A Box of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou: 6 Box Wine Comparisons

by Marla Walters on 28 December 2009 8 comments

What on earth inspired me to try boxed wine?

The price.

A five-liter box of wine can sell for as little as $11. As a Wise Bread reader, I am sure you understand the pull of a bargain. I confess that, for years, I snubbed it. Boxed wine is nothing new, but I wouldn’t give it the time of day. For that matter, I was also slow to come around to synthetic corks and, (gasp!) screw-tops. However, I could no longer ignore that price sticker. Was it drinkable? I set out to investigate. A heart-warming side note to this story was the ease with which I found assistance in my research. My husband, my daughter, and my friend, Anne, kindly and enthusiastically agreed to sip wine and take notes. I appreciate their sportsmanlike attitudes. Another close friend, MZ, summed up her (and, I’m afraid, my) prejudices:

“Wine in a box? I guess if you find something really good, let me know; maybe I'd get it for a camping trip or something like that. I think I'm too much of a snob to just buy it to have around the house. It just seems wrong - like something a redneck would do.”

So why put wine in a box? Well, for several reasons. It is economical. It is easy to store. Because it is actually in a plastic bag, which collapses inside the box as it is emptied, the wine is exposed to less oxygen, so it keeps longer. Finally, box proponents assert that it’s eco-friendlier than bottled wine. Bottled wine is heavy, which impacts its fuel cost. Some vintners use unbleached paper and soy-based inks in their packaging.

It takes a little getting used to. Seeing frothy (temporary) bubbles on top of my wineglass threw me a little. We theorize that the bubbles occur because of the speed at which the wine shoots out of the small spigot when the box is full. (My old science teacher would probably use terms like fluid velocity and Venturi effect, but this isn’t a science blog.)

We tried six red wines. Here are our results. (Please note that the prices quoted are from Hawaii. Mainland prices should be lower, depending upon your location.)

Vella Burgundy: $13.48, Safeway, five liters.

Once dispensed (one says “dispensed,” when talking about boxed wines since you can’t pour wine from boxes, and you certainly can’t decant), we agreed it had a pleasing, deep burgundy color. We noted tones of cherry, berry, and a nice, light anise finish. There was no astringency in the aftertaste. We would buy this, again.

Franzia “Chillable Red”: $15.99, Sack N’Save, five liters.

Wow. Holy smokes, this wine is SWEET. My husband said I should have been tipped off by the “Chillable” description. The color was very light, almost a pink. If you like a chunky red, this is not for you. Even our daughter, a wine neophyte, said “It’s like juice!” If you like a really sweet wine, feel free, but this isn’t one to our tastes.

Black Box: $23.99, Kmart, three liters.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

It has a very beautiful, deep burgundy color. There were very nice berry overtones to this wine. What it was lacking, we felt, was complexity in the “finish.” One enjoyable aspect to drinking good wine is to be able to taste various flavors – like cherry, berry, maybe even chocolate, etc. But this wine just didn’t seem to have much of that. It was “okay,” though, and the price was reasonable.

The “Wine Cube”: $9.99, Target, 1.5 liters.

A product of Trinchero Vineyards, we suspected we had a winner. We were right. This has a woodsy nose, with flavors of plum and chocolate. Nice, long finish. Not only would I buy this again for us, but I would buy this as a gift – the packaging is pretty fun. This would make a good hostess gift.

Bota Box: $13.99, Costco, three liters.

My friend, Anne, pegs this wine as a good value. (Our Costco does not carry this particular wine.) “I think cheap Zinfandel tends to be better tasting than other red wines that need more aging to be enjoyable.”

As to Bota’s Chardonnay, she wrote, “The Chardonnay was very tasty. I prefer a more ‘oak-like’ flavor but what do you expect from a box? I read the description from the box after I tasted it and was in full agreement with their description: ‘This Chardonnay is full of tropical aromas and flavors of fresh pineapple, citrus and a touch of vanilla.’ What I like about the boxed packaging is that the flavor stays pretty good for up to 3 weeks. Most of the cheap stuff I drink in a bottle may be OK when first opened, but goes downhill really fast.”

Would I really buy these products, again? Yes. In fact, I have. I certainly wouldn’t say we are total converts at this point, but we have lost some of our snobbery about boxed wine.

Like many other innovations that have come along in this stubbornly traditional craft, boxes have been slow to catch on; but also like many other innovations, the practicalities of the box are difficult to ignore. So, while I wish there were more varieties to choose from now, there probably will be more choices as the box gains acceptance. If readers have tips on other wines available in boxes, please chime in.

0
No votes yet
Your rating: None
ShareThis

comments

8 discussions

Add New Comment

CAPTCHA
This test helps prevent automated spam submissions.
Guest's picture
Guest

Often cheap wine can taste wonderful, you just have to know what to do with it. A friend of mine took a class on wine, and learned how aerating wine (in a wide decanter or w/ a screw-top aerator) can dramatically improve the quality. That wouldn't work on a box, but I'm with you - it's a struggle to ignore the price!

Guest's picture
Rachel Crockett

I have admit. I am curious about box wines. However as a Food Scientist, I would present the experiment as little different.

I would compare box to bottle of the same wine. I have seen a few brands at the liquor store that are both carried in a box and bottle format. This is a way to approach the test and rid the stigmata of the box or (if applicable) reinforce it with a true basis.

Just a little simple preference test.

Get plastic wine glasses at the store. For each wine give it a three digit code. Make sure those codes do not read 911, 666, 777, or any surrounding area codes. (So there is not number preference.) Do not let the guest see what the wine codes are but obviously the host would have to know them.

Serve the same wine. One from box (A) and one from bottle (B). Make sure to serve half the people the order A B and the other half B A. This way there is no placement preference.

Then see how many prefer A or B. Make the guest have to select one every time. There is no equal.

If it's about 50% for A or B, they are about the same and buy box wine with confidence. But, if they are like 75 - 25% you know which package of wine was preferred. Repeat for the next test.

I want to try it and have probably three kinds of wine both in bottle and box. However, since I keep moving long distance I don't know enough people in the area to make this a good test. (Three people is not enough people to really test this hypothesis.)

Would someone like to try this and report back the results? :)

Guest's picture

John Cleese did just this in his nice film about how to enjoy wine. No one could tell a $5 bottle from a $200 bottle.

That being said, what one seems to find, or at least I do, is that more people tend to prefer a sweeter wine for a while but soon the sweetness becomes offensive, especially if you drink more than one glass.

Here is the Cleese film, available for free viewing on Hulu:

http://www.hulu.com/watch/79439/wine-for-the-confused

Guest's picture
Cheryl F.

I've been buying Black Box wine exclusively for about five years. The price made me try it and when I discovered it is quite an acceptable wine, I decided the "snob" factor just wasn't worth throwing my money away on. I'll stick with Black Box, although I may try another boxed wine just to compare taste.

Guest's picture
David

I live in Ukraine, and we have had boxed wines from Georgia and Moldova within the past year, and both were surprisingly good. Even here, with typical salaries a fraction of those in the U.S. and thus a huge emphasis on saving money, many people have yet to try boxed wines. Dinner guests have been pleasantly surprised at how drinkable these particular wines have been.

The moral, I think, is that just as you have discovered, it is well worth doing a little exploring to find inexpensive wines that are worth buying a second time.

Guest's picture
Marla

Guest, Cheryl F. and David, thanks for commenting. I agree with you -- the prices are just too hard to ignore. I'd love to try the wines from Georgia and Moldova, David! That'd be fun.

Rachel, what a great idea for a true experiment. Unfortunately, on this island, I don't have the same box/bottle availability. It's a great idea for a party -- just in time for New Year's Eve!

Guest's picture
Hampers

Nice blog. A Box of Wine, a Loaf of Bread, and Thou makes a perfect combination. The “Wine Cube” looks economical. It was nice going through your blog.

Guest's picture
KC

I do like the "Wine Cube" wines from Target. I'll have to try the Black Box wines too!

My boyfriend prefers beer over wine. Fine by me, but I can't drink a bottle of wine by myself if I want to feel great the next morning. And I don't like next day opened wine. I started getting the wine boxes so I wouldn't have to waste a 8$ or more bottle of wine just to have a glass with dinner. The boxes are great!