Bargain or Boutique? A Look at Quality vs Value in Boxed Wines

Boxed Wine - bargains and quality

The quality of boxed wines has improved dramatically since the days of bottom-shelf Chardonnay. Even the look is more upscale, such as this boxed wine from Wineberry.

Boxed wines, bag-in-box wine, Tetra pack wines-all were frowned upon until quite recently. Wine shipped in plastic bags was stigmatized, as much for the packaging as for its status as sub-par swill. Contemporary boxed, bag-in-box, and Tetra pack wines are, however, gradually gaining converts, thanks to vastly improved packaging technology and an increased willingness of wineries to ship true premium varietals in boxes and Tetra packs.

Boxed wine’s time may have come. BrandPackaging magazine’s September 2010 issue cites boxed wine as one of the top ten packaging ideas for the past decade. Boxed wine, claims BrandPackaging, makes for more eco-friendly wine, consuming less energy to transport.

Packaging is almost always a compromise, and bag-in-box wines are no exception to the rule. Although the best boxed wines have been lauded as exceptional wine bargains, boxed wines have both advantages and disadvantages when compared to their traditionally bottled brethren. 

The Advantages of Boxed Wines

The average wine bottle is 750ml; boxed wines are typically larger, often four times the volume. Advantage: boxed wines? That depends. For a gathering of some size, most likely, because packaging volume leads to lower prices per glass.

Bag-in-box wines have a distinct advantage over bottles when it comes to keeping wine fresh. The bags inside Tetra packed and boxed wines are designed to collapse around the wine as it is poured, reducing the wine’s contact with air, thereby maintaining the untapped state of the remainder. Clear advantage: boxed wines, because they extend the “drink by” date from roughly four days to four weeks.

Cork-stopped bottles have been the industry standards for quite some time, but the method is imperfect. Once in a while, the cork on a bottle from a recent vintage develops mold. The wine can gather a musty nose or flavor. Boxed wines completely avoid this scenario.

Advocates of boxed and tetra packed wine also claim that:

  • Boxed wines have lower carbon footprint
  • Great wine volume can be shipped per cubic foot of cargo space
  • Boxed wines are permitted in parks and at beaches
  • Less breakage occurs during shipping
  • Boxed wines pass post-production savings to the consumer

The Disadvantages of Bag-in-Box Wines

The landscape is changing to a degree, as the wine industry experiments with new packaging ideas, including plastic corks and even cans. Nevertheless, most wine consumers still associate boxed wines, however unfairly, with swill. The wine inside does not deserve the reputation. Inexpensive wines are inexpensive whether they are in plastic or glass, and the packaging neither improves nor damages the wines shipped in boxes. Still, some guests may look askance at boxed wines. Others may applaud you. You have to size up the room.

The size of the typical boxed wine can be a disadvantage if you pour a glass or two per day. You would finish a bottle quickly, but the boxes hold the equivalent of four bottles. What if you don’t enjoy the wine? Do you want to drink it for a couple of weeks? Similarly, trying new wines fairly frequently is part of the enjoyment of wine. Many prefer to taste a few different wines per week, rather than settle on one.

Boxed wines lack cache. They lack romance. They lack the look and feel of the bottle, and certainly don’t help the table dŽcor. A good wine shop may have thousands of different bottles from which to choose, but only a few dozen boxed wines. Boxed wines are not at all appropriate for aging. Take heir “best by” dating seriously.

The Final Word on Boxed Wines

We expect the wine industry to persist in the trend towards introducing new packaging ideas. Some will fail, some will gain some traction. Boxed wines clearly number among the latter. Their popularity has grown in lock step with the rise in quality level of the wine inside.

image: Boxed Wine from Wineberry

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