Boxed wine has long been the butt of oenophile jokes, with a reputation for less-than-dazzling taste and a penchant for showing up in the refrigerators of people who don't know the difference between merlot and malbec. But, while boxed wine was once generally relegated to low-end value brands, it's now the preferred packaging for respectable wineries with an eye toward eco-friendliness.
Why is boxed wine more ecologically sound than bottled wine? For starters, there's the weight difference. Wine tends to travel a long way, whether you prefer Chianti shipped from Italy or cabernet from California. The majority of wine drinkers live east of the Mississippi, so the greenhouse gas emissions from trucking all those crates of wine bottles across the country add up fast. In fact, the New York Times did the math, finding that a standard 750-milliliter bottle of wine generates about 5.2 tons of carbon when it travels from a winery in California to a store in New York.
Boxes take up less cargo space, too — up to a third less, meaning shippers can fit more product into every truck. That reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions. What's more, boxes reduce waste. Bottled wine only lasts a day or two after opened, whereas wine in a box stays fresh for weeks. No more pouring out an expensive bottle of organic wine after a day because it took on that distinct vinegary aroma.
Green wineries are jumping onto the boxed-wine bandwagon with both traditional box designs — a plastic bag encased in a cardboard box with a spigot — as well as TetraPaks. Australia, Spain, Italy, Sweden and Argentina are way ahead of North America when it comes to alternative packaging, with consumers embracing wine in nontraditional packaging. But, Canada and the United States are catching up — wineries offering boxed wine are multiplying all the time.
But of course, the urgent question is: How's the taste? After all, most people would agree that consuming wine is pointless if it doesn't even taste good, no matter how Earth-friendly the packaging. As with bottled wine, taste varies by winery, type of wine and the drinker's preferences. But the general consensus is that being in a box doesn't harm the flavor of wine.
First of all, don't worry about wine in TetraPaks taking on a metallic taste: The aluminum layer doesn't touch with the wine, since the inside of a TetraPak is sealed with polyethylene. Drinking it through a straw, however — as seemingly intended for the juice-box-type containers — isn't optimal. Pour it into a glass to let the wine oxygenate for better flavor.
A number of boxed wines have gotten rave reviews from wine connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike. There's French Rabbit, in its cute little juice boxes — deemed "delicious" and given 87 points by Wine Spectator. French Rabbit offers pinot noir, chardonnay, merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Yellow + Blue, introduced last summer, offers organically grown Argentinean malbec and torrontés in TetraPaks and has been called a "$10 Hall of Fame candidate." 3 Thieves' Bandit wine offers chardonnay, pinot grigio, cabernet sauvignon and merlot in individual boxes that have been proclaimed "eminently drinkable."
Of course, the greenest way to package wine would be to offer refillable bottles. If consumers could reuse the same bottle over and over again, taking it to the store whenever it's empty, a whole lot of packaging waste could be eliminated. This is currently the norm in countries such as France and Italy, but the idea has yet to cross the pond. But, until the day that happens, good-tasting boxed wine will certainly do.