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Thinking Inside the Box About Wine

Thinking Inside the Box About Wine

I frequently buy whisky in plastic bottles.

It isn’t because I have some kind of preference for plastic bottle whisky. It’s merely an issue of convenience. The few times I go out to buy whisky, I’m riding my bicycle more often than not, which means I’ll have nothing more than a (frequently crowded) backpack to carry it in. The plastic doesn’t cost any more or less than the glass, and it also weighs less and won’t break against whatever reading material I happen to be carrying. And when you get stuck buying whisky on the pedal, the choice is just that obvious.

Unfortunately, hard alcohol has one of those finer thing reputations, and my preference for plastic bottles leaves hard liquor aficionados thumbing their noses at me. Apparently, there’s some great difference between the taste of Evan Williams in a glass bottle and Evan Williams in a plastic bottle which only the most sensitive and sophisticated palette can comprehend. I myself have never been able to taste such a difference, but then again, sophisticated whisky nuts are now raising their noses to me and pointing out that I drink Evan Williams, so what the fuck do I know? Aside from the fact that plastic bottle whisky is a surefire sign of redneckdom and the sophisticates would cross the street to avoid my coveralls with one strap unhitched, lack of any shirt whatsoever underneath, and ability to say every sentence beginning with a loud “duh!”

Wine, of course, has a much similar stigma to shake. Actually, it’s not all that similar; it’s actually much worse. Everyone is familiar with the idea of boxed wine, but no one particularly wants to try to wrap their heads around the concept. As it happens, I’ve drank my share of boxed wine too. Every year, Rob’s competitive barbeque team, the Buffalo Meatheads, starts the barbeque season by holding a fundraiser dinner at the South Buffalo Social Club. And by “fundraiser dinner,” I don’t mean one of those suit and black tie affairs where everyone dresses in their Sunday best, sits at circular tables, gets served a single dinner which could be held in your fist, and listens to motivational speeches from the popular football players of the hour. These are extremely blue-collar cookouts. The team cooks its competitive best, artery-clogging brisket, pulled pork, barbeque chicken, beans, mac and cheese, and more and gives it all out all-you-can-eat buffet style. Are you a health nut? You’re suspending your diet for the day, Jack.

The only trace of sophistication is in the drinks selection – light beer and wine. The light beer is of course a crime for which the whole team needs to be punished, preferably by being forced to drink light beer. Most wine diehards will argue the Meatheads need to be punished for the wine in a similar fashion. It’s boxed wine, after all. There’s just something about boxed wine which makes even the most liberal, tree-hugging wine aficionado recoil in disgust before talking up the virtues of the bottle and cork supplied from Italy and France.

Face it: Wine by bottle and cork is growing into an antiquated concept all by itself. I think it’s insane that people make a big deal over not only having a cork – as opposed to a regular, everyday screw top – but constantly bitching over what the proper material for a cork should be. Some are make of rubber, some are made of plastic, and others are made of real cork. This causes some sort of endless debate in the wine community because the tastes of all three can apparently be easily detected by the sophisticated palette. What a lot of these wine nuts share is contempt for the screw top – we have fortified wines (those are the uber-cheap wines sold chilled at the seedy corner store in the bad part of town, and the ones you’re afraid homeless people will buy when you give them money) to thank for that – and the boxed wine. None of those corks, however, are able to solve a very fundamental problem: When you get the cork out, you can’t put it back in. A lesser-known problem that I’ve personally experienced is when the cork breaks off. I can hear the wine crowd preparing their lectures on how my cork was likely made of not only the wrong material, but the wrong material from the wrong place.

Boxed wine solves that problem nicely. It comes with a tap. And without a cork, there’s no cork taint, and it takes a special kind of person to believe a condition which is detrimental to the wine is some kind of flavor enhancer.

The boxed stuff will stay fresh a lot longer, too – four weeks, minimum. The problem with a lot of wine snobs is they’re so used to drinking stuff that’s been oxidized in bottles, they have never had a pure form of wine and don’t know a damn thing about how it’s supposed to taste. The bag the wine is sitting in prevents oxidization, so the wine stays fresh for awhile, and air doesn’t get into the bag. Yeah, that tap only goes one way, and when the wine starts to pour, the tap makes a big difference.

It’s safe to hypothesize that part of the reason boxed wine is cheaper than bottled wine is because the plastic bags and box shell are cheaper to produce. There are wine companies that prefer to use boxed wine for this very reason, and this is a huge benefit to people who need wine. How much does a single bottle of wine hold? A standard wine bottle will hold 750 ml, which isn’t any larger than a standard bottle of whisky. A wine box will usually hold at least three liters, which is over three bottles of wine. Three liters seems to be a standard, although I’ve seen plenty of wine boxes holding 3.5 liters or up to five liters, and you can get that for as little as $20. There’s no such thing as having too much wine, unless of course you bought it in a bottle and were forced to drink the entire thing in a single night because you couldn’t find a stopper.

To thrill the tree huggers who hate boxed wine for some reason, boxed wine is better for the environment than bottled wine. I don’t know if anyone noticed, but plastic and cardboard are both much easier to recycle than glass.

We’re beyond the bad old days here. And with the upcoming generation having a big focus on a more sustainable society, there shouldn’t be so much shame in going out for a giant box of wine. Let’s look over the advantages: Price, freshness, don’t need a stopper, easier to open, won’t spoil anywhere nearly as quickly, and boxed wine containers won’t shatter. There’s no reason for the boxed wine stigma to exist, given advantages like those. Disadvantages? Um…. You can’t tell how much you have left? Doesn’t look as classy without a fancy colored bottle? Uh…. Can’t carry it around in my backpack when I’m bicycling.


About Nicholas Croston

I like to think. A lot. I like to question, challenge, and totally shock and unnerve people. I am a contrarian - whatever you stand for, I'm against.

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