Wine boxes stack up well in tasting

In My Glass

October 05, 2005|By ROB KASPER


Boxed wine has taken a big leap forward from the days not so long ago when it either tasted like sugar water or wet cardboard. Now the boxed chardonnay, shiraz and cabernet that I have been drinking have been respectable stuff, with clean, balanced flavors.

I would give each of the five boxed wines I sampled a grade of B minus. They wouldn't send a sommelier into ecstatic conniptions, but they are pleasing everyday beverages for family gatherings, neighborhood get-togethers, even an office party, provided you're not trying to impress any clients.

I also found them to be good companions forweeknight suppers, providing an easy way to enjoy a glass or two of wine without dealing with uncorking and recorking a bottle. You simply fill up your glass from thewine-box spigot.

I chose boxed wine, also known as bag-in-a-box wine, as the first topic for this new column because it fits the theme of this new undertaking, which I see as a joyful once-a-month journey into the beverage arts.

This space will be devoted to happy landings, with the details, compressed into bright, readable form. Most people, I suspect, will read backward, scanning the data first, then perhaps working their way up to the paragraphs of prose. So it goes in the battle of information vs. exposition.

In the hopes of snagging a wandering reader or two, I will keep my commentary snappy. Concise is the byword, at least for the first venture.

Here are the pros and cons of drinking boxedwine: PROS // A distinct advantage is that boxed wine rarely goes bad. The wine, vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag inside the box, won't "turn" or oxygenate as fast as a wine in an opened bottle. Once opened, both red andwhite boxed wines supposedly will keep for up to fourweeks, unrefrigerated without deteriorating. (I drank all the samples before four weeks, but I kept thewhites in the fridge.)

Another advantage is that boxed wines are a bargain. A box that holds the equivalent of four normal (750 milliliter) bottles of chardonnay or shiraz runs about $20-the equivalent of $5 a bottle. That is a pretty good price for a decentwine.

Boxed wine is also mobile, easy to cart to a picnic, a pool or a tailgate party where glass bottles might be cumbersome or prohibited. According to Jay Miller, proprietor of Bin 604Wine Sellers, who once dropped Black Box Chardonnay froma shelf in his store, boxed wine can also take a punch. CONS // Boxes aren't classy. Even when theywere perched on a stately sideboard in my dining room, the Delicato Shiraz and Carmenet Cabernet Sauvignon looked more like boxes of cereal than vessels holding mystic elixirs. If visiting dignitaries, say the Duke and Duchess of York,would have dropped by, I would have been embarrassed to serve them wine drawn from a box, not a bottle. It might just be me, but boxed wine lacks panache.

Additionally, pulling the spigot out of the box and getting it ready for action proved to be tricky. I punched the perforated hole in the side of the box, then went fishing with my hands, pawing around the innards for the spigot. The experience of rubbing my hands against the plastic bladder full of wine reminded me of the time I tried to milk a cow. But, unlike milking a cow, I did get better with practice at fetching the spigot.

Because you can't see inside the box, it is difficult to tell how much wine is left inside. Periodically, I lifted and jiggled the boxes I was sampling, but never got a good feel for howmuch wine remained. Finally, there was the matter of getting the last glass out of the bag. I confess I resorted to opening the box, and squeezing the bag, as if it were a goat's skin. Once again, this is not something I would feel comfortable doing if the Duke and Duchess dropped in.

Rick Breza of Mills Wines & Spirits in Annapolis told me boaters love boxed wines because the boxes can be easily stowed. Peter Wood of the Wine Source in Hampden told me that next month boxed wines will be getting classier and pricier as dtour, a $40 box of Macon-Villages, arrives in town from France.

Yet, boxed wines do have an image problem. They have not yet become the perfect hostess gift.

Or as Craig Salemi of the Wine Underground store on Evans Chapel Road told me, for now if you bring box wine to a fancy dinner party, you run the risk of being the one who does not get invited back.

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