Upscale Washington wines now available by the box
By DEE HITCH
Mercer Island Reporter Columnist
October 6, 2009 · Updated 1:49 PM
Is the economy making you cringe? Do you keep reassessing your bank account? Not only do you not have to scrimp on wine, you don’t even have to compromise on quality.
Enter boxed wine.
“Oh no,” you exclaim. “First, screwtops; now box wine? What is the world coming to?”
Quietly, there has been a revolution in boxed wine. Formerly, it was the poorest wine that was in boxes. Now, boxed wine is going upscale.
Producers are using smaller cartons — three-liter, rather than five — and they are even vintaged! Some wineries are boxing the same wine that is in their bottles, but at a lower price. And they like to call it a “cask” rather than a box.
Actually, the United States is playing follow-the-leader. According to Britain’s Decanter magazine, Norwegians buy more than 40 percent of their wine in boxes; Sweden, 22 percent; and Australia, 52 percent.
“While traveling in Europe, I discovered boxed wine and grew to love the many conveniences it offered,” said Ryan Sproule, founder of Black Box wines.
“When I returned to the United States, I was surprised that no one was making fine wine in a box. I started Black Box wines on the belief that aficionados of fine wine are more concerned with the quality of the wine than the cosmetics of the bottle.”
Originally, all of Black Box came from Napa Valley. Now, only chardonnay does. The merlot and cabernet sauvignon say “California,” which means it can be from anywhere in California. It sources its sauvignon blanc from New Zealand and its pinot grigio from Italy. The reserve merlot is from Sonoma. The riesling is from Washington state’s Columbia Valley.
Obviously, the unbreakable box makes box wine a natural for boating, skiing, picnics and tail-gating. Additionally, since the wine is in a soft plastic, air-tight bag which collapses as the wine is dispensed, no air reaches the wine and it can keep fresh for at least a month, maybe longer.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, you can keep your chardonnay box out on the deck or in the carport, which keeps it chilled.
While the three-liter box — the equivalent of four bottles (24 glasses) — is perfect for a crowd, the ability to stay fresh for a month makes it handy even for a single person. And when you are cooking and need a half cup of wine, you don’t need to open a whole bottle.
Hardy of Australia decided to make the move to three-liter boxes of varietal wines (shiraz and chardonnay) because of a worldwide decline in sales of lower quality nonvarietal wines and the success of quality boxed wine throughout the United Kingdom.
“What we saw in Australia was that there was a rapid rise in the last eight years of varietal wine sales,” said David Hayman, head of Hardy’s in the United States.
“And the box offers the consumer a saving,” Hayman added. “Glass is such a large financial commitment. So are corks, capsules and labels.”
Bottles, corks capsules, labels and other packaging items cost between $1 to $3 per bottle, while the cost of a box is around 70 cents.
So take a second look at box wine. There’s quality there which wasn’t there before.
Check out these varieties of boxed wines:
Tefft (Washington State) cabernet/merlot blend. Four liters for $27. A runaway favorite. Delicious blend. Layers of flavor with a lingering finish.
Black Box (California) Three liters for $20. Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio. Washington riesling. The reserve merlot from Sonoma is $24.
Killer Juice (California) cabernet sauvignon. Three liters for $20. Pinot Evil pinot noir (France). Three liters for $19.
The following boxes have the same wine that is in the bottle.
Hardy’s Stamps (Australia) Three liters for $16. Chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, shiraz.
I personally recommend the chardonnay and shiraz Washington Hills (Washington). Three liters for $18. Chardonnay, riesling and merlot.
Corbett Canyon (California) Three liters for $11. Merlot and chardonnay.
Bandit (California) One liter for $7. This smaller size is convenient for hiking, camping, kayaking. Pinot grigio and sangria are favorites.
With all this high quality wine in boxes, I recommend them as an alternative to the traditional boxed economy wines from Franzia, Almaden, Peter Vella and Carlo Rossi.
Dee Hitch can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Contact Mercer Island Reporter Columnist Dee Hitch at email@example.com.