Boxed Wines Are Back and Bigger Than Ever

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Back in the ’80s, wine in a box was pretty much the opposite of a status symbol — an indication that you clearly favored quantity and convenience over quality, when it came to wine. Boxed wines were a bottom-of-the-barrel, bulk affair. (You millennials will have to take your elders’ word for it.) Serious sippers wouldn’t go near anything that didn’t come in a bottle, with a cork.

In recent years, of course, a lot has changed when it comes to wine packaging, and now boxed wines are a different breed than they used to be. That is to say that many of them are actually quite good.

Here are a few things to know about wine in a box — then and now:

Origins: Some wine experts trace boxed wine’s origins to mid-20th-century Australia — or even farther back. In a Wine Enthusiast article, wine writer Christina Pickard suggests wine in a box derives from a traditional drinking game played on Australia Day, which “involves pinning a wine box’s bladder to a clothesline and spinning it until it lands above a player’s head, who must in turn ‘skull,’ or take a generous gulp, from the goon [possibly short for ‘flagon’] bag.” Prior to the mid-1960s, Australians drank wine primarily on special occasions, Pickard notes. “But in April 1965, South Australian winemaker Thomas Angove patented the first ever bag-in-box, intending to create a modern-day half-gallon wine jug, or flagon,” she writes. “Within a decade of its release, wine consumption in Australia doubled, and during its heyday of the 1980s and ’90s, two out of every three glasses of wine consumed Down Under came from the lovingly nicknamed ‘Chateau Cardboard.’”

American Story: Boxed wine started to become a thing in America when wine coolers and mullet hairdos were cool; it was a low-end ’80s version of the jug wines of the previous decade. They were of indeterminate vintage and varietal, with generic names like “red,” “white” and “blush.” On the bright side, the boxed wines were able to maintain their level of questionable quality for much longer after opening than they would have had they come in a bottle. Plus, they were cheap.

New Popularity: While sales of cheap, boxed wines have stagnated, a new generation of premium box wines has emerged and grown in popularity. Boxed wines now make up 3.3 percent of the wine market, with 3-liter boxes growing 13.7 and 12.3 percent in value and volume in the last year, according to Nielsen Company data. “In 2005, Black Box Wines kicked off the boxed wine revolution by packaging premium, appellation-specific, vintage-dated wines in its signature black box,” sommelier Stephanie Miskew recently noted on FoxNews.com. “The company now boasts a wide array of award-winning varietal wines and blends that it says cost approximately 40 percent less than a comparable amount of wine sold in bottles. The reduced packaging, production and transportation costs are being passed on to consumers, and they are taking note.”

Advantages: Boxed wines are not only less expensive, but they also retain their quality longer once opened, because their packaging prevents oxygen from coming into contact with the wine — allowing you to sip at your leisure instead of rushing to finish a bottle. And, of course, boxes eliminate the danger of “corked” wine, Miskew points out. Boxed wines are also more environmentally friendly, with a lower carbon footprint than bottled wine and with packaging that is generally recyclable and biodegradable.

Best Boxed Bets: Miskew recommends that oenophiles seeking a quality boxed wine should look not only to Black Box, but also to its fellow California brands FishEye, Banrock Station and BotaBox, as well as French boxed wines from French Rabbit and La Petite Frog, and Chile’s Maipe. “Boxed wines that carry a vintage date, the name of a grape variety and/or specific appellation are also a good place to start,” she advises. “From there, let your palate be your guide.”

In other words, millennials, it ain’t your Aunt Fran’s Franzia.

Photo courtesy of iStock