As I wiped a tiny drop from the plastic spigot sticking out of the box of wine I’d just opened, I had to laugh. I, the keeper of wine labels, the saver of bottle stoppers actually made of cork, the recorder of vintages, years, producers, varietals, had just served four glasses of Les Roques de Cana Cahors from …a box.
I’m not sure what the fateful moment was where I bought my first wine in a box. It had been awhile coming, presaged by serving wine with plastic corks, and sometimes screw tops, practices I adopted many years ago. None of this was easy – I believe in “natural” foods and fabrics, the used rather than the new, tradition and history over modernity most of the time.
Plastic corks fine, screw tops are fine
But my wine mentor, Hervé Lestage, caviste and oenologue and also a lover of the simple and “natural,” was the first to say to me, “Plastic corks are fine; screw tops are fine. There is so little cork to be had anyway, and young wines don’t need it.”
We all love big wines for special occasions, but the French drink wine every day
Young wines are the trend in France today. “We all love big wines for special occasions, but the French drink wine every day and they want lower prices and new, fresh, bright flavor,” says Mr. Lestage. The economics are an important consideration. Younger wine makers, and/or those moving towards increasingly sustainable practices in the vineyards, often don’t have the liquidity to put wines away for many years before selling them. The consumer also doesn’t have the same budget her or she once had for wines. The convergence is wines that are generally affordable and can be appreciated almost immediately, that is within one to three years. I digrees but it’s all related, for wine wine in a box is a response to the economy for producer and consumer, but also a desire for good quality wines in bulk
Shipping liquids in boxes isn’t new – the method reportedly began in the 1950’s when an American, William R. Scholle, developed it for shipping the battery acid. His name still holds the trademark for Bag in a Box (BIB), the industry shorthand for wine in boxes. But it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that wine in boxes began appearing in France, and then it was mostly on the lower shelf of the wine section in a supermarket. There one can still buy very affordable wines, sometimes of decent quality, sometimes not. But at what translates as an average price of 5€ per bottle (a 3-liter box can cost as little as 12€), if the wine is drinkable it’s a bargain.
There is at least one chain of shops devoted entirely to wine in boxes, BiviVino. There, a customer can taste before buying, which allows the customer security, important at Bibivino particularly, where a box of wine can cost upwards of 40euros. Many cavistes who specialize in quality, small production wines also will have a few boxed wines, though at least in the 6th and 7th arrondissement of Paris, they are a hard sell. “For some reason my customers simply didn’t want to buy boxed wines,” said Isabelle La Renaudie, owner of Les Petits Domaines on rue de Grenelle, a sentiment echoed by several of her colleagues in the neighborhood. “I had boxes but ended up having to throw them out.”
According to Thibault Vial of Les Roques de Cana in Cahors, who sells some of his wine to Bibivino, his wine in a box isn’t quite the same quality as what the consumer will find in a bottle of his wine. “That’s normal,” he said, laughing. “But what the consumer needs to understand, and they do with our wines, is that our methods are the same for all the wine, and even our basic wines are quality wines. Our wine for the box is intended to be enjoyed now; wine we bottle will age into something extraordinary.”
The conclusion? There are many. The first which everyone agrees on is that wine in a box can be excellent.
So when to buy a box? “A boxed wine is great for a party or a bigger group,” Mr. Lestage says. “It can be handy for the daily sipper too, but one has to be controlled. I don’t want a boxed wine open near me because I’ll drink it, but I have no problem selling boxes from good producers because I know the quality is excellent.”
Wine in a box is the next best, affordable, even green thing. The green part one hopes is true; the rest is absolutely true. A carefully chosen wine in a box offers excellent flavor and delight on the palate.
The following are three spots to pick up quality wine in a box, BIB.
La Feuille de Vigne, 24 rue Dauphin, Honfleur, 02 31 98 78 96
BiviVino, 35 rue Charlot , Paris 3, (and other addresses in Paris and in France), Paris, 01 42 71 14 08
La Dernière Goutte, 6 rue Bourbon le Château, Paris 6, 01 43 29 11 62
And here is a recipe to serve wtih your next wine, whether it comes from box or bottle.