your boxed wine. Wine will now stay fresher, longer – up to six weeks – in the box.

This is a picnic-friendly, portable type of wine. Just a few of the box pluses include; easy open, unbreakable, lightweight, freshness, and a better value than bottled wines.  They about 40% cheaper than the equivalent wine in bottles.  You can open a box and keep it for about a month without the wine oxidizing.  (A bottle will last only a few days.)

But remember, these are not wines to be cellered.  They are to be purchased, tapped and enjoyed within a month of opening.  Most will bear a best-before date, usually 12 months after they were filled and boxed.

The French, Italians and Australians already love boxed (or casked, as they call them) wines.  But we in the U.S. are having a harder time embracing them.   While we may still be influenced by those 80’s boxed wines, there are several new boxed wines out there to consider.  Many are garnering wine rating points and awards usually reserved for the bottled versions.

Black Box is one of the leaders in the field. In 2003, Black Box became the first U.S. winemaker to offer grape specific, vintage dated boxes wines.  Not only did they get the packaging right, they actually put some damn decent wine in those boxes!  Reds include Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz, and a Sweet Red.  Whites include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Moscato.

Big House is another favorite out there.  Cute and kitschy, they offer six wines in the 3 liter box that will stay fresh “ for up to 6 week.”  These include Big House Red, Big House White, Unchained Naked Chardonnay, the Usual Suspect Cabernet, Cardinal Zin, the Birdman Pinot Grigio, and coming this summer the Slammer Sweet Shiraz and Gru – V (Gruner Veltliner.)

Bandit boxed wines are available in 1 and 3 liter brightly colored boxes.  Choose from Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sangria and Moscato.

Bota Box Wine located in California offers nine popular wines in 3 liter and 500 ml boxes.  These include Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Old Vine Zinfandel, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and a red blend called RedVolution. Wines will stay fresh for 6 weeks.

Pepperwood Grove is offered by Don and Sons, and comes in ‘The Green Box’ - BIG (3-liter) or little (500-ml).  Four wines are available Chardonnay, Old Vine Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, and Cabernet.

The mass retailer Target, has jumped on board the boxed wine train, offering their own Wine Cube.  Available in Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet.

Maybe it’s time to put away those preconceived notions about boxed wine and give these new options a try.  For a summer beach party or summer holiday gathering, these just might be perfect. You’ll never know till you give them a try by thinking inside the box.  Enjoy!