SALUTÈ: Boxed to go

BOXED TO GO Saluté October 2013

Transporting wine to game-day parties — whether at the stadium or to the house with the largest television screen — is easy with boxed wines that are surprisingly drinkable with game-day grub.

Story: Mary Ann DeSantis  //  Illustration: Josh Clark

Tailgating and football-watching parties often cater to eclectic tastes in food and libations. Some want burgers and beer; others prefer hors d’oeuvres and wine. Whether you are a Gator, Seminole, Bull, or Golden Knight, you agree that game-time foods and drinks need to be easy to transport. After all, no one wants to search for a lost shaker of salt or a corkscrew just before kickoff.

Before you dismiss boxed wines as cheap swill and déclassé, consider that French, Italian, New Zealand, and top American wineries are now producing cardboard containers of wine. And they aren’t always cheap, either. The New York Times recently reviewed a three-litre box of Dominio IV Love Lies Bleeding, a 2009 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir that sold for $90.

Of course, very few of us can afford or want to serve $90 wines to face-painting, pom-pom-toting game-day revelers. More affordable choices are certainly available for folks who prefer to drink wine at football celebrations.

Salute-factoid1013The wine industry is touting boxed wines as the packaging of the future. For consumers, one of the biggest advantages of boxed wines is they can be stored longer after opening. An airtight wine-filled plastic bladder inside the cardboard box keeps the wine fresh for up to six weeks, according to some winemakers. The spigot and the bladder protect the wine from air, a wine killer when a bottle sits opened for a day or two. However, be aware that boxed wines do have expiration dates and need to be consumed within a year of production.

An entire new generation of boxed wines has emerged with emphasis on reducing carbon footprints and being environmentally conscious choices. I decided it was time to give boxed wines another chance. My first experience with them about 15 years ago was less than stellar. Someone gave my husband a large box of wine, which stayed unopened in our pantry for several months until a dinner party when we ran out of the “good stuff.” At that point, no one was looking for tannins and a pleasing finish, but the wine was a conversation starter because no one had tasted boxed wine. And many of us didn’t again for a long time.

High-end boxed wines weren’t as easily found in this area as I thought they would be. I really wanted a step up from the generic bulk wines that have given boxed wines a bad reputation. I decided to start with varietals I liked and ones I could compare to bottled wines.

My first selection was a Bota Box 2011 California Chardonnay, which comes in two sizes — the smaller “mini” at 500 milliliters (about three glasses) for $5.99 and the standard three-liter size (equal to about four bottles) for around $22. I tasted the Bota Box wine next to a Toasted Head 2011 Chardonnay, also from California. The Bota was extremely light — almost clear — and if I’d been tasting it blind, I would have thought it was a Pinot Grigio. The taste was not bad but it did not have the character or flavor of the Toasted Head.

To make things interesting, I pumped the air out of the bottle of Toasted Head and stored it in my refrigerator for a little over two weeks. On the same shelf was the opened Bota Box for the same amount of time. Surprisingly, the Bota actually tasted better (and a friend who drinks Chardonnay more often than I do agreed). Bota was still light but very drinkable with our grilled chicken and fish. The bottle of Toasted Head, however, had gone terribly bad and was down the drain before my own game-day party was over.

My other selection was a Black Box California 2011 Merlot (about $20 for three liters), which had received accolades from Wine Enthusiast magazine. I found the wine to be a little sweet and relatively thin, but it worked with grilled meats. The Black Box is an affordable and decent choice for large groups who care more about the final game score than they do about a long finish for the wine.

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