It's time to consider—smartly—lowering your expectations.
It wasn't that long ago that serious explorations into the world of box wines were verboten. And by not that long ago, I mean three weeks. But welcome to the new reality, pal. While Instagram is loaded with images of the well-heeled digging into their cellars to knock off bottles they were saving for a special occasion, there's a much greater number of those looking at a layoff notice or the stock market or the price of oil and saying... maybe a little belt tightening might be a good exercise to help pass the time.
And that's where box wines come in. Their number one selling point is that they're affordable. But while that used to be their only calling card, the fact is that today's box wines are leaps and bounds higher quality than they used to be. So lets call out some of their virtues, shall we?
VIRTUE #1: Freshness
We use the term "box" or "boxed wines" frequently, but the proper technical term is "bag-in-box wines." If you've ever opened the box up, you know that inside is plastic bladder (sorry, but that's the official term) that holds the wine. But while the terminology doesn't exactly whet the whistle, the set-up is in fact perfect for keeping wine fresh because it almost completely limits the wine's exposure to oxygen. Oxygen is the killer for keeping wine vibrant and fresh for extended periods, so the equivalent 500ml in a box will be far better off than 500 ml in a bottle with the cork replaced.
VIRTUE #2: Variety
Long gone are the days when the only producers who slapped their juice in a box were Gallo, Bearfoot and Naked Grape. To be honest, those producers' bulk offerings are still pretty terrible (especially Naked Grape, a confected jammy nightmare) but you can now choose from California Zinfandel (Big House's Cardinal Zin is totally serviceable at $34), or French Rosé (La Vieille Ferme is solid at $40) or even a juicy, if thin, Italian Barbera from Piedmont (although the name When in Rome isn't supper comforting, even at $38).
VIRTUE #3: Environmental
Not a huge one, but the carbon foot print of shipping a lighter, non breakable box of wine vs. four glass bottles is not insignificant.
Three Winning "Bottles" to Stock Up On Now
In addition to the three mentioned above, here are some selects that we'd be proud to serve even when the pandemic is over.
This is the unabashed pick from our Editorial Director Anicka Quin:
"Yes, I was that person standing in front of the box wine, quickly Googling reviews for the boxed wine that looked like it had some potential. I’d eyed Bota Box before, because I’d often seen it on the odd Bellingham jaunt, and vaguely recalled that Bon Appetit had given it the a-ok in terms of boxes out there. Turns out, it’s great—full bodied, my preferred style, with notes of plum and blackberry, and just as great with a dinner of pesto pasta as it is for a Friday night Zoom cocktail with friends."
This Sicilian import is a perfect box wine: it skews more spicy than sweet and has plenty of quasi-interesting edges like tobacco leaf to keep if far more interesting than something this cheap should be. Works better with tumblers than Riedels, though.
For me, this is the class of the bunch. It's a Portuguese blend of 50 percent Tinta Roriz, 40 percent Castelão and 10 percent Touriga Nacional and it's grown outside Lisbon. It first came to my attention when I saw this review on Jancisrobinson.com that was both immensely favourable and quoted a price £9.29 (about $16 CDN) for a bottle. That translates into $64 for a box (which contains four bottles worth). It has solid acidity (a rarity in box wines) and even more solid tannic structure (un heard of in box wines) and a persistent juiciness that's really appealing.