When you buy wine, what are you paying for? The farming and maintenance of the vineyard, the picking of the grapes, all of the equipment and labor involved in turning the grapes into wine—but that's not all. After the wine is made, there's packaging, shipping, and marketing too. I'd just as soon put my money in the liquid.
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Glass bottles are expensive and heavy, costing significant energy and money to ship around the world. Forgoing the bottle is cheaper for the winemaker and cheaper for the customer. If you're looking for better value in wine, you might want to consider looking inside the box.
Let's do the math: take the Chateau de Bonhoste Bordeaux Blanc. 750-mL bottles of it sell for $11.99 in our local store, but you can also purchase a five-liter box on sale for $33.99. Five liters is six 2/3 bottles of wine—which would cost you $79.93 individually (if you could pay in fractions of a bottle) or, really, $83.93.
You're saving almost $50 by forgoing the bottle, and getting the same wine for around $5 instead of $12. Serve it in a carafe if you're embarrassed to pour straight from the spigot; or show off the box to brag about what a good deal you found.
But Maggie, you say, what the heck am I going to do with five LITERS of wine? I can't possibly drink that much! If you're a restaurant owner or you're having a party, you probably can use that much at once. But that's not the only reason to go with the box.
There's beauty in the box. Unlike a bottle, which goes bad after a few days even when you pump the air out, spray preservers in it, or dance around it waving your hands in the air, wine in a box lasts. Inside the box, the wine bag collapses as you drink and the liquid doesn't get exposed to oxygen.
We've been told the shelf life after opening is around seven weeks, and so far, the wine we opened six weeks ago is still tasty. You can have a half-glass with dinner, or put a cup or two in the stew you're making, and not worry about what you're going to do with the rest. No more throwing out bad half-bottles.
The hitch? Not enough winemakers are putting good wine in boxes.
Just as you shouldn't hold the outdated assumption that all boxed wine is bad, you can't assume it's good either. There are a few that are OK—the company behind Red Truck just released a mini-barrel of Chardonnay that's pretty drinkable, though it could use a little more acidity; Washington Hills makes a boxed riesling that lovers of sweet, fruity wines will enjoy; and Target's Wine Cube Sauvignon Blanc could certainly be worse (though we weren't fans of any of their red wines.)
Good boxed wines may be in the minority, but we did find a few we can recommend without hesitation.
Recommended Boxed White Wines
Würtz 2008 Riesling Trocken $20 to $28 for 3L (find this wine) Zippy and concentrated, with juicy green apple (peel included), pineapple, and tart lemon notes. There's a hint of nuttiness and muskiness in this wine—some tasters were reminded of flat champagne and peach fuzz.
La Petite Frog Picpoul de Pinet $29 to $34 for 3L (find this wine) This drinkable, mellow Picpoul from Languedoc-Roussillon has a hint of pear on the nose. It has mineral and strawberry notes, and a dry, slightly floral finish. This likable wine would be nice with shrimp or crab.
Chateau de Bonhoste Bordeaux Blanc $33.99 for 5L (find this wine) This crisp blend of Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, and Semillon has classic slate/mineral notes and a dry finish, along with fruity burst of kaffir lime and grapefruit. With its bright acidity and fresh flavors, we'd love to pair it with a green curry. This was the favorite of several of our tasters, and the box offers a fantastic discount.
From the Tank White about $36 for 3L (find this wine) This mellow, full flavored white is made from 100% Grenache Blanc. It's musky and dry, with flavors that reminded us of hard cider and Bosc pears. It's a little rustic—this is a natural wine, after all, with honey and nutmeg notes and flavors that reminded us of baked peach cobbler. It would be excellent paired with sage and butternut squash pasta, roast chicken, or a Thanksgiving turkey.
Disclosure: All wines except the Chateau de Bonhoste were review samples.