Boxed Wine 101

Wines sold in boxes are popping up in supermarkets and liquor stores everywhere. Are they the right option for you? And more important, how do they taste?

Photo by  From the Tank

How does it work?

Bag-in-a-box wine usually consists of a 3- or 5-liter bag of wine inside a cardboard box. When it’s time to drink the wine, a hole is made along perforated lines on the box and a tap already attached to the bag is pulled through for dispensing. After opening, these wines stay fresh for 30 to 60 days.

Doesn’t wine start to go bad after you open it? How can it last so long?

Exposure to oxygen can cause wine to turn, and the speed can vary with the fragility of the wine, says Helene Hopfer, Ph.D., of the Department of Viticulture & Enology, at the University of California, Davis. “One major advantage of bag-in-box,” she says, “is that you can pour one glass at a time without opening the bag, like you would have to with a bottle.” The bag inside the box slows oxidization because as you use the tap to remove the wine from the bag, the bag collapses and limits the air inside. With a bottle of wine, once it has been opened, the exposure to oxygen means you usually have just a few days before air affects the flavor of the wine.

Why buy wine in a box instead of a bottle?

Value: Three liters of wine is about the same as four bottles of wine, and five liters is about the same as 6.7 bottles. You typically get more for your money when it comes to buying wines in a box. Lorena Ascencios, the head wine buyer for Astor Wines & Spirits, in New York City, says, “You can buy larger-size box wines and save a tremendous amount at the register. I’ll give you an example of a wine we carry in two sizes: Côtes-du-Rhône, Domaine le Garrigon from France. The 750-milliliter bottle costs $13.96 a bottle and the 3-liter box costs $38.99. If you were to buy four bottles, you would pay $55.84, versus $38.99 for the boxed version. You save $16.85 by buying the larger format.”

Convenience: Boxed wine is a great choice for picnics and parties. The wine can rest on a table or in the refrigerator and guests can dispense it easily into their glasses. Boxes of wine are also great for times when glass bottles aren’t ideal, like pool parties, camping trips, and sporting events. But even if you aren’t having a large gathering, a box of wine may be worth buying, especially since it typically lasts a month or longer and can fit easily in the refrigerator. And having a box in the kitchen allows you to use a cup or two for cooking without letting the majority of a bottle go to waste.

Environmentally friendly: Boxed wines are believed to have less impact on the environment than more traditionally packaged wines. The cardboard package is recyclable, and research indicates that the entire bag-in-a-box packaging system contributes less to global-warming potential and uses less water and energy than glass wine bottles do. Boxes are also thought to have a smaller carbon footprint than glass bottles, since they are lighter and easier to transport.