On Friday nights, the weekly routine of a college town plays out. Young adults freshly able to consume alcohol legally can be spotted shopping for a drink that will not break their entry-level employee budget. Their drink of choice? More than likely, it is boxed wine. Grabbing a container of Loft by the cardboard handles, they venture off into the night.
The numbers are significant, too. These bag-in-box drinkers aren’t saving a measly five dollars. In most cases, the average wine drinker might opt for a decent bottled wine that runs them about 15 dollars for a 750 milliliter (ml) bottle, while a knowledgeable wine drinker can choose a high end boxed wine for around 20 dollars that contains three liters of product. Spending five dollars more can get you more than three times the product.
Why is boxed wine so cheap? The answer might be simpler than you would expect. Consumer cash is frequently spent more on packaging than on a product itself across industries. The cost mostly comes down to raw materials for a plastic bladder and a cardboard box costing far less than those necessary for crafting a glass bottle.
If the reason for its inexpensiveness merely comes down to an alternative vessel to hold the alcoholic grape juice, then why is it not the case that every wine drinker loves bag-in-box wines? Cheap wine has been historically packaged in cheap containers. It is deeply ingrained in culture to believe boxed wine is bad, and it dates back to the earliest years of the bag-in-box invention.
Australia gave the world boxed wine in the 1960s. It was a hit in their country. Originally, the plastic inner piece lacked a tap, causing boxed wine drinkers to get a little creative; paper clips and pegs were used to seal them up. Unsurprisingly, Europe was very resistant to these new and strange containers. Bottles had always been the way, and European standards were insistent on the tradition.
The first wine producers that jumped on the opportunity for new packaging that no winemaker would take were only cheap — and famously nasty — winemakers. Then, the trend of unfavorable and inexpensive wines packaged in these same containers followed overseas to the United States. With the history lesson aside, the average bottled wine drinker does have a couple good reasons to turn their noses up at the low-budget counterpart.
A wine cannot age in a box
The effectiveness of aging in a bottle with a screw cap top is debated. A cork functions best in aging because of its breathability. If you are a lover of finely aged wines, you will not find the same traits in a grocery store boxed wine. It just does not work. Franzia does not make a signature Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel each year to age for enjoyment in a future decade.
Boxed wines are mass-produced. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but your options are probably going to be limited to a few rose flavors, a few popular whites and a sweet and dry red. Because the standard packaging method for wine is bottling, a local winemaker is going to get experimental with flavors when working in a bottle. You will just have more wines suited to your liking if you are shopping for a bottle. After developing an experienced palate for wine, a Chillable Red in a Franzia box might not cut it for a wine drinker looking for nuanced notes and unique textures.
Acknowledging the valid reasons a wine enthusiast might stick with the centuries-old tradition, it is still safe to say that boxed wine has gotten a negative reputation over the years that it does not completely deserve. Besides the obvious perk of getting more bang for your buck, there are lots of advantages that come with boxed wine that contribute to its growing popularity.
You can drink at your own pace
After popping the cork, a bottled wine should be consumed within three to four days. The fixed tap attached to the plastic bladder inside the box keeps the wine inside safe from exposure to air. Boxed wine is drinkable for up to four to six weeks — longer if the wine is refrigerated — after the airtight seal is broken. While bottled drinking window is restricted because of oxidation spoiling the flavor, bag-in-box wine expires for quite a different reason; polyethylene from the plastic can seep into the wine and tarnish the flavor. Even unopened, if your wine is left sitting for six months, it’s best to get rid of it.
Transporting a previously opened box of wine is far easier than a bottle that has endured an attempt at recorking, and the stain in the backseat of your car is there to remind you of this lesson. Take your leftover boxed wine for the ride to your next social gathering — as long as you do so responsibly.
Boxed wine is better for the environment
Far more energy is required to produce a glass bottle. Coupling that with the transportation emissions to get that bottle to a winery yields a pretty harmful result to our carbon footprint. Drinking boxed wine is one way a wine enthusiast can help to save the planet. Recycling plastic and cardboard of the bag-in-box vessel is also much easier than recycling glass.
For those average wine drinkers with a bottled wine complex, it is important to remember that boxed wine means cheap wine, and cheap wine does not necessarily mean bad wine. If your experience with bag-in-box wine is limited to Franzia and Sutter Home, then you are dealing with boxed wine widely agreed to be of lackluster quality.
For a more sophisticated boxed wine, look to Black Box for a beloved brand that makes a highly-rated, warm, berry Cabernet from Chile. Try a Bota Box, a brand rising in popularity, that delivers a crisp, juicy rose perfect for a refreshing summer afternoon.
Try it all: bag-in-box wine and bottled wine. Decide what you like without outside influences. To each their own. Drink what makes you happy. Cheers!