My first experience with boxed wine was not a pleasant one: a five-liter box fell from a shelf and hit me on the back of the head. I cursed its existence and came up with several secondary uses, including my erstwhile favorite, a doorstop. Eventually boxed wine and I made amends, and I discovered its charms were more than utilitarian. It comes in two main forms: the bag-in-a-box, and the Tetra Pak (not unlike a container of chicken stock), a design that solves the problem of oxygenation. Any time you open a bottle of wine, oxygen—enemy of good wines everywhere—displaces the wine you pour out. So if you don’t finish the bottle, it won’t be nearly as good the next day. In boxed wine, air never touches the wine inside the bag; and in the Tetra Pak, air can be squeezed out. This keeps the wine pristine after opening, allowing optimal flavor should it take you a few months to consume. But don’t do that. Boxed wines are meant for early consumption, not aging; you should enjoy them while they’re young.Think like Steve Martin in The Jerk: “Bring us some fresh wine!”
Not long after Target introduced the Wine Cube (a bag-in-a-box variety with fun, quirky packaging), my wife and I had a small party. Though she wisely denies it, I’m sure she was complicit in coordinating host gifts, because each guest greeted us at the door with a Wine Cube. We received 15 Wine Cubes that night, too many for anyone, much less for a cellar rat like me. Like red-capped garden gnomes, they kept turning up in ridiculous places around the house. The Wine Cube is clever though, and I appreciate the awareness that an end cap at a mass-merchandiser can provide. I just wish the wine inside were more interesting. So leave the Target and visit your local wine retailer, where you get distinctive wines like the Cuvée
de Peña ($35), a dashing, juicy red blend of Mediterranean varieties, or La Petite Frog ($35), a deliciously willowy and crisp white from an obscure French variety, Picpoul de Pinet. And score one for the home team, because the Tailgate Red ($20) from Elk Creek Vineyards down in Owenton, Kentucky, is quite good as well.
The Tetra Pak is an increasingly popular package for wine, used most notably by Three Thieves for their Bandit wines. I’m partial to their pinot grigio and merlot, but all of the wines are delicious—and a bargain at $9. The appeal of the Tetra packaging is its malleability: you can wedge it into a tight spot in your fridge, or squeeze it into your cabinet on top of a can of beans. I’ve even used it as a baseball to toss in the back yard. Once you’ve drunk a little more than half of it, smash the top down, put the cap back on, and it lands in the web of your baseball glove with a nice thwack. Then when you’re thirsty, you can unscrew the cap, pour yourself some more, and keep playing. And as you might guess, that’s my new favorite secondary use of a boxed wine.
Originally published in the November 2010 issue.