Box Wine: Is It a Sin or Just Sinfully Delicious?

In days not very long ago, there were serious wine aficionados and then there were the rest of us. Exemplified by Paul Giamatti’s character in “Sideways,” these wine snobs looked askance at mere mortals, and would never stoop to drinking wine that came in a bottle with a plastic cork, let alone in a box.

Thankfully, those days are either behind us, or those types of wine people are in hiding. Instead, these days, it seems that everybody and their father have their own preferred brand of wine, type, and vintage. While you rarely see somebody touting a box of wine into a BYOB restaurant, it is becoming more commonplace to find them at dinner parties and poolside BBQs. Is this a sin or is box wine just sinfully delicious?

Franzia: The Granddaddy of Box Wine

Perhaps no label is as well known for box wine as Franzia. Franzia’s patented “Wine Tap” boxes were first introduced in the late 1970s, before many of its current broad fan base were able to drink legally. By developing the “fresh to the last glass” tap, Franzia enabled the wine in its boxes to stay crisp, clean, and unoxidized until the last drop was used up, and also gave drinkers an easy-to-use and easy-to-seal method of getting to the wine. The wine box would never have worked if drinkers had to drink all five liters once opened, or else the wine would have become flat and tasteless swill.

Restaurants especially like the ease of use of box wine, as the price point is cheaper, the boxes are easier to store than bottles, and many more glasses of wine can be gotten out of one box than one bottle. According to the Franzia website’s list of “fun facts,” in 2007 alone more than 88 million glasses of Franzia box wine were served in restaurants in the U.S. Chances are that you didn’t even realize you were drinking wine out of a box when you ordered the house Chablis at your favorite Italian restaurant!

Better for the Environment

Do you know how much wine you drink each year? Some of you might save the corks, and even the bottles, for craft projects–chances are that, if you do this, at some point you’re going to be entirely overwhelmed by the pile you’re accumulated!

While cork corks are biodegradable, plastic corks are not. Only about one-third of us dutifully put our clean wine bottles out for the town recycling pickup and who knows what happens to them after that? Wine boxes help to reduce the effect of a wine-drinking habit on landfills: Franzia claims that its boxes result in 85% less waste in landfills than a traditional wine bottle.

Additionally, the actual creation of the wine box uses fewer resources and results in fewer CO2 emissions than the manufacture of wine bottles. Transporting wine boxes is easier to do than transporting bottles, and the combination of easy stackability and lighter packaging means fewer trucks needed for transport. As you can guess, this means less gas used. It all translates to a smaller carbon footprint for wine boxes vs. wine bottles.

Some box wine drinkers love that this “decreased waste” also carries through to the actual lining of the box–the “bag” that stores the wine inside the box. This bag is so much easier to squeeze out than a wine bottle, letting an avid box wine drinker prove that box wine is good to the very last drop.

North vs. South: A Friendly Rivalry

Australia has long been a country of box wine drinkers. In fact, some credit Australian winemaker Thomas Angove who created the first wine “cask”–the bag in the box that became one of the most popular wine packages–in 1965, a decade before Franzia.

In the usual good-natured rivalry between countries, some on this side of the equator claim that it was American William R. Scholle who created the bag-in-the-box idea in the 1950s. While his design was created with the transportation of battery acid in mind, we can all raise a glass to whoever thought to utilize it for the safe transport of wine.

Not Just for White Zinfandel Drinkers

Box wines are subject to sneers from bottle wine drinkers not only because of their packaging, but also because of the actual taste of the wine inside. Thankfully, box wines are not just for White zinfandel drinkers anymore. Franzia alone markets 17 different varieties. But there are also other companies dutifully creating and selling wine varietals in a variety of non-bottle forms.

Chain stores such as Whole Foods and Target have probably done more to help box wines’ acceptability by mainstream drinkers in the last ten years than the corner liquor store, but you can find wine for sale in boxes, pouches, or even Tetra Paks everywhere that bottled wine is sold.

So go ahead and try something new today. Purchase a carton of Yellow+Blue organic Malbec and take comfort in the knowledge that the proliferation of box wines does not spell the end of civilization as we know it. In fact, these box wines just might be helping save the Earth, a drink at a time.