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Premium Box Wines: Beneath You, or the Best Thing That Ever Happened to You?

Desperate times call for desperate wine compromises, I suppose. My idea of wine procurement budgetary concessions thus far in life has involved paying no more than $10 for an everyday, “It’s wine o’clock,” 750ml. When money was really tight, I’d infuriate my bloated wine ego with a handy purse-size 1.5-liter of something drinkable, usually of Australian origin involving bright colors and adorable marsupials.

A recent “change in lifestyle,” let’s call it, drove me into the arms of the “Premium Box Wine” aisle at my local grocery store for the first time. I don’t know about you, but I am all about the ritual of opening and pouring wine from a glass bottle. There is a numinous, sacramental aspect to it that I cherish. Yanking a plastic spout attached to a collapsible bag out of the side of a cardboard box makes me feel like a homesick kid at summer camp. Or a milkmaid.

Nevertheless, I’ve managed to stumble through four different premium box wines so far, with mostly underwhelming results. All four were on sale, as reflected in the prices. I’m sharing my perceptions because I’m not giving up yet, and I’m hoping that you’ll chime in with some of your most successful finds in this arena.

Big House Pinot Evil, Pinot Noir, California, NV – $17.09

This wine has forced me to finally come to grips with the fact that Randall Grahm has not owned the Big House (or Pacific Rim) wines for many years. I need to accept this and stop trying to recreate a love that once was.

At the risk of sounding like an annoying boob, this wine epitomizes what people mean when they claim a wine smells or tastes like wet dog and dirty socks. Maybe you’d call it earthy or gamey, but for me, it was almost too fecund and funky to drink. It did go down easier after a few days on the counter. Maybe the box just needed to breathe?

Speaking of boxes, this is the only Big House “premium wine cask” on the shelf, blend or varietal, with no indication of the vintage prominently displayed on the front. Very suspect!

Badger Mountain Pure White – Organic White Wine, Columbia Valley, 2013 – $21.89

“Like rain on your wedding day” in the ironic file, this organic white wine instantly gave me a splitting headache every time I drank it. Very sad. I really wanted this to be my go-to summer of 2015 wine.

Had I known the grape composition before purchasing, I would not have brought it home, but you’re often flying blind in a supermarket wine aisle. The blend is 66% Riesling, 20% Müller-Thurgau, and 14% Muscat Canelli, sourced from five different Washington Columbia Valley vineyards. No added sulfites, certified organic, and 12.5% alcohol — such potential! But for me the aggressive, over-dominating herbaceousness was intolerable. I suspect the Müller-Thurgau? I can’t even blame oak, as stainless steel fermentation was used.

Bota Box Sauvignon Blanc, California, 2013 – $16.19

Yes, I’m a medal whore. The box boasts “45 Gold Medals,” but Sauvignon Blanc is also my favorite white grape so this was a natural choice for my first dive into Bag-in-a-Boxville. Plus the alcohol content was at the near-perfect-for-me 13.5%.

It was relatively pleasant at first. And by that I mean very light, almost indistinguishable fruit varieties, although the producer claims melon and citrus. Low acidity, and too thin and watery for my tastes, especially from such a naturally zippy and zesty grape. As the days wore on, the wine turned tart and bitter, heavily weighted on the mineral side of the scale. Thankfully, I had a box of the Bota Pinot on hand to console me in my disappointment.

Bota Box Pinot Noir, Chile, 2014 – $16.19

This was my favorite of the bunch. Grapes grown in the Valle Central and Casablanca regions of Chile, it’s exactly what I’d expect from a value Pinot: smooth cherry and soft berry, gentle tannins that offered enough structure to allow the wine to hold firm, glass after glass. I never lost interest in this wine. After wincing through one glass of the insipid Bota Sauvignon Blanc, I would invariably turn to this one for comfort and solace.

I can absolutely understand the appeal that these eco-friendly, uber-portable, semi-potable boxed wines have for picnics, camping, boating, hiking, and women who suddenly find themselves living in a home with a refrigerator unable to accommodate an upright 750ml bottle. I just need to dedicate myself to further research. I’m confident I’ll find a gem or two. Next on my try list: Black Box New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Black Box Shiraz, and Bota Box Shiraz.

Can you give a value wine-loving friend a pointer or two?



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