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Once scoffed at, boxed wines win new fans with bump in quality, variety

  • Author: Mike McVittie
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published May 20, 2015

Box wine has been around since the 1960s, but it has suffered a poor reputation. After all, where is the mystique? A bladder full of wine is hardly romantic.

Then, in 2003, everything changed. A fellow named Ryan Sproule was traveling abroad and noticed European box wines had some flavor and substance. Upon returning to California, Ryan thought: Why not put good wine in a box here?

Up until then, box wine was labeled "red," "white," Burgundy or Chablis. No one in their right mind would think of putting anything of real value in there.

At that time California was swimming in wine. Wineries were unloading lots of juice at great prices, and it was good stuff, too. So the timing was perfect for a vintage-dated, appellation-labeled box wine, which before then was unheard of in the world of jug wine.

Thus Black Box was born. It revolutionized the box wine industry, making it OK to drink wine out of a spigot. Black Box is still a good deal today. Even though the wine lake has long since dried up, Black Box's current owners continue in the tradition of putting good, solid-quality wine in there.

The advantages of box wine are pretty obvious -- convenience and ease of use. No corkscrews needed, no glass bottles to recycle and the price per ounce is great. The wine stays fresh as the bag collapses around it, keeping out wine's archnemesis, oxygen. Box wine quality is, in fact, increasing. If you look closely you will notice that Black Box cabernet and sauvignon blanc come from Valle Central in Chile. Bota Box pinot noir is from Chile and the malbec is from Mendoza, Argentina. Both of these countries have high quality and high production.

As box wine becomes more acceptable we are starting to see accessories. From Scandinavia, there is a clever little folding wine chair that holds the box up off the counter, and then there is Boxxel, a beautiful, stainless steel cylinder that holds the spigot above your glass. It's very slick and looks good too. No more dragging the box over to the edge of counter to fill your glass.

As a segment, box wine is growing. Nelson scan data shows that 3-liter box wine sales have doubled since 2009. As of last year, box wine sales represented 17 percent of all wine sold by volume. Most folks are happy paying $15 to $20 for a 3-liter box. That would be the equivalent of $4-$5 per 750-milliliter bottle (a 3-liter box has the same volume as four bottles).

A few brands are trying to break the $30 barrier, and as consumer acceptance grows for alternative packaging, we will see that happen. On the whole, the rate that consumers come back to box wine for repeat purchase is excellent.

Today there are lots of options for decent-quality wine in a box: Bota Box, Jewel Box, Vin Vault, Big House Red, Fish Eye, Lindeman's, Pepper Wood Grove, Naked Grape, Corbett Canyon and La Vieille Ferme are all available in the Anchorage market.

So how does all that stack up? Well, the Bota Box pinot noir and pinot grigio are dry, decent, varietally correct examples and run anywhere from $17 to $20 around town. A step up is Black Box. These wines carry plenty of heft and varietal character. The cabernet and chardonnay are wood-influenced and wonderfully rich. They vintage date, so grab the 2013s -- while the plastic bags are a wonderful invention they are not meant to age wine in. Fresh is best.

Chasing Black Box are two newcomers: Jewel Box and Vin Vault. Both carry a full complement of varietals. Jewel Box has the lead with a full-bodied, tannic, petite syrah-driven Red Blend. It has a surprising amount of depth and texture, and runs around $25. Rivaling that is Vin Vault cabernet, a sleeper if ever there was one. It carries humid cabernet herb aroma, black cherry fruit and a rich and textured mouthfeel, all for about $25.

As alternative packaging comes of age in both design and quality, be on the lookout for more and better wines. I know I am.

Mike McVittie reviews wines available in Anchorage.

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