Drinking Outside the Box
The newest box wine options are just as good (if not better) than their bottle counterparts
Wine in a box has come a long way in the past few years. The concept isn't new. It's been around for decades and is a way of life in Europe and Australia. Americans seem reluctant to try box wine because of its image problem. It used to be that only horrible wines that induced hangover headaches were packaged in boxes. Lately though, some smart people have been filling boxes with really good wines. Those who still shun the box o' wine concept are missing out on an incredible innovation in short-term wine storage and delivery.
Wine of the Month
Black Box 2006 Shiraz, Central Coast, California. This is a full-bodied glass of wine, rich with dollops of dark cherry fruits and hints of zesty red berries. It's backed up with just the right amount of tannins to keep it honest. This wine is as good as a fancy labeled $15-$20 bottled wine. Black Box has set the standard for premium wines in a box. All my friends loved this wine, which I poured from a crystal decanter. $20 at Harris Teeter and Total Wine.
Consider some of the advantages. Box wines are economical: they're sold in the 1-liter Tetra Pak (which is like a milk carton, but it doesn't have plastic bladders, which protect the wine from oxidation, so it doesn't keep like wine in the larger boxes) and 1.5- and 3-liter bladder boxes. A 3-liter box is equivalent to four bottles of wine, so if a box costs $20, that's only $5 per bottle. A sweet deal, if the wine is good.
Once opened, box wines will keep for four weeks (I've pushed it to six), because the wine is vacuum packed in a plastic bladder, which collapses on itself as you draw the wine out. This keeps oxygen from interacting with the wine. Bottled wine, once open, can last a few days at best, unless you use a vacuum system. Box wine, though, is not for long-term aging; it should be drunk right after purchase. None of this would matter, of course, unless the wine in the box were delicious, in which case it won't be sitting in your fridge long enough to sour.
I've carefully tasted box wines for months, and I've narrowed my list down to those that are the best and some that are good. Most selections are available at Harris Teeter or local wine stores:
2006 Hardy's Chardonnay, Southeast Australia. Big, luscious, fruity, mouthful, light vanilla, refreshing, easy-drinking party wine. Best of all whites. $18.
2006 Black Box Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy. Light fruit with citrus flavors, and well-balanced acidity. Refreshing. Not sweet. $20.
2005 French Rabbit Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France. Nice balance of fruit and slight hint of oak. 1-liter Tetrapak. $10.
2007 Hardy's Merlot, Southeast Australia. Lots of body and a mouthful of berries. Jammy Aussie style. Really nice. $18.
2006 Black Box Merlot, California. Medium, light body with good berry fruits. $20.
2006 Black Box Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep ruby color. Bright berry and cherry fruits with a good backbone. Lean, not flabby. Nice wine. $20.
2006 Black Box Chardonnay. Nice forward fruit, crisp acidic beginning, then mellows, but there is an annoying liquid oak finish, which brings it down. $20.
2006 Washington Hills Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Washington. Nice fruit. Hint of oak. $20.
2006 Hardy's Shiraz, Southeast Australia. Good jammy wine, but not as well rounded as the Merlot. $18.
2007 J.P. Chenet Rhône, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France. 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 40 percent Syrah. Light, medium body. Better than average Rhône-style wine. $22.
2005 Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, California. Nice, dark ruby color. Jammy berry aromas. Soft even-toned wine with cherry fruits. Not enough backbone. $22.
2005 French Rabbit Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de Pays d'Oc, France. Good everyday red, although the price is not a bargain. 1-liter Tetra Pak. $10.