You know that scene in the movie Monster-In-Law where Jane Fonda, having tortured Jenifer Lopez’s character for the entire movie, gets criticized by her own mother-in-law? There’s a line in that scene that has stuck with me to this day.
Elaine Stritch (the grand-monster-in-law) says, “You were a television weather woman in Dubuque, Montana. You rode around in a broken-down minivan, and you drank red wine from a box!” She flings this description at Jane Fonda’s character as an insult, and I’ve always wondered why the “red wine from a box” part was so insulting. What is it about drinking boxed wine rather than bottled that causes people to turn their noses up?
Considering that bags of wine were often passed around at parties when I was in college and everyone was encouraged to “slap the bag” and take a nice, long pull from the spout, I guess I could understand why some people might view bagged and boxed wine less than classy. However, I can’t help but think that perception is based purely on a misconception that bottled wine is somehow higher quality simply because of its packaging.
As I continue on my well-documented wine journey, learning more about the stuff every day, I turn to the experts to explain where the “boxed wine is trash” perception might have come from—and why it’s actually wrong.
Mary Burnham, Director of Public Relations for Delicato Family Wines, owner of the Bota Box brand, notes that drinking wine from a bag or pouch actually predates serving wine from bottles.
“Before we had glass bottles, humankind has been making and enjoying delicious wine for thousands of years,” says Burnham, who adds that the design and invention of the Bota Box brand was actually inspired by traditional Spanish wine skins, or botas, made from animal bladders. Wine didn’t start to be stored in glass bottles until around the 1600s, long after the bota bags were already in use.
For this reason (and many others you’ll learn below), Burnham feels consumers and manufacturers are beginning to change their tune on boxed wine. Melanie Amezaga, Senior Director at The Wine Group, which owns the boxed wine brand Franzia, echoes this optimism. Amezaga says Franzia has won various awards in reputable wine competitions, and seeing stamps of quality such as those are what draws customers to the brand.
My go-to wine expert, Jim Bube, who has lent his insights more than once throughout my wine journey, says the perception that boxed wine is lower quality is more prevalent in the U.S., and changing people’s preconceived notions about it can be difficult.
As a master sommelier and the current National Wine Director for Hogsalt restaurant group, Bube has discussed with his employer on multiple occasions the possibility of offering a boxed wine to customers. Unfortunately, they’ve often reached the conclusion that they would not be able to appropriately and consistently explain the merits of boxed wine to guests.
Even within the bottled wine category, Bube notes, there is some debate and judgment on bottles that have a screw cap instead of a cork—a sign that many people’s perceptions of wine are firmly held and in need of an update. Amezaga and Burnham both clarified that right up until the packaging step, boxed wines are made according to the same process as other wines.
I’ve learned from these wine experts that, above all else, boxed wine does a better job of ensuring freshness than bottled wine ever could. When it comes to packaging wine, the goal is to have as little oxygen involved as possible.
Amezaga calls boxed wine (and Franzia in particular) the ultimate single-serve option, because you’re able to have a glass of wine at the beginning of the month, put it away, take it out, and have another glass at the end of the month and it will taste exactly the same. The key to this long-lasting freshness is the lack of oxidation.
“There’s a bag inside of the box, and then there’s a tap that allows you to pour a glass,” Amezaga explains. “There’s no oxygen that can enter the bag through that tap, and that’s very different from a bottle. With a bottle, when you uncork it, oxidation immediately starts. It hits the wine and can continue after it’s recorked. And that can change the flavor and even the freshness of the wine.”
Burnham also points out that boxed wine has no risk of “cork taint.” Being that I had no idea what that was, she elaborated, “There’s a compound that can be found in a cork that can taint wine and can ruin it no matter how wonderful it is.”
Cork taint tastes and smells like what it sounds like: mold. Once again, this is where the bag holding the wine inside the box, and the accompanying tap, rescue your glass from going bad.
Boxed wine is also more portable than glass bottles; it’s lighter and more durable, making it easier to take on trips to the beach or to a friend’s dinner party. It’s also eco-friendly, for reasons beyond the recyclable cardboard.
“You can also fit a lot more [boxed] wine in a truck [than bottled]...you use a lot fewer trucks,” Burnham says. “So, when you look at the carbon emissions of distributing boxed wine, it has a 60% smaller carbon footprint than that of glass bottles.”
In the case of Bota Box, you get four bottles’ worth of wine in a 3-liter box. Franzia’s 5-liter box replaces about six bottles. That’s a lot less recycling to cart outside.
So, class, what have we learned today? It turns out boxed wine actually ensures a fresher sip than bottled because of its joked-about packaging. And when it comes to portability, eco-friendliness, and value, boxed wines win out over bottles too. You don’t have to make the switch, but it’s time to stop judging those who do. They know what they’re doing.