The mention of the word ‘cardboard box’ usually conjures up images of homeless people and newborn cats. It is thus no surprise that the idea of filling a box with wine makes wine connoisseurs shutter with disapproval. However, a simple cost-inebriation analysis would show that boxed wines solve all of our alcohol budget problems, without sacrificing class, taste, and style.
The “bag-in-box” (or ‘BiB’) innovation was first made as a way to transport battery acid. Thomas Angove, a southern Australian grape grower, was the first to market the BiB innovation as a container for wine (as a “cask”), and it has transformed the industry. Boxed wines came to U.S. supermarkets by the 1980s. Since then, it has been marketed by Target with sleek appearances and spiffy names like the ‘Wine Cube’ and ‘Black Box.’ The market is dominated by the more well-known (though lower quality) Franzia, which sells over 60 million boxes a year.
A typical box of wine carries three liters of wine, which is four bottles of wine. This means that one bottles’ worth of Franzia would cost just above $2.00, probably less than what you spend on a cup of coffee). Higher quality boxed wines, such as Black Box, sell for around $5 a bottle, while a bottle of the same quality would otherwise cost $12 (see figure). Now, even premium artisan wines from vineyards from New Zealand to California are being sold in “premium wine cask format” (which is a pretentious way to say ‘box’).
Being able to purchase a bottle of wine for a fraction of the price may sound too good to be true. With all of this cost efficiency, is wine quality compromised? Studies have shown that the plastic bag that contains the wine is not toxic, and doesn’t change the taste of the wine. In fact, two years ago, Wine Spectator , a top ranked lifestyle magazine, reviewed 39 premium, boxed wines, and 37 of them received a “good” score (above 80 points).
The design of boxed wines also offer advantages; they are much easier to store, and last much longer once opened. Because of the design of the bag with a spout, air isn’t exposed when wine is released. This allows opened boxes of wine to remain fresh for three to four weeks (whereas opened bottles of white wine last just 2 days). In addition, boxed wine has a much smaller carbon footprint.
Boxed wine should feel natural to us; we’ve been drinking out of ‘Juicy Juice 100% Juice’ packs since before we could say the words ‘sauvignon blanc’ (except you probably still can’t say that correctly). In fact, other companies are embracing the “simple and easy” appeal of boxes for beverages such as iced tea and juices (see ‘Gregory’s Box’d Beverages’). A google search of “boxed beverages” will find you just about any variety of drink but one: carbonated. One of the only functional reasons that bottles and cans are so ubiquitous is that they offer a more compressed vessel that allows soda, champagne and beers to stay carbonated for longer.
Perhaps the only reason that boxed wines aren’t more popular among more cultured audiences is because of a sense of obligation we have for the tradition. Glass bottles were originally used to store wine because they offered a way to store wine long-term for aging. Wine merchants began selling wine by the bottle rather than the barrel, because it was more economical. You may have noticed that wines of different varieties are sold in differently shaped bottles. These bottles shapes are actually thought out; for example, “Bordeaux” bottles—with short necks and high “shoulders—trap sediment when wine is being poured, while champagne bottles have a wider body, and are made of a thicker glass to handle pressure. There are actually entire blogs that have endless information about the different types and functions of the wine bottles we use. How can years of glasswork and craftsmanship be undermined by a folded piece of cardboard?
However, if boxed wines offer equivalent quality for better prices, why does it offend some critics? Isn’t all of the splendor of the elegance of glassware worth giving up for a spin on the ‘Tour de Franzia’? Or how about for a game of ‘slap the bag’? (in which you remove the plastic bag of wine and, quite literally, slap the bag to facilitate the release of the wine). The only potential disadvantage is that empty boxes of wine can’t be displayed on the windowsill of your dorm room to subtly remind visitors that you too are a cool college kid that consumes alcohol.