Most likely, the words “box wine” will conjure flashbacks to college parties. It’s time to overcome those headache-inducing memories: recently, high-end producers have increasingly embraced the democratic benefits of the box—and this season of festive gatherings is the perfect opportunity to give it a squeeze.
Minor innovations notwithstanding, the basic concept is invariable: a plastic bag (the bladder) is filled with wine and sealed on the bottling line, then tucked inside a cardboard box. A one-way spigot on the bag keeps air from spoiling the remaining wine as you pour—which is why restaurants frequently used box wine for their by-the-glass programs before the advent of wine kegs.
According to Darryl Joannides, who always keeps boxes stocked at his NE Alberta Street bottle shop Cork, it’s “a great solution for those who just like one glass now and then but can’t finish a whole bottle in one sitting.” Unlike an opened bottle, which must be consumed within a day or two, boxes can last months on the counter, and even longer in the fridge. Plus, convenience comes with another advantage: affordability. No glass means lower packaging expenses, and savings for the consumer.
You’ll find boxed wine in three- and five-liter sizes, roughly the equivalent of four or seven bottles of wine—which means less time wrestling with the corkscrew and more time toasting at the table. Here, Joannides picks his favorites:
2011 Casa Santos Lima Terra da Malta Branco (5L) $33
At Portugal’s Casa Santos Lima, the wine that goes into the boxes is the same as what gets bottled, with light tropical notes of pineapple, lemon, and apple that all swirl in the glass at a value that’s hard to beat. Pop this massive box in the fridge for added shelf life.
2011 Bodegas Borsao Vina Borgia Garnacha (3L) $20
Year after year, this is the best juicy, fruity red box wine on the market. At around $1 a glass, it’s handy to have around when company arrives unexpectedly, or when you just want something simple and delicious to go with leftovers or takeout.
2011 Bodegas Orusco Tempranillo (3L) $24
From a family winery founded in 1896 and now on its fourth generation managing the estate, this darker-bodied, fruit-forward tempranillo grown in the center of Spain boasts spicy boysenberry notes with a slurpable, grape juice–like finish. In a good way.
2011 Gran Verano Sauvignon Blanc (3L) $22.50
This vibrant and refreshing Chilean wine has all the bright green grass, tart gooseberry, and lemon snap of the sauvignon blanc grape. It’s a few pennies more per glass than the other boxed whites out there, but it’s worth it.