Box vs. Bottle: Blind

Chapter 27

I’ve been hearing off hand remarks from various sources that box wine is on the way to respectability, tramping the same trail taken by screw caps.[1] I was suspicious, because even when I didn’t know the difference between Baron Phillipe de Rothschild and Mouton-Rothschild,[2] I knew that box wine was something I could look down on.  It was a ready insult to any really bad wine, it was my baseline for mediocrity.  Of course, I’ve never had a drop myself, except to cook with, so it was a little rich for me to dismiss it so, especially if I’m going to pretend that I’m not pretentious.[3] Moreover, there’s a growing trend in winemaking towards ecological friendliness,[4] and boxes have about half the footprint of bottles[5].  Yellow and Blue, based in South America, has marketed itself from the beginning with this in mind.  Bota box has taken up the green flag too. Also I have an aunt who swears by the stuff, so I felt bad dismissing her so quickly.  So I determined try a couple box wines, paired with bottle wines of a similar price.  Could I tell the difference?  Sometimes.[6]

All four of the wines I tasted were roughly $11 per liter, as I wanted a dime for dime fair pairing.  I paired up a pinot gris box from Bandit wine company[7] with the turning leaf pinot gris,[8] I had my girlfriend pour and bring me the glasses.  The color was essentially the same.  Wine number one was floral, peachy, and a little sweet like orange starburst.  Wine number two had a strong confection sugar note and a tiny stinky tint, like sweaty socks in the next room.  Edge to wine one.  But when I tasted it, I might as well have had mott’s apple juice.  There was zero acidity, zero secondary flavor.[9] Wine number two had a little backbone to it, more life on the palate, more distinct flavor.  On the strength of the acid, I played to my preconceptions and guessed wine two was the bottle wine.  I was wrong.[10]

The merlots were a different story.  Bandit merlot took on a Washington merlot from Covey Run.  This time, wine one was bright red, very fruit forward cherry on the palate.  Wine two was darker and richer, more distinct.  I could have guessed from the nose alone, and the palate told me exactly the same thing.  Wine one was fruit punch, wine two was quite good.[11] Wine one was the boxed stuff.

Verdict: I can’t tell the difference in white, but reds are still a work in progress.  The technology is coming though, and the environmental angle is an acute one.  Just like screwcapa-phobes of the previous generation, cardboardo-phobes better recognize.

[1] Also by glass bottles.  In the way-back-whenses the only proper vessel for wine was clay or sheep bladder, only the rot-gut came in those cheap ass glass things.

[2] By most measures I still don’t, but I know it’s at least $$500.

[3] Which I’m not.  Not really.  Sort of.  Sometimes I lose track of whether I am pretentious but pretending not to be, or if I’m not pretentious but pretending I am.

[4] Yeah, ok, where isn’t there such a trend, I get it, but that doesn’t make it less interesting.

[5] It’s a less impressive advantage when you note they compare 3 liter boxes against 750 ml bottles; of course it’s more efficient, but I understand their intent.

[6] Something I should mention here for the sake of perspective.  Have you ever had a wine by the glass in a restaurant?  You’ve probably had wine from a box.

[7] 96% wine, 4% packaging!

[8] 100% disgusting!

[9] There was barely firstendary flavor.

[10] When I announced I was doing this test, my mom mentioned that Aunt Jo would be pleased.  I told her that indeed she would be, this is why.

[11] To be sure, wine one was pretty good too, so long as you want fruit punch.


  • Aunt Jo wrote:

    Fess up Sam, it was your Aunt Jo who suggested it. And don’t forget to mention the ability to take box wine to the beach where glass bottles are prohibited. It sure beats beer. By the way, in case your Mom has not had the temerity to pass this tip along as well, I think you should add a box wine category to your photography site and include all the pictures of flamingos, barn cats, and garden gnomes. I can send you some in case you don’t already have an abundant supply.

  • sometimes you feel like a box..sometimes you don’t! Thanks for the tasting!

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