Thinking Inside the Box
A few months ago, longtime Vine reader and erstwhile
neighbor Christine asked, "So, when are you going to do a column on box
wines." I mentioned to her that planned to do one for April Fool's.
"No, seriously," she said with an edge in her
voice that gave me goosebumps. This is, after all, a woman who hiked the state
of Vermont in
five weeks, and offhandedly asks questions like, "Hey, are you guys
interested in a triathlon?"
She was correct, of course. My
experience with box wines had been unpleasant for the most part, but it made
sense for me to give a take. After all, it is the least expensive wine delivery
So, how do they get the wine in there? The wine's not
really in the box, of course. There's an aluminum or plastic pouch inside the
box, tapped with a small spout of some kind. These containers are officially
called "casks," although they're known in Australia as "goons."
Box wine tends to be of lesser quality than bottled wine—but
there are advantages. Once you open a bottle of wine, you're committed. The
wine starts to oxidize almost immediately, and your wine will lose quality
rapidly. Box wine never touches air until it hits the glass, so it can keep
consistent quality until needed (although you can't age box wine). One of our
friends termed box wine "Homer Simpson wine—you push a button, and there
They hold up to five liters of wine, but the most common
size we'll see is three liters. Three liters is equivalent to four regular-sized
bottles. And there's the rub. I drink a lot of wine, obviously, but having
three liters of a generally-not-great wine lying around for just myself and the
Sweet Partner in Crime isn't what I'm looking for. Generally, you'd get these
containers for larger gatherings—or if someone is distracted, gone for work, or
just lame enough to need a wine that will last for a month.
Still, the obvious reason was to par-tay. Thus, the First
AnnualBox Wine Extravaganza was born. Christine and I each got two
boxes of wine, and we went from there. The cast of characters:
- The Sweet Partner in Crime and I.
- Christine and her handyman husband Jeff.
- Katherine, a mutual friend.
- Marlene & Steve, our
We did our best to take notes on our tastings, but by the
end of the evening, predictably, we lost track of who said what. The quotes
tell the stories well enough.
Angel Juice 2006 Pinot Grigio
Banrock Station 2008 Chardonnay
Black Box 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
Black Box 2007 Shiraz
(Christine and I bought our wines separately, so we ran
with what we had.)
First up, the Angel Juice.
- "It's lawnmower wine. You know, for a hot day in the yard." (Which led to: "What? You mean you'd put it in the lawnmower?")
- "It'll drink, but there's not much body."
- "It's so light—it's not really much of a wine."
- "It's like Crystal Light—the Wine of the Astronauts!"
- "Kinda bitter—like the seeds are crushed up in it."
- "It says 'honeysuckle and citrus'—I don't get either. More lemon rind than lemon!"
- "It quenches your thirst —but I won't say much beyond that."
- "One word:
We did find that it went reasonably well with food. Pesto
paired well for some reason.
Then came the Banrock Station. Honestly, we all wished we'd
just stayed on the train…
- "It smells like honey wine or cider."
- "It's sour. There's no oak -- none. It's just bad, bad, bad."
- "It's like a golden shower for your mouth."
- "I wouldn't cook with it."
- "It tastes like battery acid."
- "It's a cut above Mad Dog."
- "I'd give it to a
homeless guy so he could get a change of pace."
Truly an awful wine—unanimously one of the worst we'd had
collectively. More optimistically, the suggestion was made: "Maybe you
could make a spritzer out of it." (You couldn't.) Christine made the best
suggestion: "Well, at least you could recycle the box…"
palates collectively in shock, we were worried as we edged towards the reds.
The Black Box wines—we were dubious—but we went forward. We were too invested
to turn back:
- "This isn't bad!"
- "It's not complicated -- but it's decent." (Surprised nods all around.)
- "It's versatile. This is good wine for a party."
- "It's inoffensive -- it would go with a lot of things. There's enough fruit and tannin to be interesting."
- "It passes the cube
test. If it's really hot, you could put ice in it and it's still
Black Box's Shiraz
- "It's nondescript, but you really could drink it with anything."
- "It's a really simple wine."
- "Hey! This goes pretty well with chocolate!"
- "It's good."
- "It's yummy—has a little bite to it, unlike that chardonnay, which just bites."
- "It's far too easy
We made a dent in all four. The Cabernet had the least left
by morning. The chardonnay was the cheapest ($16), while the shiraz was the most expensive ($24). Since
there are clear levels of quality, if you're willing to drop $20 or more on a
box, you'll probably end up OK.
One last note on the Banrock: We did follow Christine's