Thinking inside the Box

Boxed wine: two words that can make hard-core wine lovers shudder with revulsion. True, decades ago such non-bottled plonk was justifiably consigned to the oenophilic wasteland of jug wines and supermarket swigs. But the world has turned a few times since 1965, when the Australian vintner Thomas Angove patented the first "bag-in-box" wine delivery system. Today, the quality of boxed wines has improved dramatically and sales are going through the roof.

In many ways, glass bottles are the ideal means of wine storage. Glass is non-reactive and won’t change the flavor of wine; the cork, if sealed and stored properly, will prevent oxidation; and glass is an optimal environment for allowing wine to age gracefully in the ​cellaring process. 

However, glass bottles — not usually made from recycled materials — are expensive to manufacture and ship, adding significantly to retail prices. A small percentage of corks will fail and allow the wine to oxidize. And the consumer has only a short period of time to drink the contents before it becomes unpalatable. What’s more, good bottled wine is not cheap. 

Boxed wines solve all these problems. The hardware consists of a three- to five-liter airtight plastic bag inside a cardboard box. (Three liters equals the amount in four standard wine bottles.) An attached airtight spigot allows access to the liquid inside — as the wine is drawn out the bag collapses, thereby preventing any oxidation from air entering the bag. Overall these materials are far cheaper to manufacture than glass bottles and can easily be made from recycled goods. Because of their lighter weight, they cost a fraction of their glass equivalents to transport. 

Retail cost is another plus. Outside of the fact that the risk of spoilage is minimal (once tapped, boxed wines will keep fresh for three to six weeks), since they’re cheaper to package and ship they can cost 40 percent less than traditional glass bottles of wine.And, as consumer demand explodes, the quality and varietal selection of boxed wines is growing ever better. While there are currently no super- or ultra-premium brands on the market, premium offerings (boxed wines at approximately $20 for the equivalent of a standard glass bottle) are readily available from such producers as Black Box, Bota Box, and The Naked Grape

Oenology 101: The Basics of Wine

Although glass bottles have been used for storage since ancient times, it wasn’t until the 17th century that they came into general use, their necks stoppered by cork plugs. Before this, wine was stored in earthenware kveri or amphorae (large clay pots sealed with stones, rags, or beeswax), and later, in wooden casks. 

The majority of wines are produced to be consumed immediately — a perfect scenario for boxed wines (also known as BIB or bag-in box), since this delivery system is not designed for long-term aging.In Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries, boxed wines are immensely popular. In Australia they account for about 50 percent of wine sales.

Boxed wines are labeled according to quality: "popular premium" ($10- $15 for the equivalent of a standard glass bottle); "premium" ($15-$20), super premium ($20-$30); ultra premium ($30-$40); and luxury ($50-$100). Another trend in alternative packaging for the wine industry is canned wines. 

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