Boxed wine has come a long way over the past 20 years. Considered for a long while as cheap and poor quality, boxed wines have steadily crept into the premium segment. With Labor Day weekend around the corner and multiple gatherings of friends and family on the horizon, maybe this is the time to re-consider Bag-in-Box. Great value, convenient, easy to transport, store, open and recycle — I am certainly a convert!
To be perfectly honest, I don't usually buy boxed wine except the occasional purchase for a class or to keep tabs on what is happening in the sector. However, I have to admit that a tasting earlier this year of the Octavin range of boxed wines changed my mind. Cleverly designed in sleek, 3L octagonal cylinders, the wines proved both excellent and diverse, ranging from a benchmark, zesty New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to a gutsy, fairly full-bodied California Old Vine Zin.
Octavin Wines and Head Winemaker Adam Richardson
Octavin wines are the brainchild of maverick winemaker Adam Richardson, director of International Winemaking for Underdog Wine Merchants, the champion of some of the more innovative but often underrated contemporary wines on the market such as Tempra Tantrum and Cupcake Vineyards.
I met Adam in New York City in the spring. An eloquent, energetic Aussie, Adam has spent over 20 years making wine across the globe, so he is perfectly positioned to source the best grapes and partners to bring together the Octavin International range of wines.
Of the wines tasted, my three favorites have to be the Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand), the Boho Vineyard Old Vine Zinfandel and the Central Coast Monthaven Chardonnay. All the wines come in 3L boxes and retail for between $20 and $22, representing excellent value for what equates to four regular 75cl bottles.
What is Boxed Wine?
Boxed wine (or Bag-in-Box) is essentially wine that is packaged in a plastic bladder (or bag) that is surrounded by a cardboard box. It was first developed in Australia, in the 1960's by Thomas Angove, of the eponymous wine company. There is a spigot or tap attached to the bag through which the wine is dispensed.
For a long time boxed wine was seen as fairly cheap and often nasty. There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the wine itself — if the wine going into the box is of questionable quality, then it is unlikely to improve during its time in the box.
Secondly, the more usual cause of problems related to the packaging process itself. Problems of oxygen ingress caused the wine to lose its freshness, oxidize and deteriorate as well as often faulty taps did nothing to endear consumers to the concept.
Boxed Wine Technology
Thankfully today, as the Octavin wines demonstrate, technology has come along way eliminating most of the earlier problems. While not necessarily obvious to the consumer, Bag-in-Box wine packaging is a complex business. Given the different physical components that have to knit together, there are typically more vendors involved in the production process than with conventional bottles, hence allowing for greater potential risks along the production and packaging chain.
The inner bag (bladder) needs to be both flexible as well as an excellent barrier to oxygen. In the early days it was quite difficult to combine these two attributes, often resulting in cracked or leaking bags. Taps too tended to collect tartrates (harmless white deposits that are typically precipitated out before packaging) from the wine and leak.
Today, improved materials and technology have significantly resolved these issues, with hi-tech flexible multi-layer bags that collapse as the wine is dispensed, eliminating any room for oxygen ingress and spoilage. Equally important are the stringent QA/QC processes, including sterile filtration that wineries have in place to minimize problems later down the road.
Another issue is that boxed wine has a more limited shelf life than bottled wine. Typically it should be consumed within nine months of packaging. Given that most wine sold in the United States is consumed within 24 hours this should never be a problem, unless the wine has been lying around a warehouse or store too long.
All Octavin wines carry a clearly marked 'best before date' to enable consumers to verify that the wine is fresh when purchased. Additionally all Octavin wines are shipped in bulk to a central state-of-the-art packaging facility in California, ensuring that all the wines are checked and vetted before being packaged according to the same top quality standards.
These are my notes from tasting the six of the Octavin wines. Enjoy!
• 2008 Monthaven Winery Chardonnay, Central Coast – Surprisingly dry with well-integrated oak that adds complexity to the wine. Very fresh, clean with lots of bright fruit. A great crowd-pleaser. Enjoy with grilled salmon, chicken, pork or hot dogs.
• 2008 Big House Red, California – Another surprise. Fresh, with lots of bright cherry-berry fruit. Soft, smooth texture. Will work great with ribs, sausage, steak as well as charred veggies.
• NV Pinot Evil Pinot Noir – Shows lots of ripe, bright cherry and strawberry fruit. Smooth, but still has some tannic grip. I'd drink this with more with white meats and vegetable dishes.
NV Pinot Evil Pinot Grigio – Crisp and refreshing with typical peachy, floral flavors. Slightly sweetish finish. Easy drinking. Perfect to start the party, grilled summer squash or white fish.
• 2008 Boho Vineyards Old Vine Zinfandel, California – Quite good fruit concentration. Lots of lush wild berries, damsons, supple tannins with earthy undertones. Quite good length and finish. A definite match for those charred ribs slobbered with lots of BBQ sauce.
• 2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand – Shows all the hallmarks of more expensive New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc - citrus, gooseberry, passion fruit and lots of grassy notes. Crisp, fresh and very well balanced. Another gem to start the party, and could follow on to grilled sea bass, summer veggies and salads.
How often do you buy boxed wine? Which ones? And, have you noticed the quality improvements?
Mary Gorman-McAdams, DWS, is a New York based wine educator, freelance writer and consultant. She holds the Diploma in Wine & Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and is a candidate in the Master of Wine Program.
Related: Bag-in-Box Wine: What's Your View?