Between the empty Franzia bags and torn up cardboard boxes, box wine loses face. College kills its cred. And then, we all graduate, both academically and, so we assume, viticulturally. We start looking to take our vino from more sophisticated encasements, like screw-top bottles. But box wine, like us, has done some growing up. It’s matured. And, we’re glad to report, it’s become deliciously palatable.
We conducted a blind tasting of 16 of the best available boxed wine (8 white, 8 red). A few tasted like our worst box wine memories of yore: fermented juice boxes gone bad. But another few hinted at that 92-point bottle we keep stowed away in the cellar. Not bad for a drink that’s also cheap, portable, and stores for 45 days after opening.
Bandit Pinot Grigio & Cabernet Sauvignon
Bandit hails from the West Coast wine heartland of St. Helena, CA. They source California grapes, age the cab in French and American oak, and cold ferment the pinot grigio to retain its fruity flavors. The Tetra Pak packaging is light, easily portable and recyclable; the wine contained within competes with the best mid-market bottled wine.
Tasting Notes: Crowned king of both the reds and the whites in our blind testing, Bandit wines tickled the palate and delivered complex aromas, flavors and finishes. The cab had ample mouthfeel and complex flavors, mixing fruitiness with an oaky complexity. The pinot delivered a touch of citrus tart to balance out the fruit. Bring Bandit to the party and you won’t disappoint.
Bota Box Pinot Grigio & Pinot Noir
Bota’s big on the green packaging: they use soy-based inks print on recycled, unbleached Kraft paper, and the whole thing is held together with cornstarch rather than glue. The wine, sourced both locally (in California) and internationally, offers a medium-body, drinkable experience for clear, crisp flavors that pair nicely with the clean conscience.
Tasting Notes: The pinot noir came in strong on the nose, then mellowed nicely on the palate. The pinot grigio registered the opposite, leaving with a strong lingering finish that inspired another sip. Both wines were balanced and complex but not overpowering.
Fuoristrada Grillo & Sangiovese
From organic grapes in Italy, the Fuoristrada wines capitalize on fair farming practices and the distinctiveness of Italian vines. Sicilian and Tuscan grapes both create their own distinctive full flavors, giving a palate experience that’s bright and full mouth.
Tasting Notes: The grillo lands with ample mouthfeel and a crisp, citrus zest. It lingered longer than most, in a pleasant finish. The sangiovese had equal body, and a complex flavor profile that rolled through the palate. Both wines competed with the Bota Box and Bandit wines as our favorites.
Vinium Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon
Heavy-hitter winemaker George Bursick, whose 1985 Chardonnay was crowned the “#1 Wine in the World” by Wine Spectator, takes his skills to the vines of Vinium. The grapes come from the wine regions of Northern California, and give distinctive California flavors.
Tasting Notes: The chardonnay was the better wine, offering a full body mouthfeel with subtle, light notes of citrus fruit. It exited quietly, but still retained a respectable drinking experience. The cab landed light on the palate, without the complexity and depth expected, and with excessive sweetness.
Big House Pinot Grigio & Zinfandel
The backyard of Big House Winery is the Soledad State Correctional Facility, in Monterey, CA. But its wines are a clean break from any hard time, drinkable and easily paired, made from grapes grown in California.
Tasting Notes: The pinot grigio led with a light aroma, but then came in big with flavor and finish. The Zin became one of the favorites of the reds, with an enticing nose, full mouthfeel, and a balance of flavor. Both are tasty but mild — middle-of-the-road wines.
CalNaturale Chardonnay & Cabernet Sauvignon
Made with organic grapes from North and Central California, CalNaturale aims for wine that’s as drinkable as it is sustainable. Heather Pyle, formerly at Napa’s Opus One, is creating wines that don’t aim to polarize (like Opus One’s $200 bottles can), but rather to please most palates.
Tasting Notes: The chardonnay earned the closest comparison to a juice box, with light and sweet flavors that didn’t have good complexity or mouth feel. The cabernet faired better, but was divided on reception. A few judges enjoyed the drinkability, but the majority had little enthusiasm, noting a single note of flavor and a thin body for both wines.
Nuvino’s coming at the box wine world in a totally new way. While it still ships in a box, it opens up to reveal single-serving pouches, the ultimate achievement in premium wine portability. For a few nips along the trail (or at the park, around the campfire, or in bed), its sturdy portability can’t be beat.
Tasting Notes: The Nuvino wines all registered as middle of the road (except for one taster, who uncannily ranked both their white and reds with his highest marks). The flavors were mild, and sometimes odd. The Malbec was overly sweet, the red blend a touch bland. The chardonnay faired the best, offering a bright, drinkable flavor.