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Box Wines Aren't So Soggy After All

Reluctantly embracing the concept that not all good wines come from a bottle
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Apr 27, 2011 11:00am ET

Wine in a box never seemed like a great idea to me. Maybe it’s a generational thing. I spent most of my adult life trying to forget the nasty jug wines I drank for fiscal reasons back in college.

Times change. Even though I’m the first in a crowd to champion a good value, I was a holdout until I started tasting the new generation of box wines in blind tastings for Wine Spectator. Some are damn tasty for the price, the sort of no-nonsense wines you’ll find by the carafe at a neighborhood bistro in France.

Some names you can generally depend on in box wines are Black Box, Bota Box, Bandit, Boho and Wine Cube. They typically sell for about $20 to $25 for a 3-liter box, which is the equivalent of four 750ml bottles.

Still, there’s plenty of dreck dressed up in snazzy new boxes, so it pays to shop carefully, even at that price.

(WineSpectator.com members can read our 2009 tasting report on rising quality in box wines and can also search our online Wine Ratings Search for reviews of the above-mentioned brands and others.)

If you’re new to the concept, the wine isn’t really in a box. It’s in a vacuum-sealed plastic bag inside a box and dispensed through a tap. The bag collapses as the wine is dispensed, preventing oxygen from getting inside and preserving the wine for several weeks. If you’re a casual drinker and enjoy a glass or two a night, it’s just the thing.

One of my current favorites is Bota Box California Old Vine Zinfandel 2009, which sells for $19 for a 3-liter box. It’s loaded with juicy, friendly cherry and vanilla flavors. It’s a great little everyday red for new wine drinkers, and even veterans who aren’t too snobby will enjoy a glass. I rated it 84 points, non-blind.

Bota is made by Delicato at its large facility in California’s Central Valley. The blend is 77 percent Zinfandel, mixed with hearty reds like Alicante Bouschet and Petite Sirah, all harvested from vineyards in the Central Valley. The wine never saw the inside of an oak barrel—at that price you can’t get picky—but it was aged in stainless steel tanks lined with a 50-50 blend of American and French oak staves to add the impression of oak aging.

Have you tried any of the new-generation box wines? Do you have a recent discovery to share?

Hoyt Hill Jr
Nashville, TN —  April 27, 2011 1:36pm ET
Le Petite Frog is actually 2009 Hugues de Beailieu Picpoul de Pinet in a box. In a bottles, it is $10. In the box, it is $30, so a great deal.

2009 Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone Villages at $42.99 isn't as good a deal, but it is a wonderful wine
Jeb Singleton
Fairfax, VA —  April 27, 2011 2:53pm ET
I've actually purchased the '09 Zin that Tim references. He's right, it's a good everyday drinker and it lasted quite a while. It's an even better wine when you've already shared a bottle of something else with friends and then just want a red to sip on.
Lance Shepard
Louisville, Colorado —  April 27, 2011 3:10pm ET
I like the Powers Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State.
Brian Peters
Broomfield, CO —  April 27, 2011 4:21pm ET
I agree with Jeb...it's good value for the price.
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  April 27, 2011 5:37pm ET
Thanks for the comments, and good advice Hoyt and Jeb
Dave Reuther
Deerfield, Illinois —  April 27, 2011 8:17pm ET
I also enjoy the Bota zin. I use it in some of my cooking, and it goes well with a variety of casual foods.
Jim Lee
Ridgeland, MS, USA —  April 27, 2011 8:52pm ET
I've found the 2009 Big House Red & White to both be quite tastee. And I've caught it on sale for as little as $12.99 for a 3L box. $15.99 is more typical. The 2010 White is out now and it, too, is great for the price. I believe the 2009 received a WS87 from the bottle.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  April 27, 2011 10:11pm ET
I hate to say it....but I am just too snobby for the boxed stuff (not because of the box, but rather the general "everyday" wines that go into it). Life is too short...drink your Saturday wines on Wednesday (like I am now...a 2006 McPrice Myers syrah blend....mmmmmm.....)
Tim Fish
Santa Rosa, CA —  April 27, 2011 10:54pm ET
Andrew, I can relate to the feeling, as my blog said, but not everyone can manage a 2006 McPrice Myers on Wednesday, as much as they might wish. Thanks for the comment.
Mace D Howell Iii
fremont,ca,usa —  April 28, 2011 6:04am ET
Tim

The jug wine from JC Cellars in Oakland has to be the best inexpensive wine you will ever taste. You might have to go there to get it because I am not sure you can order it. It is called Daily Rations. It sells for $25 initially and is a one gallon jug. I think this comes around 2.5 750 ml bottles. After you finish the jug, you bring it back and pay $20 for your next one. Even better, you can taste in the tasting room before you buy. This wine is thicker, richer and more balanced than any of this other stuff. Bottom line, it is about $8 for a 750 ml bottle.
Tim Mc Donald
Napa,CA —  April 28, 2011 1:03pm ET
A great post Tim, I love Bota Box Malbec and the Zin too!
I blind taste around 6ooo wines a year and I have been very impressed with all the brands you mentioned. The Wine Cube of course is a Target only brand and their whites are quite good value for money. I know you are a blind taster too and don't you love it when a Monday-Thursday wine is quite good and therefore pretty reliable? Great to have Wine Spectator comment on this important category. The Black Box Cab is quite decent too.
I do believe you have to buy in the second 3.0 tier you mentioned to find good quality. Cheers and good on you! TMcD
Brian Loring
Lompoc, CA —  April 28, 2011 4:49pm ET
Andrew - I hear you. I can't pull the trigger on what's available either.

But what if that tasty 2006 McPrice Myers was in a 1 litre bag in a box on your kitchen counter? Right next to a Loring Pinot Noir, and a Carlisle Zin, and a Novy Grenache... And in the 'fridge were 1 litre boxes of Brewer-Clifton Chardonnay, Merry Edwards Sav Blanc, and Calera Viognier?

You'd have a by the glass program at home without the cost of any expensive preservation system. You could mix and match wines each night. You'd never feel the pressure to finish that last bit in the bottle, since it won't go bad. And you'd never have to pour another half bottle of oxidized wine down the sink :)

While I think bag in the box is a great fit for restaurant wine by the glass programs, I think there's definitely a place for them in the home as well. If only we could get past the stigma of the box, I think it could revolutionize how people drink wine at home.
William C Strickler
DC Suburbs —  April 28, 2011 5:17pm ET
Brian has a good point.

Tim, thanks for stepping outside the box (sorry) and tasting some.

First it was the stigma of screw-caps, next to tackle is the stigma of bag in a box. I might give it a shot if I were offered Loring, Carlisle, Siduri, etc., but I freely admit I would would be taking a deep breath, before pulling the trigger.

Bill
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento, CA —  April 28, 2011 11:00pm ET
brian...I would LOVE it if premium wines were put in the box. Maybe the stigma will go the way of the screw cap if you guys start filling these bags with the good stuff. I will be the first to buy if it you do this -- and the savings in glass and shipping would improve the economics for sure. In the meantime, I just opened my vaccum decanter for my 2nd glass of McPrice Myers -- thats how I drink the "good stuff"....one glass per day...there are always trade offs :)
Jameson Fink
Seattle, WA —  April 29, 2011 1:47am ET
MAN in a Box from MAN Vintners in South Africa. The Chenin/Viognier is particularly good but I like the Cab and Shiraz as well. Should be able to get them for $20 for a 3L which is a killer deal.
Joe Dekeyser
Waukesha, WI —  April 29, 2011 10:19am ET
My attention span is too short for 3L of anything but I do feel that there is a very real need for more good wineries to offer a box program for WBTG in restaurants. This should be economical for the restaurant, better, fresher wine for the diner and a profitable way for wineries to package wine and expand markets.
David W Voss
elkhorn, Wi —  April 29, 2011 5:18pm ET
Brian, what will a box of your least expensive wine taste in Illinois. I'm ready right now to run down to my friendly wine shop for an everyday box.
Ivan Campos
Ottawa, Canada —  April 30, 2011 3:59pm ET
Next stigma to tackle: 'international blends' in a box! Here in Ontario, these have become quite prevalent at smaller, grocery store-affiliated retailers; initially French-Canadian blends, now seeing some Aussie-Canadian stuff.
Loren Lingenfelter
Danville, CA —  April 30, 2011 4:09pm ET
Brian we all know you are going to do it!!!! Hope it's not $90 a box though.....Come on Brian you can do it!
Charene Beltramo
Napa, CA —  May 9, 2011 2:52pm ET
While it may be true that jugs of wine in France are sexier than boxes of wine anywhere else, I can't help but applaud any effort that blows the lid off stigma and exposes value. Thanks Tim!

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