Boxed wine consumption: A mark of sophistication?

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Boxed Wine. One in five glasses of wine consumed by Americans comes from a box, reports Frank J. Prial in The New York Times. “We’re third,” he continues. “In Australia, boxes have half the wine market and in Norway…they claim a third.” In Britain, “the market for boxed wine is growing twice as fast as that for bottled wine.” Ryan Sproul, who markets a three-liter, Napa Valley 2001 Chardonnay called Black Box, says boxed wine is growing in popularity “because consumers have come to realize that the wine is more important than the packaging.” The quality of the wine inside does count, of course — Black Box actually “won a silver medal in a competition sponsored by The San Francisco Chronicle.”

The truly surprising thing here, however, is that boxes make great wine vessels. That’s because the “triple-layer clear-plastic…bag that holds the wine” inside the box is airtight. The bag contracts as the wine is dispensed, keeping remaining wine in “perfect condition, for a surprisingly long time.” It’s an innovation claimed by the Australians, which they say dates back 30 years. It is most associated in America with cheap, sweet wines, sold mostly in “supermarkets and working-class liquor stores.” The typical American box of wine, marketed by vintners such as Almaden and Franzia, holds five-liters and sells for “$8 to $12 , or $1.35 to $1.75 a bottle.”

Labels like Black Box, however, are selling for 25 bucks a box. Australia’s BRL Hardy has a line of chardonnay, shiraz and merlot priced at $16. A “magnum-size, organic bag-in-the-box wine called Our Daily Red,” actually depends on boxing — because it contains no sulfites it “soon becomes unstable in an opened bottle.” In London, “a recent tasting…featured 30 bag-in-the-box wines, all of them serious entries from France, Spain and Italy.” Mr. Prial concludes: “We Americans are still pretty insecure when it comes to wine. We still place undue importance on the bottles, labels and corkscrews. But, as the figures show, we’re changing.”