Just about every box wine maker indicates on their packaging that the wine won’t spoil for weeks after opening. Most claim a month, and some even longer periods. Now, the Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher of the Wall Street Journal have put those claims to the test, and the news is good for box wine fanciers. In Boxed Wines Face The Six-Week Challenge, the WSJ Tastings duo describes how they tested box wines for freshness over aging periods of up to a month ad a half.
Their procedure was fairly straightfoward. Each week for a total of six weeks, they opened boxes of Fisheye Chardonnay and Fisheye Shiraz, and then stored the boxes in their refrigerator. Then, they did a blind taste test of the wine from all twelve boxes to see how the wines had fared during their various lengths of post-opening storage. The results were heartening:
The Chardonnays, on the whole, continued to taste pleasant enough but a bit harsh. Three smelled and tasted notably sulfuric. All tasted of pineapple — sometimes sweet pineapple and sometimes watery pineapple. One was clearly the best. It tasted riper, fresher and cleaner than the rest. This turned out to be the newest box, the one we had just opened. But our second favorite was the wine we’d opened the third week of the experiment, and our third favorite was the very first we’d opened, all those weeks before. Overall, the boxes we opened first and last were the best; the boxes opened in the middle weeks were the ones that tasted and smelled less fresh. But none of the boxes tasted oxidized or obviously off. We’ve tried some wines by the glass at tony wine bars that tasted far more over the hill.
We sampled the Shirazes next. Once again, none of them was obviously oxidized. The difference among them was that a couple tasted vibrant and alive — these were wines we would take to a picnic ourselves — while others had the same basic tastes, but they’d lost life and seemed somewhat dull and flat. In any event, none of them tasted as sweet, alcoholic and heavy as many jug wines on the market and even many under-$20 wines in bottles.
When we checked the bottom of the boxes, it turned out that our favorite Shiraz had been opened in week No. 4 and our second favorite had been the very first cask we opened. Our third favorite was the freshest box. Once again, it appeared that the boxes from the fifth and sixth weeks — those open for one week and two weeks — were the most problematic. Call it a dumb period.
So, the bottom line: It’s true. The wine really does keep for six weeks. It has its ups and downs in your refrigerator, but it will keep fine. Would we keep a box of wine in our refrigerator for six weeks? Well, no. Today, there are so many interesting, affordable wines on the shelves that we’d rather taste several wines than one wine in a big box. That said, the FishEye Shiraz, at the equivalent of $4 a bottle, is a perfectly nice wine for a party this summer — and, yes, if you have any left over, you can keep it around until the dog days of summer without it turning hairy.
We can’t say that we’re surprised, though we’ve never kept a box around for six weeks. Storing even red wines in the refrigerator if the storage time is likely to be many weeks is no doubt a good idea. Another tip is to avoid introducing air into the plastic bag that collapses around the shrinking wine inside the outer cardboard box – see Beware the Burp.
All in all, we give big kudos to Gaiter and Brecher for putting their previous less-than-satisfactory experiences with box wines aside and conducting a fair and realistic test. Coverage like this can only help boxed wine gain credibility, and encourage wineries to put ever-better product in convenient bag-in-box packaging.