I met a guy wearing an "I Love Boxed Wines" T-shirt the other day at the gas station, while we were filling our tanks. This being Napa, I asked him if he worked in the wine business, thinking that perhaps he was promoting a wine company.
"No," he replied, "I just like boxed wine." Enough to promote it on the front of his shirt.
I smiled at his casual reply. No wine snoot here. Just someone who knows what he likes and when it comes to boxed wines, or wine in a box, there's plenty to like.
At about the same time I gave my neighbors a few boxed wines left over at the office to try. Their expressions were quizzical, thinking that perhaps this was a prank. Not so. Boxed wines are probably much better than you think. My neighbors reported they were pleased by the quality.
The wines that seem to be the most popular mirror the market and cover a wide range. One company, Black Box, produces Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Grigio and Syrah from California (and one year a Cab from Paso Robles), Chardonnay from Monterey County, Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand and Riesling from Washington.
They tend to be young and fresh, as in the most current vintage, so you'll likely find 2010 reds and 2011 whites. They are typically regional blends. They don't see the inside of an oak barrel (but maybe oak chips) and aren't woody, or tannic. They are often simple wines and are filtered, so you won't encounter flaws like brettanomyces. And of course they don't have corks, so that's not a problem either.
Boxed wines keep well short-term, but aren't made to age. The "use by" date is important. You should look for the newest boxed wines by date, and drink them in an expedient manner.
Many in the wine business wonder how long it will be before plastic replaces glass for traditional bottles, especially for ordinary, ready-to-drink wines (think wine coolers). Don't laugh. Milk used to be bottled in glass. I imagine that it won't be long before we see wine in plastic the same way water is bottled. I've heard of companies experimenting with new vessels, including wine in plastic, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before traditional glass, and heavy bottles, give way to lighter containers.