I like to have a glass of wine with dinner and sometimes one before dinner, too. It doesn’t have to be a “great” wine (whatever that means), a hard to find, or even a particularly interesting wine. It just has to be an enjoyable wine, true to type, easy to drink, and readily available. It’s helpful if the alcohol level is closer to 12% than 14% or even higher, so I’m not zonked out for the evening.
On a visit to any wine store you can see the overwhelming array of wine choices. Aisle after aisle of bottles can be daunting. This bounty can also be part of the fun – a chance to explore, get a recommendation, and try something new. But for everyday wines, sometimes the tried and true is best. I see shoppers head straight to their usual jug wine, grab a few, and head to the checkout – a routine purchase.
I like to buy wine in a box for casual drinking. The problem with wine in the bottle, particularly big bottles, is keeping the wine fresh. Wine deteriorates with exposure to air, losing its freshness, and eventually succumbing to oxidation, which makes the wine undrinkable. We’re usually good for half a bottle in the evening and don’t have wine every night. It’s hard to keep both a red and white on hand, fresh, and drinkable.
Box wines, on the other hand, have a plastic bag inside the box that holds the wine. As you draw wine out, the bag collapses. Air does not replace the wine. The bag gets smaller. Once the bag is tapped, the wine can last several weeks with no loss of quality. This is ideal for me. I have a box of red on the counter and a box of white in the frig. It’s easy to have a glass or two and not be concerned about finishing the bottle. There’s always a choice of red or white. Need a little wine for cooking? No problem!
Most wine boxes hold 3 liters – equal to 4 regular sized bottles or two magnums. It doesn’t seem to be a problem to use this up while the quality is still high. And, there’s no pressure to use up an open bottle or dump out wine past its prime.
Box wines can be great values, but that’s not the best reason to buy wine packaged this way. There is clearly some savings in packaging costs and other economies of scale for the producers, but the big benefit for me is shelf life. I love the flexibility of having a glass of red or white without worrying about loss.
Eric Asimov, who writes a weekly wine column in the New York Times, seems to think that interesting wines start around $20.00 a bottle. He may be right. I know he has the chance to taste a lot more wines than I do. I’ve read others who think that $40.00 is the sweet spot for a memorable bottle, and they may be right, too. But I don’t need a memorable bottle for everyday drinking, and although interesting is nice, it’s not essential. I want a wine that tastes as it should, has some crisp acidity, and is not over the top with alcohol – an everyday wine.
There are lots of choices for wine in the box. Some are frankly cheap and taste like it. I wouldn’t venture much below $20.00 a box. There are quite a few I like at $20.00 to $30.00. Others don’t meet my criteria of tasty, food-friendly wines. They’re too fruity, lack acidity, or have muddled flavors. La Vieille Ferme has been a house wine of mine for years. Both of their delicious red and white wines from the south of France come in boxes. They’re a good place to start. Bota, Black Box and Bandit are well received brands in the wine press – worth a try to see if you like them.
It’s possible to venture a little farther afield, too. At the moment I have a box of Le Petit Frog, Picpoul de Pinet fromFrance and Montepulciano D’Abruzzo from Italy. Both meet my criteria: bright, crisp, flavorful, and easy to drink. This is my first time with the Montepulciano, but I recognized the importer, Frederick Wildman, as a reliable importer, and the wine lives up to the reputation.
Box wines used to be the category for tank-farm bulk wine producers, but more interesting wines are now joining the shelves. Eco-friendly box wine packaging is more popular and well-established in Europe. Look for wines from there to try. The expert wine pickers at Fountainhead wines in Norwalk suggest Vrac from France or Castrum Vinum from Italy. There are some good options from Australia, too – Hardy’s or Lindeman’s.
Everyday wines, for me, are like the legendary carafe wines in the cafés
of Paris – refreshing, lively, enjoyable, and anonymous. They don’t need to be carefully considered – just enjoyed with a meal. Box wines fill the bill!