The invention of boxed wine (also known as cask, goon, or boxy wine) turned 50 years old this spring. Modeled after portable leather bladders used to transport personal wine in Spain, the bag-in-a-box wine package is sometimes synonymous with cheapness, excess vice, and low quality. However, everyone has at least one friend who likes to say, "It's really not that bad," and the truth is we agree. Along with a laundry list of negative attributes, here are some of the benefits of boxed wine compared to its classier cousin, the wine bottle.
Production Style and "Green" Effect
Box: The bag-in-a-box wine apparatus was invented in the 1960s by an Australian winemaker who wanted a less expensive method of packaging his wines. By siphoning wine into a plastic bladder — originally made with polyurethane — and placing it in a thin cardboard box, winemakers are to ship their product in greater quantities for less money. Boxed wine typically holds about three liters of wine, roughly the equivalent of a double magnum bottle, but weighs significantly less. The cardboard boxes also are great for recycling, as corrugated cardboard fibers can be reused several times. Unfortunately, recycling the plastic bladder and its nozzle can be more difficult, rendering boxed wine slightly less environmentally friendly.
Bottle: The wine bottle as we know it now came into being around the 1700s. In the beginning, bottles were individually made by glassblowers (some say that wine bottles hold 750 milliliters because that was the average volume of an exhale). By the 19th century, glass production had replaced glassblowers' jobs with industrially manufactured seamed glass. As for the environmental footprint of glass bottles, it's clear that the thicker glass is heavier to transport and more awkward to pack, making shipping more negatively impactful. On the bright side, glass is recyclable — given that it gets to the proper recycling plant in the first place.
Effect of the Packaging on Wine
Box: Here is where boxed wine really starts to shine. While bottled wine starts to oxidize immediately after being opened, wine inside a plastic bladder stays sealed off from air more effectively for a longer period of time. While a bottle will last nicely for up to four days, wine in a bag can last up to two months. Unopened, wine can sit on a shelf for more than a year without noticeable changes. Finally, wine in a bag will chill much faster than wine in a thick bottle, allowing for quicker purchase-to-consumption times. This makes boxed wine a great option for casual wine drinkers who don't want to fuss with their vino and are ready to drink it now.
Bottle: Although bottled wine can oxidize quickly after opening and pumping air out of the bottle has been shown ineffective, a standard bottle contains roughly four glasses of wine and shouldn't be too hard to finish in a timely manner. While it's a small positive that boxed wine can sit on the shelf unopened and unaged for a period of time, the shelf life for bottled wine is a significant bonus. When packaged with a proper porous cork that allows for desired oxidation, wine that has been cellared for a period of time matures and develops a depth of flavor that is highly prized. Good things come to those that wait, which is also why aged wine costs so much.
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Box: Boxed wine gets a bad rep and often is the whipping boy of wine snobs, but is that a fair representation of the diverse types of wine that are boxed? It can be understandably difficult to move away from the stereotypes of Franzia or the embarrassing drinking games of college students. But there is handful of goods wines getting accolades for all the right reasons. Bandit, Black Box, and French Rabbit are just some of the labels helping to change the perception of boxed wine. However, it is interesting to note that the original boxed wine creators at Angove Family Winemakers have discontinued their use of the box-and-bladder altogether.
Bottle: Though boxed wine most often is associated with poor quality, it's possible that there is even more bad wine put into bottles per capita — Carlo Rossi anyone? Being packaged in a bottle alone doesn't prove a wine's quality. Nevertheless, the world has yet to see a Grand Cru Burgundy placed in a box, let alone in a bottle with a twist-off cap, implying that sometimes tradition and stereotypes just might have a place in the wine hierarchy.