Step Out of the Bottle and Into the Box

Okay, so when I think of boxed wine, a specific episode of Seinfeld  (my favorite show) always comes to mind.  It’s the one where Jerry is dating a woman with a fabulous toy collection, but she won’t allow him to play with it.  His solution: feed her turkey and serve glass after glass of red wine from a box in order to induce drowsiness.  When she confronts him, he retaliates by asking, “What kind of woman drinks an entire box of wine?”

My answer: (pointing thumbs at myself) This kind of woman!

Don’t get me wrong, I was once a hater of all things boxed wine, and all I could imagine were super-tanned suburban housewives tapping huge boxes of Franzia’s White Zinfandel” out by the pool – all the while, thinking they were drinking the good stuff. 

Well, boxed wine has come a long way since Franzia, and more and more people are figuring it out.

I have a good friend named Pat.  We’re told (by his lovely wife, Holly) that we are twins separated at birth (and 10 years) because we are very like-minded and appreciate many of the same things, such as cooking, food, and wine.  I can attribute my recent affinity toward boxed wine to one of our semi-weekly dinners at their house.  He had a Bota Box of Malbec in the cupboard, and before I knew it, I was imbibing in something I once met with derision.  And it was delicious! 

It only made sense to me to ask him to contribute to this post, as we are now boxed wine converts.  Without further ado, the review:

Bota Box Malbec, Mendoza, Argentina, 2011—$16-$19 for 3L

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Box Wine

Being the worst kind of oenophile—a dangerous combination of  snob and dilettante—I naturally turned up my nose at the thought of wine in a box. After all, for thousands of years, wine has been stored in cylindrical vessels: amphoras, casks, jugs, and, for at least the past few centuries, glass bottles. The idea of wine in a box seemed so… uncultured. So when I visited my very cultured stepmother in Switzerland last August, I was shocked to see her go to the kitchen cupboard to fill her wine glass from a box.

Curious, I pressed her on the subject. As it turned out, though her wine cave was still full of old-fashioned corked glass bottles, her everyday wine came from a humble cardboard box.  One taste was all it took to convert me. While it wasn’t earth-shatteringly great, it was certainly as drinkable as any number of inexpensive bottled wines I’ve tried, and a good sight better than many.

The 2011 Mendoza Malbec from Bota Box is very pleasant overall. It’s smooth like a merlot, but it has a bit more character. Being unschooled in the nomenclature of the grape, I’m unable to assign it terms such as “leathery,” “plummy” or “vegetal;” all I can say is that it complements food well—especially red meats such as steak or lamb. It is certainly fruity, but not sweet. It definitely compares with other Malbecs I’ve had and ranks above merlots and pinots but below shirazs, zins, and cabs in heft.

The real selling point here, however, is not taste. After all, there are many wonderful inexpensive bottled wines out there. Rather, the selling points are value, longevity, and environmental impact.

• First, value: at around $18 for three liters, the Bota Box translates to just $4.50 a bottle, which is about as cheap as wine gets. Merely not tasting like jailhouse pruno would make it a bargain. The fact that it’s actually decent, makes it a steal.

• Second, longevity: because the wine is stored in a vacuum-sealed bag inside the box, it doesn’t go “off” after a day or two as an opened bottle does. In fact, it can last several weeks or more without changing its taste. As such, it not only makes a great glass-at-a-time wine, but it also makes a handy thing to keep in the kitchen, allowing you access to fresh, drinkable wine for sauces, etc.

• Third, environmental impact: The box itself is made from recycled paper and is itself recyclable. The inks are all soy-based. The bag is BPA-free. And as it weighs much less than a glass bottle, it costs less and takes less fuel to ship.

In the end, I’m sure box wines will catch on. They almost have to—there are just too many advantages they hold over their bottled brethren. After all, just a decade ago no self-respecting wine snob would drink a bottle stopped up with a synthetic cork or, horror upon horrors, a cap! Yet today both these are commonplace in wines costing $100 a bottle or more.

Look; I’m a luddite. I prefer mechanical watches over quartz. I prefer fountain pens over ballpoints. And I realize that exploring a musty wine cellar full of… cardboard boxes isn’t nearly as sexy as ogling racks of dusty dark green bottles. But in this case, progress is progress, and the box is demonstrably the better container. And wines such as the Bota Box Mendoza Malbec are demonstrating that its contents can be every bit as good as those that come from a bottle.


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