The Dish: Our New Year’s resolution is not to drink less, but to spend less on booze. That’s why we thought it totally appropriate to write about one of our favorite non-food items this week: boxed wine. Why is it our new favorite? How much time do you have? First, each box costs around $20 and is the equivalent of four bottles; the wine stays fresh for up to a month; it’s recyclable and eco-friendly; and one box equals four bottles! We enjoyed our share of boxed wine in 2010, and are here to help guide you to two of our favorites (neither of which would ever be caught dead in this get-up). Both brands describe the color of their packaging, but it’s what’s inside the bladder that matters.
The Rivals: Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon, California, 2009. This very drinkable, everyday wine retails for about $26 at the grocery store (we like to buy it at Safeway where it’s usually on sale for under $20). More important, the spout pops right out—no muss, no fuss. It’s almost as if the box knows that you need your booze right now without the annoying foreplay that is standard wine-bottle opening. The taste is very fruity and smooth—while the alcohol content is 13.5%, it doesn’t have a forward alcohol taste, but instead a distinct ripe-cherry flavor that is light on the palate and not too sweet, with a touch of spicy oak and no heavy tannins. This is unusual for a good-quality cabernet, which should be weighty on the palate with some tannins. This wine is not ambitious by any means, but it is pleasant. And when it comes to wine in a box, that’s all you can ask for. We asked a wine friend of ours who sounds way fancier than we do when discussing wine, and he described this cabernet as having a “clipped finish,” meaning nothing lingers after you swallow. Consider the Black Box a good table wine.
Brown Box Cabernet Sauvignon, Washington, 2008. The Brown Box already has one up on the Black Box because it’s only $22.49 (we found it on sale at Safeway for less than $16). The spout on this thing is a little more challenging to get out. But once you get the cardboard and foil off, you’ll realize this wine from Zillah, Wash., is worth the wait. The taste is less fruit-forward, and at 12.5% alcohol, this cabernet is much drier. The flavor is a little oakier—toasted oak, specifically. The body is more voluptuous; there are more curves to this thing than to the Black Box, which lacks structure. The Brown Box is also more nuanced and more fruit-concentrated; there’s a blackberry/black-cherry flavor going on. It’s a little more jammy, generally a good sign with a cabernet, as it’s usually more enjoyable to drink a wine studded with fruit flavor than one that is saturated with it.
The Champ: While a wine connoisseur would likely choose Brown Box, we like our wines a little juicier and mild. Black Box for the win.