Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 13, 2010

Nose to glass

Thinking inside the box

By Don Colman

I can't believe I am writing an article on this, let alone admitting to anyone that I have done this. I drank wine from a box. There, I said it. My guilt should be gone and I should be free to return to my regular wine drinking habits. But that is not the case, because I actually liked it.

Boxed wine has historically been known as "hooch" or the dregs that wineries would dump into a plastic bag, package in a box, and sell at ridiculously low prices. That is all starting to change. There are some wineries and wine marketers who are starting to realize that it can make a lot of sense. Here is why:

* First, wine and air don't mix. There are thousands of gadgets (some borderline ridiculous) that you can buy that will remove air from a bottle once it has been opened. The design on these boxes creates a vacuum so that all unused wine remains untouched by oxygen.

* Second, the environment. Even with recycling programs for wine bottles, there is a significant environmental benefit to moving to boxed wine (they create about half of the carbon footprint of a wine bottle).

* Third, so many of us want to have one or two glasses of wine a night -- but wrestle with the idea of saving the rest of the bottle. The box wine is the ideal answer as you can literally pour one glass of wine and then store the rest effectively for a month or longer.

* Fourth, cost savings. In this economy, who doesn't want a deal? Typically, a box wine is equivalent to four bottles and you can buy it for the same price as buying less than two bottles of the regular stuff. Why such a difference in price? Boxed wine saves the wineries significant money, which savings are then passed on to the consumer (for example, research the cost of corks and the shortage of the cork trees, and you will get a feel as to one aspect of the cost of winemaking).

Here is the problem. As with all wine, there are good ones and there are bad ones. This is most obvious in the box wine market. The trick -- find a reputable producer and stay with them. I found that Underdog Wine Merchants has created a website called www.betterwinesbetterworld.com that covers all of the benefits of box wine. On top of that, it outsources much of its wine production to different quality wineries from around the world -- many of which sell the same wine within bottles.

One wine in particular that caught my attention was Australian Sauvignon Blanc from Silver Birch. It is a refreshing and fruitful with a very smooth yet complex finish. I did a little test of the Silver Birch box wine vs. another Australian Sauvignon Blanc bottle wine -- and found both to be very pleasing. The catch, I only had one glass of each -- and then stored the rest for one night. When I had a glass the following night, the box wine had maintained all of its characteristics, while the bottle had lost some of the freshness, picked up some acidic tones, and was generally not enjoyable.

I must confess, if I were having a dinner party, I would be inclined to stay with bottles of wine. However, anytime my wife and I are looking for one glass of wine with dinner, these boxed wines are going to be at the top of my list.

The best part about these wines, as with most wines produced today, is that they are made to drink right away. These wines will not improve with age -- so drink up knowing that you don't have to finish the box in one sitting.

On another note, if you want to get out and enjoy a fun Labor Day weekend -- take a peek at the Livermore Harvest Wine Celebration. It is a great way to sample local wine, meet winemakers, and have some end of summer fun. Check out www.lvwine.org for more information.

Until next time, Cheers!

Don Colman lives in the East Bay and writes a wine blog at www.nosetoglass.com.

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