Wine — Drinking out of the box

Drinking out of the box

By Tim Protzman

Boxed wines deserve a little love, respect and tasting 

Boxed wine is like Rodney Dangerfield; it gets no respect. Maybe if they had a prize inside like Cracker Jacks it would sell more — fake Rolex or the new Nine Inch Nail’s CD would be nice. But for now, boxed wine is not taken seriously. Even buying it was a hassle. I got yelled at. Twice. Was it worth it? Would I do it again? That depends on the Wine Rookies.

The Wine Rookies are a group of 23- to 49-year-old guinea pigs I use to taste-test wine. My palate is too jaded. I discourse for hours on the merits and failures of any wine. And I’ve never met I wine I didn’t like. But, like on American Bandstand, I never give a wine a perfect “100.” So I use the Wine Rookies to present a more objective analysis.

I found out long ago that most people have a perfect pitch when it comes to wine. A beer-drinking friend would uncannily point out the most expensive, best and worst of any blind tasting. My son’s 20-something colleagues, all of whom spend more time at Starbucks than the 19th hole, correctly dissected three Chiantis, easily identifying the Rufina and Classico as tastier. There are no tricks; they don’t see the bottle and it wouldn’t matter if they did. Labels are meaningless to them. All it requires is an openness toward wine. If you don’t like wine, there’s no difference between a 1959 Chateau Latour and a bottle of Night Train Express. The only two wines everybody in the world likes are: Pommery Brut Rose Champagne — mostly chardonnay, with a little pinot noir and a touch of petite meunier. $65. And Sangria.

Fortunately, Almaden makes a Sangria in a box. And, yes, I’d buy it again. And a lot of the other boxed wine too.

The best sangria I ever had, I made myself. A bottle of red wine, a merlot or tempranillo, a half cup of fresh squeezed orange juice, a half cup of grapefruit juice and three-quarters of a cup of brandy. Blend in a punch bowl or pitcher, add lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit wedges and refrigerate.

While the Almaden White and Red Sangrias weren’t as good as homemade, they were refreshing and crisp. That crispness comes from the packaging. The three or four bottles worth of wine are vacuum sealed in a Mylar pouch. There’s no air, no oxidation until the wine hits the glass. The breakthrough is that leftover wine stays fresh for months because there’s no air inside the pouch. But does Mylar affect flavor and aging? Probably a little, but not enough for most people to notice. Will boxed wine replace bottles? Probably not, especially for the more expensive fine wines, even though some will box their second labels. We’re more likely to see a fine burgundy with a screw cap than in a box.

Shopping for boxed wine turned nasty. One of the Wine Rookies dropped a 40-ounce bottle of Steel Reserve (a high-gravity lager with 8.1 percent alcohol, and an American finish of yeast and lemons with a bitter after note from the alcohol) and the owner threw us out. We had no better luck at the second store. The manager was mad I took a paper bottle bag off the counter without asking. Would I have had to go through the abuse if I’d been in the California Cabernet Section?

Like I said boxed wine gets no respect. But, boy, does it deserve it. I like the easy-to-pour spout. I like the freshness. I like the fact you get three or four bottles’ worth for about double the price of a single 750-milliliter glass bottle. And I like the casual picnic-time atmosphere the box exudes. The only thing I didn’t like was the Corbett Canyon Mango Blush $9.99 for a three-liter box. The wine was nice, but the only way I like mangoes are in salsa. The Rookies thought it was a more grown-up alternative to wine coolers because it was still and not sparkling. Carbonated beverages put the alcohol in your bloodstream faster than those without the carbon dioxide, something to remember if you’re drinking beer, champagne or a mixed cocktail. So if you’ve been thinking about boxed wine, but haven’t tried it here’s our list of wines that deserve respect, box and all. Most producers have a complete line of the standard varietals and some interesting non-traditional blends.

Corbett Canyon Pinot Grigio, $9.99 for four liters — Zesty lemon with a touch of watercress.

Almaden Mountain Chablis, $8.99 — One of the first wines I ever drank. The Rookies were so-so on it but it presented iced tea-with-lemon flavors with a bit of tannic finish.

Peter Vella Delicious Red, $9.99 for five liters — I swear every kind of California grape is in this wine. While not quite delicious, it was good in a rustic way and had the food-matching habits of a good Sangiovese.

Delicato Chardonnay, $10.99 — Just a tad too oaky but very layered. Presented burnt sugar, lemon custard and duck sauce flavor notes. Rookies split down the middle on this one; loved or hated 50-50.

Franzia White Grenache, $9.99 five liters — Franzia’s the Microsoft of Boxed Wines. Loved the White Grenache with its cherry and roasted beet flavors. Try the Sunset Blush, too.

Black Box Winery Merlot, $17.99 for three liters —  The Prada of Boxed Wine. The merlot soft and mellow with plum and cranberry.

Carmenet Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, $15.99 for three liters — My favorite. Soft inky floral bouquet, nice tannins, pleasant finish. Only flaw was an out-of-place sweetness.

Franzia also makes decent Sangria but it’s not like homemade.

Find your bottle

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission can help you find your beverage with a click or two. Just go to, type the name of your wine into the product locater and click “go.” The site’s search engine will come up with a list of stores that carry the bottle you seek.

- Tim Protzman

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