Spirits: Boxing Match: Battle of the Boxed Wines

When was the last time you brought along a box of wine to a BYOB? Never? You’re not alone, but with winemakers putting better wines in boxes, that may soon change

It used to be that showing up with a screw-top bottle of wine was a major dinner-party faux pas; now, everyone — except incurable wine snobs — agrees that modern screw-tops are superior to the cork. But arrive with a box of wine as a hostess gift, and you might be relegated to the kids’ table. Recently, though, respectable vineyards (even the French!) have begun boxing their juice, thanks to the advent of better, more environmentally friendly packaging, and sales are up — a 20 percent bump last year alone. Screw-tops have proven their worth, but can boxed wine ever escape its Franzia-stained stigma? To find out, we conducted a blind tasting at Tria Fermentation School with Georges Perrier, Savona Master Sommelier Melissa Monosoff, and Tria wine director Michael McCaulley, along with, for a more girl-next-door take, radio personality Marisa Magnatta of WMMR’s Preston & Steve.

The Winner: Pinot Evil Pinot Noir, Hungary  $19.99 for 3 liters  >  Of the 10 wines tasted, this “very quaffable” European import got the day’s highest marks from Perrier, who, along with McCaulley, noted a pleasant acidity. Magnatta found it “very accessible.”

The Runner-Up: Black Box Shiraz, California  $24.99 for 3 liters  >  This “refined” shiraz from California’s Central Coast was McCaulley’s and Magnatta’s favorite red of the bunch, though Monosoff said it was “a bit sweet.”

Sour Grapes: Cuvée de Peña Vins de Pays, France $21.99 for 3 liters*  >  Though this carignan-grenache-syrah blend promises a “soft” and “silky” mouthfeel and “lightly spicy” flavor, most of our tasters ranked it last, with terms like “burnt rubber” and “harsh.”

The Winner: Monthaven Winery Chardonnay, California  $23.99 for 3 liters  > Tasters variously described this as “elegant,” “pleasant,” “a delicious summer white,” a “crowd-pleaser,” and “clean and crisp.” McCaulley declared it a perfect 10.

The Runner-Up: Silver Birch Winery Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand  $23.99 for 3 liters  >  The prettiest packaging yielded a lovely white table wine, with Monosoff noting a “bright nose of grass, lime and grapefruit.” Magnatta writes, “I would bring this wine as a present to a dinner party.” McCaulley found “tropical and citrus” notes and a high acidity.

Sour Grapes: From the Tank Côtes du Rhône, France  $29.99 for 3 liters*  >  We had high hopes for this critically acclaimed white, the most expensive wine we rated. But every taster found it completely undrinkable. Perrier asked, “Are you trying to kill me?” Though boxed wine theoretically shouldn’t go bad, this one tasted “spoiled”  and “oxidized” to our panel.

*Wines were unavailable at PLCB stores and were purchased at Canal’s in New Jersey.