A good glass of wine is traditionally served with some artisan cheese, some fancy crackers, and fresh fruit while soft jazz plays in the background. The bottle of wine features a fantastic vintage, a hand-painted label, and a perfect, all-natural cork. The vineyard is French, and you have to purse your lips to say the name. “Chateau Haut Brion Pessac-Lognan 1982. A steal at $528.” It isn’t truly haute enough until you reference Rothschild. You wouldn’t even consider buying a box wine for the help.
Or should you? Don’t you look for the local hangout when you travel? Maybe the help know a thing or two about wines that you don’t?
The fanciest wines are supposed to be kept at bay with a cork. But up until a couple of hundred years ago we didn’t even use cork. Vintners stuffed oil soaked rags into the bottles. “A delicate hint of Exxon with a heady petrochemical bouquet.” Quercus suber (the Cork Oak) is only found in southern Europe and certain parts of Africa, so the first makers of fine wine probably didn’t even use it. “Me call it “oomah”. You drink fast.” The invention of the cork stopper allowed vintners to store and ship wines longer and further, but it didn’t really enhance the product. Divers found a case of champagne in the bottom of the Baltic Sea in 2010 with intact corks. The bubbly was in a shipwreck that was estimated to be around 230 years old and was thought to be a gift from France’s Louis XVI to the Russian Court. A little flirtation between Louis and Catherine the Great? Anyhow, the Swedish divers who found the bottles asked a wine expert to taste some, and he found it fizzy and delicious. He said that it had a dark golden color, lots of tobacco flavor with oak, mead, and white fruits.
Wine geeks at the University of California, Davis are testing wines brought up from the Mary-Celestia. Though not the famous ghost ship Mary Celeste, the Mary-Celestria is equally famous, or infamous as it were. She was a blockade-runner, secretly bringing supplies to Southern troops during the Civil War. She launched on September 13, 1864 and was headed from Bermuda to Charleston, South Carolina. Her manifest reported bacon, ammo, rifles, and tins of beef. Her captain was a local pilot, but managed to hit a reef that everyone knew about, and the boat went down like a…well…a sinking boat.
Much of the Mary-Celestia cargo was immediately salvaged after the sinking, and divers have continued to find relics over the past century or so. It wasn’t until a 2009 hurricane that a case of vino was found hidden in her bow. Seems that somebody on the ship had some other ideas about fortifying the Confederate troops. Anyway, a handful of bottles from a Civil War vintage were taken to UC Davis, corks intact, for study and, well, drinking we would hope.
Which brings us back to “The Box”. What’s the point?
All of the aging of wine is done prior to bottling. Wine theoretically becomes dormant when you cork it. There is a danger of “cork taint”, which is not an essence of cork, but an aroma of the wine brought about by the stopper. It is also known as moldy newspaper, damp cloth, and wet dog. No, really. Re-corking a wine also does not put the genie back in the bottle. Once the cork is out, the bouquet has left the building.
A Box Wine contains a plastic bladder that allows the wine to pour freely (and isn’t that our goal here?) without exposing the delicious elixir to air. They are also more environmentally friendly, as most use a recyclable cardboard as opposed to energy-sapping glass. They are easy to stack (both for mass-shipping and in your refrigerator) and you can store more wine in smaller individual containers.
Side note: In Australia, the Down Under word for a box wine is a “goon”. It is thought to be a contraction of the late Middle English word “flagon”. It meant “a large container for drinking.”
And you aren’t always getting a mass-produced jug wine when you opt for box. If you like Aussie wines, you can try a 2006 Hardys Shiraz. Makes you think of vanilla ice cream and warm blueberry pie. The California guys at Bandit make a Pinot Grigio with hints of Jolly Rancher, and it’s a steal at about nine bucks.
If you still need to assuage your inner snob, you can go for French Rabbit Pinot Noir Vin de Pays d’Oc 2006. Hard to say, earthy and leathery, from Limoux in France, and about $10. And it’s in a box.
You can even go German. R.Muller has a 2009 Riesling that will sit nicely next to any of those long-necked frauleins that you’ve grown used to.
One of our favorites is Yellow+Blue. They’ve got a great Malbec from 2009. The cool thing about the Y+B guys is that they totally live it. The box is recycled, the growing is organic, the farm is sustainable, and the wine is good. Darn good.
But what do we know…we sell t-shirts.