In A Loaf of Bread, a Box of Wine?, subtitled Good wine in strange containers, Slate writer Mike Steinberger gushes about how one can actually find decent wine in something other than a 750 ml glass bottle. Steinberger has an interesting explanation for it, too:
So why the sudden urge to package good wines in non-bottles? I suspect one, subsidiary factor is the call of the gutter: the proclivity of highbrow purveyors (of food, art, couture, etc.) to seek edginess by embracing the lowbrow. Haute cuisine, for instance, has been in thrall for years now to so-called molecular gastronomy, an approach to cooking that, among other things, finds much inspiration in junk food. Given the stigma that has long been associated with jug and box wines, it was surely inevitable that some enterprising winemaker would eventually dare to be different by putting a decent cabernet in a box or jug.
Could he be right? Perhaps in some cases. I’m sure that the Three Thieves jugs he mentions were, in fact, designed to be different and gain advantage from their downscale format. And, of course, their 1-liter jugs are different enough to avoid any confusion with the cheap jug product from Gallo, Vella, etc.
Really, though, the driving force behind boxes and similar packages is pure performance and practicality. They are cheaper to ship, more efficient to retail, easier to store, and, most important, they last for a month or more after opening. The U.S. lags significantly behind the rest of the world in adopting box wine packaging – reportedly, more than half the wine consumed in Australia is boxed.
While it’s a bit depressing to have the wine writer for a highly visible online publication only now, in the second half of 2006, realize that not all box wine is cheap swill, I suppose it’s also encouraging that the word is getting out, once again, that you aren’t an uncultured buffoon if you are spotted leaving the wine shop with a box instead of a bottle.
Steinberger tasted some unconventionally packaged wines for the article – a couple of Dtour 3-liter tubes, a jugs of Chardonnay and Zinfandel from Three Thieves, a 3-liter Banrock Station Chardonnay, and a Black Box Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvingon. Coincidentally, we just tried Three Thieves Syrah (liking it reasonably well) and have the same Black Box Cab on our shelf to try. We wish he had left out the “roadkill” reference for the Black Box Cab; that’s going to be a hard image to forget when we sniff our first glass…