Boxed wine used to be the equivalent of “cheese food product.” What it lacked in edibility, it made up in volume.
There has been an ongoing evolution in wine packaging, not always for the better. For starters, they tried replacing the cork, offering a whitewash of disparate reasons:
- “Cork is natural. Harvesting natural things is bad for the environment.”
- “Plastic corks are more stable and protect wine better.”
- “Screw tops create less waste and provide a better seal.”
First, cork is not a living thing. It is the byproduct of a living thing. Trees miss their cork like my bathtub misses the hair in the drain.
Plastic corks are indeed more stable: they can survive in a landfill for 20,000 years. And they make wine taste like plastic corks.
Screw tops make complete sense, except that they are inextricably linked to Boone’s Farm Country Kwencher. I liked Country Kwencher just fine as a kid, but even then I was bothered by the spelling. If you are marketing to hicks, why not go all the way: Kuntry Kwencher? (Okay, I see why.) You find Boone’s Farm proudly displayed in convenience stores that don’t sell wine, which is an ominous give-away: although it is in a wine bottle, Boone’s Farm is not wine. It is a “malt-based beverage,” which is to say it is wine-flavored beer. This is the poster child of screw top bottles.
Wine connoisseurs claim they can tell by the taste of a wine the region from which the metal screw cap was mined. This distinct taste is referred to as ferroir.
Yes, corks go bad. Yes, they can spoil expensive wines. Yes, they often crumble into the bottle. Or break in half, leaving an irretrievable plug. With wine, that is the whole point. If everyone could open a wine bottle, what would be the fun of being a snob? The pageantry and fussy corkscrew are part of the fun, despite the gnawing awareness that it would be more easily accomplished using safety goggles and a cordless drill.
A cork may give clues of what’s to come. You don’t sniff the cork, like they do in the movies. Just look at it. Is it moldy? Is there foul gunk on the end that is nowhere near a wine color? This is not esoteric. You use the same procedure when buying a loaf of bread: if it is green or covered with fur, you put it back. You don’t need to sniff it. While adopting a kitten you happen to notice that its anus is crusty and miscolored, you pick out another kitten. Perhaps this is where we get the word analogy.
Today, box wine presents tempting advantages. First, it gives you four bottles of wine for the price of, and in the space of, three. What comes out of the box tastes very much like wine. There is no cork or screw top to complain about. There is no top at all. And this brings me to my favorite part about box wine: it comes out of a spigot.
The empty package is cardboard, more recyclable than glass. But it is hard to fold flat. It is sealed together with the same inseparable glue they use now to seal a bag of chips, the kind that makes you look stupid when the entire bag explodes, leaving you holding only the intact sealed edge.
The bladder-like bag inside a box of wine is recyclable, although unsightly. They claim this collapsable bag helps wine last longer, because no air gets in while you drain it. This is a boon to those mythical people who don’t drink their wine all at once.
As I remove the plastic bladder and notice how much wine is still slopping around in its wrinkly folds, my Scottish roots compel me to squeeze it out, which is about as charming a maneuver as wringing a placenta. But the result is an extra half glass of wine, which I consider my reward for bothering to recycle.
The only downside to box wine is that, like the giant 12-pack of toilet paper, it is embarrassing to buy. But once you get it home, it’s wine-on-tap. And if fussy friends come over, you can always fill that decanter you never use.