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Boxed Wines Worth a Try

The best are pure, clean, young and affordable
Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jul 31, 2012 3:30pm ET

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.

Michael Haley
Eugene, OR —  August 1, 2012 11:39am ET
Any specific recommendations? There is only one listing for a 2011 box wine and no 2010s when you do a wine ratings search. A bunch of us are heading down the wild and scenic section of the Salmon River in ID and it would be great to take something other than cheap beer!
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 1, 2012 11:49am ET
Michael, I know what you mean. That's the perfect venue. I'd stick with Black Box, since it fared the best in our last blind tasting. I've tried other vintages as well and they were all good and easy drinking, nothing more. Look for the youngest vintage. Maybe others have suggestions. Let us know how it goes!
Tim Mc Donald
Napa,CA —  August 1, 2012 12:44pm ET
Tip of the hat to you Jim, most boxed wines are really better now than they have ever been. I would agree that Black Box is generally quite good especially the reds and I have found Bota Box and Target's Wine Cube whites to be solid too. Whether fishing, camping, or golf you can't beat the convenience! Good on you for the nod on alternative packages.
Andrew J Walter
Sacramento , CA —  August 2, 2012 10:34am ET
3 thieves make "adult juice boxes"- cab and zin in individual servings that were pretty decent and perfect for the grand canyon trip i took a few years ago
Ray Ondrejech
San Luis Obispo, CA —  August 2, 2012 5:13pm ET
I always have a box or two around the house for visitors that aren't into wine, or if I just want something to quaff while I'm watering the garden. And the boxes are great for the lake, camping, etc. Perhaps April 1st I'll take a box to Ruth Chris' or Morgan's and pay the corkage! And not that it's a problem, but does anyone know why they tend to run lower in alcohol? (Black Box being higher at 13.5%)
Matilde Parente
Indian Wells, California, United States —  August 3, 2012 1:49pm ET
Jim, I'm partial to the classy looking Octavin Wine Bar series, especially Big House White, a floral and easy-sipping summer white blend, and the not-too-grassy Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc (NZ).

Note to producers: Please, please, please give us a nice rose in a box. Does anyone else think rose would make a terrific boxed wine?
James Laube
Napa, CA —  August 3, 2012 4:19pm ET
Hi Ray, it's usually about tonnage, ripeness and concentration. Large volume wines typically come from vineyards that throw large crops (or come from bulk wine) vs. small volume where the emphasis is on low yields and concentration. It's hard to get a large-cropped vineyard to ripen to the same level as a small one. Hang time isn't a priority when you need to make a lot of good wine vs. a little bit of excellent wine. I suspect, too, that drinkers of these wines prefer and expect a more medium-bodied wine (i.e. 13.5). Low-yield wines typically need and/or benefit from more hands on treatment, including use of new oak. Since boxed wines are designed to be consumed early, they require less of many things that go into ultra premium wines (oak, bottle age, etc.)
Colonial Spirits
Acton, MA, USA —  August 6, 2012 9:24pm ET
There already are rose in boxes, which is probably why most bag-in-a-box companies haven't produced any. Do happen to recall the brands Franzia and Almaden? There is a underlying skepticism when it comes to producing good quality roses, due to the fact that the average wine drinker will immediately associate it with either Franzia or Almaden which in turn means no or low sales. Wish this wasn't the case because if it were produced it would mean more for us!!
John D Carlson
Oshkosh, WI —  August 8, 2012 12:22pm ET
McManis family makes a delicious red + white in box: Jack Tone. Retails for about $20, seriously good stuff.
New York, NY. USA —  August 13, 2012 3:59pm ET
Where can we find good boxed wine in New York City and Long Island?
Jeffrey Matchen
New Jersey —  August 17, 2012 7:15pm ET
I've had pretty good luck with boxed wines at Astor Wines in Manhattan. Oh, and they have a pretty good selection of non-boxed wines, too!
Cream Wine Company
chicago illinois —  October 22, 2012 3:30pm ET
Have you tried BOXWINE NV Red - Argentine Malbec? Only sold in Massachusetts, Illinois and Colorado. A new small company, but expanding.
Wimberly Miree
Birmingham, AL, USA —  January 9, 2018 1:09pm ET
I think the biggest problem for boxed wine producers is that they are not putting higher quality wine in them in the first place. The ultimate "knock" on them is that most people don't think much of the wine inside, and my guess is that they assume that is because it wasn't good wine to begin with. I don't think the container is making the wine bad, but that the wine going into the box is less than average quality. Since most great wine is usually aged a while, I realize the short "self-life" of boxed wine limits producers to something less than "great" wine, but think it would help the perception of boxed wine to have a little broader attempt to "box" more wine in the 85-90 point range.

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