Three great boxed wines – yes, tasty 3-liter wines in a box exist

I've been a proponent of wine-in-a-box, or "cask wine" as the Aussies call it, for years. (Read my column from 2006 and another from 2008). But with the recession siphoning our wallets, these vinous countertop accoutrement are becoming as popular as half off restaurant coupons. Whereas before, Australian wineries ruled the boxed segment, lately Californians have toyed with the concept of the cask. And using good wine instead of the headache-inducing plonk once reserved for this "lowly" form of wine service. I've even seen it (and placed it myself) behind restaurant bars destined for the wines-by-the-glass list. Oh how tastes change when money is tight! I knew it had come full circle when my financially comfortable parents asked my recommendations for boxed wines. Two years ago, I would have (and still) respond Hardy's Cabernet Sauvignon and Black Box Merlot but want to add a few more to that list.

The reason why I'm a huge supporter of this movement is threefold: 1) They're inexpensive – wineries save money on shipping and packaging (essentially the cardboard box, the spigot and the plastic bladder) and pass the cost savings on to you. Each 3-liter box also houses four bottles; 2) Once opened, the wine stays fresh up to 90 days so you can have just one glass (read how this works); and 3) The packaging is more environmentally friendly – the cardboard is easily recyclable and the whole shebang weighs less than glass so it saves fuel during shipping. Good things, all around. I hope more wineries get over the stigma and consider the box.

Recommended Wines in a Box

You can find most of these wines at grocery stores:

Big House White 2009 California This is a blend of the widely-planted yet rarely lauded Malvasia Bianca grape, Muscat Canelli, Viognier, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and White Riesling. Super fruity, aromatic with soft acidity. Probably not a love match with tart sauvignon blanc drinkers but if you enjoy California Chardonnay or Riesling, jump on in. It's very drinkable with pears and tropical fruit. Not really sweet but juicy and it finishes with a swath of citrus. Made by the same folks who create Cupcake wines. Sw=2 (out of 10). $22 for four bottles. 3.5 stars (out of 5).

Pepperwood Grove Chardonnay California This is better than many lackluster, personality-free, bottled California Chardonnays twice the price. Pour this in a glass behind closed doors and serve it at your next gathering. See what people say and report back. Approachable with smooth acidity, hints of vanilla, peaches and apricots. Finishes with an oddly woody aftertaste but it's not disconcerting. Kinda sweet but not cloying. Made by a long-time grape growing family, Don Sebastiani and Sons. Sw=3. $20. 3.5 stars.

Boho Vineyards 2008 Old Vine Zinfandel California Housed in what the producer calls "Octavin" and the eight-sided box makes it a little more refrigerator-friendly (where I would suggest you store this red – it's that juicy). Fruit driven and concentrated with blackberry, jammy black cherry and plum. Medium-bodied, unlike most Zinfandels, and a bit on the sweet side. Tannins are tame so pretty much all you taste is fruit, making it easy to simply sip on a random night (or day). Its freshness lasted around six weeks. Read more about their concept. Sw=3. $22. 3 stars.


Sept. 16, 2010

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