As stereotypes go, boxed wine has always been a liquid sign of bad taste. It’s usually just a big box of buck-a-chuck, something we sipped in college or were served at parties from friends with less-than-stellar taste. But the tides are changing. Next-gen boxed wine producers are now offering very good juice in a large format. “Boxed wine has come a long way from the OG days of Franzia,” says Alex Cuper, the wine director at El Che Steakhouse & Bar. “It really is progressively getting better.”
“Boxed wine is great!,” says sommelier Ryan Plas from Coquette in New Orleans. “I like that its packaging can be recycled. Plus, who doesn’t like that volume for the price?”
After Woody Hambrecht closed down his direct-to-consumer brand Haus Aperitif earlier this year, boxed wine drew him back into the beverage game. Last month, he and Ross Dawkins (former winemaker at First Leaf) launched Ami Ami, a line of boxed wine with great branding and just two flavors: red and white.
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While boxed wine has a bad rap, it’s a more sustainable vessel for drinking. “When we began brainstorming business ideas, we came across a couple of stats that really surprised us,” Hambrecht says. “Did you know that more than 50% of the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine comes from the packaging? That two-thirds of the glass in the United States ends up in a landfill? It also takes a ton of energy to produce that glass, and most of it is made oceans away, so even the transport has a significant environmental impact.”
They started looking into alternatives to glass bottles, like cans. “The quality ceiling was too low,” Dawkins says. “Also, cans have a higher carbon footprint than you realize.”
They came to recognize that the vessel with the most future potential was the one with the most baggage: the box. As packaging, it’s 100% recyclable, convenient and has half the carbon footprint of glass. “The more we dug into boxed wine, the more we realized that there is no reason you can’t put great wine in a box,” Dawkins says.
But first, they needed to win back drinkers scorned by boxed wine. So they outfitted the boxes with design-forward graphics and filled them with high-quality wine sourced from a co-op in the south of France.
Alileo, another recent entrant to the category, also went for high-fi, highly Instagrammable designs but filled their boxes with great Sicilian reds, whites and oranges. In Australia, Hey Tomorrow works alongside established wineries to package some of their best bottles in boxes. Gonzo Vino releases fun blends under cheeky names — Boomer Juice is a cabernet sauvignon, and Le Freak is a crunchy zibibbo. And Juliet produces eco-friendly, magnum-sized boxed wine that you’d actually like on your countertop.
But will consumers get on board with boxes? “I really don’t hate boxed wine for several reasons,” Cuper says. “First off, it’s one of the most efficient vessels — it’s square for storage purposes, and there is little-to-no oxygen or light getting to the wine, which leads to longevity. And, they’re very versatile, from cooking to using as a cocktail or sangria base, or just drinking on their own.”
It’s also a wildly eco-conscious option. As wine producers and drinkers alike reckon with their carbon output, sustainability is top of mind. And in that vein, boxed wine makes a lot of sense — most last for upwards of a month, and none of these wines are made for aging.
“What’s interesting is we’ve learned there is actually a lot of nostalgia around boxed wine,” Dawkins says. “We’ve all had boxed wine back in the day, like in college, or we remember our mom’s white zin in the fridge. So there’s actually this love for the format, but the difference is now we want a much higher quality product.”
Here are our picks for the best boxed wines to buy right now.
When co-founder Antonio Bertone wanted to enter the wine market, he knew the competition and saturation in the wine space was formidable. “So we looked at a category that is super polarizing,” he says. “We said, ‘let’s make it as hard as bloody possible and try to change the stigma around boxed wine. Let’s un-do the Franzia nightmares and show consumers the incredible performance of bottles-in-boxes.’” What they ended up making was a range of wines not usually found in box form, from a deep rosato to a grillo to a skin-contact zibibbo. $40
Made in Austria on the same longitude as Champagne, this all-organic grüner veltliner is crisp, bright and delightful to drink, with crisp flavors of apple, pear and mint and a mineral-driven finish. It’s the wine equivalent of a Mojito on a hot day, and at $30 for 3 liters, it’s a no-brainer. $32
These boxes each fit three bottles. Three bottles! Think of all the fun you can have with four bottles of zesty, juicy and floral rosé — it can fuel an entire weekend of camping, save you from cracking open bottle after bottle at a party, or just fuel a month’s worth of after-work happy hours. Speaking of fun: The box itself, which features magical art, riddles, stories and other assorted puzzles. Of note: The rosé is a collaboration between our friend Neil Patrick Harris in collaboration with our sibling publication Wondercade (as NPH says, “It’s the next best thing to having me personally show up.”). $25
Natural wine matriarch Jenny Lefcourt committed to boxed wine ages ago, turning out her own house label of highly drinkable reds, whites and roses in cardboard form. Inspired by the European tradition of heading to local wineries with an empty jug to stock up on your house wine, the bag-in-box is filled with wine from Christophe Aguilar of Southern France’s Domaine de la Patience. All are easy to drink and lively, and they’ll keep in your fridge for up to a month. $37
Out of Portugal, LAB Boxed Wines is another one of Plas’s favorites. “I especially love their rosé,” he says. Their red is spicy, smokey and tannic, while the white is floral, tropical and super crisp. Both come in 3-liter mega boxes.
This quintessential no-brainer boxed wine is made with a slightly-spiced, berry pie syrah. It’s easy to drink and simple to pour, but still elegant if you stop to think about what you’re drinking. Add in excellent graphics, and this wine looks right at home at the center of your dinner table. That said, each box is smaller than your standard box — it holds just 11 glasses — making it an excellent option for one-glass-a-night longevity. $32
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