After many interesting weeks of buying and rating boxed wines, I’ve finally concluded my experiment. I set out to prove that boxed wines were a viable alternative to bottled wines, and that winemakers would eventually embrace this trend. Along the way, I learned a few things about boxed wine:
Boxed wines actually test better than bottled wines for flavor-altering chemicals, but phenomenally worse for oxidation. The PET bladder that most boxed wines use is oxygen-permeable. Until a better alternative presents itself, oxidation will always be an ongoing problem. This means that:
Red wines will last about a year after they’ve been boxed. Basically, it’s unwise to pick up any vintage more than 2 years old. The 2008s I was drinking on weren’t all that impressive in 2010. The extra sulfites present help prevent oxidation.
White wines will last about 6 months after they’ve been boxed. Once we hit 2011, avoid the 2009s like the plague. If you can catch last year’s vintage early in the year, you should expect the wine to be at its peak.
I was very, very hard-pressed to find a Rosé boxed wine. There must still be concern of too much backlash against two historically reviled trends combined in one product.
There are very expensive boxed wines out there, up to and way over $50 per box. For the purposes of this experiment, I declined to include those.
edit:: @Tishwine on Twitter asked why I didn’t try more imports. I only used the boxed wines I could get at local wine shops, Total Wine, and grocery stores. Consider me very intrigued, however, as I’ve noticed some interesting boxed wines at a high price point, and I’m almost certain to get into more expensive or rarer fare for a future post.
Now that I’m done, I’ve compiled all the wines I tested, summed up the experiences in a quick paragraph, and gave each one an overall rating that encompasses flavor and longevity.
Was I pleased with the results?
Yes. Yes I was.
I had horrible wines, I had good wines, and I had one prime example of what boxed wines can be.
Octavin was hands down the best distributor, giving me my top 5 wines. Because they’re expressedly focused on legitimizing the word “premium” in boxed wines, I have to give them a special shout-out for all the leg work they did to attract passionate, open-minded producers.
Before I give anything else away, please, check out the wines!
The results (ranked in order from best to worst):
2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc: 7/10. This is a classic, aggressive, beautifully flavored Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I actually had a lot of trouble keeping my pace with this box. It drank so well for so long, I actually finished it a week early. If you can get the 2009 before we hit 2011, I highly, highly recommend it for anyone who likes a crisp, acidic Sauv Blanc.
NV Bodegas Osbourne Seven: 6/10. This hearty Spanish red blend of seven varietals is an interesting mix of red fruits, spice, and earthiness. It has a very smooth mouth feel, though the alcohol flavor is a little too prominent. A very pleasant, versatile offering that has a good staying power.
NV Pinot Evil Pinot Noir: 5/10. This is a very interesting, very simple Pinot Noir. Somehow, and I don’t know how, a bargain-priced Pinot Noir manages to be more than drinkable; it’s actually delicious! There’s a bit of an imbalance, and the metallic undertaste keeps it from being better than good. Still, if you’re looking for a pleasantly tannic, light red-fruit-flavored wine, you could do worse than this guy.
2008 Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay: 5/10. Though I’m not usually an oaked Chardonnay fan, this boxed wine didn’t disappoint. The imbalanced acidity is especially palpable on the finish, which is cruelly bitter. The flavor deteriorates a bit too much after 3 weeks, but until then, it’s a very serviceable, average white wine.
2008 Big House Red: 5/10. This mind-boggling blend of varietals manages to even out into an agreeable, lean, balanced combination of dark floral and red-fruit flavors. The only issue with it is that after 3 weeks, the flavor significantly deteriorates. If you’re doing a weekend trip and need a lot of wine in a small space, this is definitely a good candidate.
2009 Angel Juice Pinot Grigio: 4/10. I’m not a Pinot Grigio fan by any means, but this wine’s apple and melon flavors were actually pretty tolerable. Became harsh rather quickly. Still made it most of the way while still being drinkable. If you’re a Pinot Grigio fan, I say have at it. If you’re not, there’s no reason to sniff near this box.
2006 Bota Box Shiraz: 3/10. Imbalanced, lacking in flavor, but hanging onto its meager flavor for much of the experiment. This Shiraz is typical for a bad Shiraz. If you can get past the lack of balance, and you really like your black fruits, I guess you could do worse. I’d personally rather deal with the extra weight and volume of 4 bottles than buy this wine.
2008 Wine Cube California Vintner’s Red Blend: 3/10. I feel dirty giving this wine a score even that high, but to be honest, it was consistent and drinkable. Way too much oak, way too little tannic structure, and a flavor of vanilla sugar made the flavor offensive to my tastebuds, so if you don’t like oak, don’t get within 50 feet of this wine.
NV Double Dog Dare Chardonnay: 2/10. I’m not going to split hairs here; this wine is barely drinkable. It maintains its plain apple flavor fairly well, though it picks up an odd chemical note that just won’t go away. I can’t think of a situation in which I would recommend this wine.
2008 Black Box Monterey Chardonnay: 2/10. Had a lifespan not terribly longer than a bottled counterpart. Its flavors were not impressive to begin with, and the structure just wasn’t there. It had a briny, throat-clogging acidity that made it the opposite of smooth. This is best consumed within a weekend. Again, go for a bottled Chard instead.
NV Washington Hills Merlot: 1/10. Not a good representative of a state that produces quality Merlot. The red fruit and blueberry flavors are obscured by too much oak, and the structure is just off. It doesn’t last long once opened, and the experience wasn’t much to write home about anyways. If you’re serving to a lot of people who like oak, maybe this will do in a pinch, but it’s simply not a viable long-drinking option for most of us.