Whether you call it bag in box, box wine, cask wine or the “box of crap dad keeps in his fridge,” there is no disputing the value of boxed wine – just remember, you will get what you pay for.
What is box wine?
The basic package is either a plastic bag or laminated aluminum bag filled with the wine and fitted with a welded on spigot for easy dispensing. This whole bundle of joy is encased in a convenient box allowing the unit to be carried, stored and most importantly, keeping the spigot on the bottom so the wine can flow easily.
As wine is served from the box, the bag gradually collapses and no damaging oxygen gets into the wine. This is box wine’s biggest strength – the ability to preserve wine to last over a few weeks while you plug away at it.
Boxed wine’s terrible reputation
The downside is that boxed wines have a terrible reputation with most consumers who associate the product with low quality wines that no one should drink. First things first, there are a lot of boxed wines available that are of despairingly low quality. There are also a lot of bottled wines of low quality too.
A recent study found that approximately half of box wine purchasers tried the wine in a bottle first before buying the large package. They also tend to be regular drinkers, and regular drinkers that go to liquor stores more often. Maybe they are big entertainers, too, as the most common reason cited for buying boxed wines is for a social gathering such as a barbecue followed by a party and finally as a way to have a day-to-day supply of wine on hand at home.
Buying boxed wine for a big gathering
Most comsumer cask wine comes in either a two-, three-, or four-liter package. A four-liter cask contains a little more than five regular bottles of wine and takes up a fraction of the packaging of those regular glass bottles. Like glass bottles, boxes are fully recyclable-and you’ll get your deposit back at the bottle depot.
The juice inside the box will keep for up to about six weeks once opened, but the package isn’t made for cellaring so the total shelf life for the product is about 12 months or less (check the date on the package in the store). This is bad news for your uncle John who saved an extra box of California Chablis from his 1986 wedding in the basement by the furnace.
It is also a much cheaper package for wineries to produce to boxed wine and those savings are passed along to consumers who don’t mind buying their wine in bulk. For example, Capistro retails for around $8 for a 750 ml bottle. The four-litre package is about $37. Do the math and you save about $5.50 simply because you have the box. Banrock Station’s shiraz comes in at around $13 for a bottle while the three-litre box is $43, saving you around $10.
Boxed wine tasting notes
So in the spirit of entertaining, let’s taste some large format wines.
Black Box 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, California
3 litre, $39
This has flavours of cassis and cherry fruits with a decidedly dark aroma of dark chocolate and charred oak. Vanilla and spice aromas mix with a menthol character. Disjointed at best, the flavours swing wildly from tart black fruit to bitter roasted coffee or cocoa beans. The finish isn’t bad, but getting the finish is a wild assault to the palate. Meh.
Capistro Light NV White, Canada
4 litre, $37
Almost completely colourless in the glass, the nose is soft with mandarin orange, nectarine, peach, lemon and a little bit of a confected candy or glazed pastry quality. It’s off-dry … and that’s about it. Candied fruits, candy cigarettes and a canned quality to the fruits is one way to describe the flavour profile. It hurt my mouth drinking it, but the combination of sweet and sour, citric and acidic might work for some. Pairing with food? Does ice or soda count? Serve well-chilled.
Concha y Toro Frontera 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Valley, Chile
3 litre, $31
It’s bright red in the glass with classic cabernet flavours of cherry, cassis, bell pepper and spice. The flavours are bright and jammy. It’s perhaps a little stemmy or on the light side for fans of big cabernet, but overall there is nothing wrong with this boxed wine.
Concha y Toro Frontera 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Central Valley, Chile
3 litre, $31
This is a nicely restrained (i.e. not New Zealand style) sauvignon blanc with fresh, clean aromas of citrus, melon, lemon drop and a little green apple as well. There is a small problem with the acidity being out of proportion at first, but this is mellowed out by the slightly creamy, roasted almond finish. Not a bad box to keep in the fridge.
Copper Moon NV Moonlight Harvest Shiraz, Canada
3 litre, $34
Look for deep brambly fruits, sour cherry, mint, and more on the nose with mouthfilling flavours of black pepper, chocolate, tar, sour cherries, blackberry, vanilla and a vaguely medicinal finish round out your experience. The price is right though.
Hochtaler NV Canada
Perhaps one of the great wine advertising campaigns of all time was for Hochtaler in the ’80s. A catchy song, a woman with a top hat and fishnet stockings … well, maybe it wasn’t that great. But the wine, it’s got the inexpensive white wine thing down pat, with tropical fruits, a little pear and kiwi and a light flowery scent that isn’t completely off-putting. For your mouth, there’s a weird balance of sweet and citrus fruits with an almost oily texture. Serve well chilled.
4 litre, $39
3 litre $33 (750 ml bottle around $10)
This wine is strangely intense with green apple and mineral tones, peaches, apricot and a hint of icing sugar come through on the nose. The flavours are slightly unbalanced with too much acidity and ungainly pear and candy cigarette flavours. Overall, it’s an acceptable, inexpensive pinot grigio, and that’s about it.
Sawmill Creek NV Merlot, Canada
4 litre, $45
Another blended-in-Canada wine (meaning some or most grapes are imported from another country), the colour alone is somewhat off-putting. It’s either the darkest rose you’ve ever seen or the lightest merlot on the market. Fruits are of the ripe and red kind with rock candy, pepper, sweat, mint and ginger. It is light bodied with sharp acids, vaguely identifiable fruits and a lean, bitter, medicinal finish. Not recommended.