As part of my lifelong search for decent cheap wine (hey, we all need a reason to live), I’ve recently got into boxed wines.
I know what you’re thinking. But I’m not knocking back toxic grape alcohol under a highway overpass (at least, not yet). The 5-liter boxes of Franzia and Almaden that sit around in restaurant kitchens waiting to make chicken piccata are not what interest me. I’m talking decent wine, by my standards: $12-a-bottle type wine, not too embarrassing to bring to a friend’s house for dinner, not too pricey to enjoy a glass of at home for no particular reason.
That kind of wine is now available in boxes, and it’s actually a lot cheaper that way. As in, less than half the price, and without tasting any different.
Buying wine this way has some further advantages. You can keep it far longer before it turns to vinegar, thanks to an oxidation-free dispensing system. And you’ll have used a smaller carbon footprint than those unreconstructed bottle buyers. That’s right, boxed wines are apparently more environmentally friendly than the stuff in glass (unless you live right next to a vineyard and pick up your wine in person, but sadly this is not the south of France) because they are so much more efficient to ship.
This new breed has been around for years, although it’s pretty difficult to find in many parts of Rhode Island, presumably because of lingering anti-box prejudice. (Quite a few wine shops I’ve visited recently, from Atwells Avenue to Benefit Street and Wayland Square, say they just don’t think their clientele would go for it.)
But it is around. It comes in 3-liter boxes (that’s four regular bottles) with increasingly trendy packaging and usually rings in at around $20. The varietals available seem to be steadily widening; merlot and chardonnay are, of course, ubiquitously popular and seem to fair well in this type of packaging, but my recent fave was a dry Australian reisling.
Stick it in the fridge if it’s white, a cupboard if it’s red, tap it, and enjoy it at leisure –– you’ll have at least a month before it turns, so no more guiltily saving half bottles of sour red on the doubtful premise that you’ll make coq au vin.
When it’s done, the cardboard outer shell is recyclable, as is the inner plastic bladder, and some companies go even further – Bota Box, for instance (maker of a quite nice old vine zinfandel) uses recycled, unbleached paper on the outside and non-BPA plastic for the liner.
So where to get it?
Well, Wakefield Liquors in South Kingstown was the first place I saw it, and they still carry the Fish Eye, Banrock Station and Black Box labels, all more than ok for a party, although they’re no longer carrying my first favorite, Killer Juice Chardonnay (good if you like your chard nice and big and oakey).
They’ve got Angel Juice, however, lighter style whites by the same company, at Edgewood Wine and Spirits in Cranston. They also carry a full range of the Bota Box wines there –– that includes a pinot grigio, chardonnay, merlot, shiraz, cabarnet sauvignon and that old vine zin, all from California. Staff say they’ve tasted them all, they’re all good, and note that boxed wine is a new trend that’s well established in California but has been slow to catch on here.
It was at Gasbarro’s Wine and Spirits in Seekonk that I hit the biggest cache so far. There are Black Box, Bota Box, Boho Vineyards, Fish Eye, Trove, Angel Juice and Killer Juice, Washington Hills, J. P. Chenet from southern France, and the Aussie brand Hardy’s, makers of that riesling I liked. (It rings in at $18.49 ––that’s $4.60 a bottle! –– and I’ll definitely buy it again.)
I haven’t tried most of the others out there, and I’d be glad to hear if anyone else has. More places to buy would be useful, too. I hear Italy has lifted a ban on boxing wine, so perhaps, hitting the Ocean State (and my table) sometime soon, will even be some chianti that keeps. How my friends would feel about me bringing it over for dinner… well, that’s another question.