When it comes to Chateau Cardboard, we’ve come a long way, baby… When I was at varsity 100 years ago, box wine was pretty much all we ever bought, except when we were going really upmarket. Then we’d stretch to a 5L jug of Tassenberg, which came in a bottle, so was clearly classy. But lately I am noticing a shift – well, two shifts, really: the first is that we’ve all more or less adapted to drinking wine with a screwtop, as opposed to a cork. We no longer assume it’s inferior just because of its packaging, which is something I never thought would happen.
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If we can change our minds about that, why not about wine in a box, too? The second is that my friend Linda, who is a total oenophile, told me that when she and her husband lived in Paris for a while, they mostly drank box wine. ‘There was a really good South African box wine there,’ she said. So good that when they came back here they tried to buy more – but found they couldn’t: it was only for export, which is annoying. But I was interested… if Linda was enjoying Chateau Cardboard enough to try to hunt it down back home, it meant something.
Maybe the local unexported box wines had improved too. They’ve certainly multiplied – when I started properly looking at the wine aisles in supermarkets I couldn’t believe how many different varieties of box wine are available now, and how affordable they are. According to British wine buff Susy Atkins, Amazon reported a more than 200% increase in box wine sales in August this year. I’d guess we’re following the same trend, because there are some interesting reasons behind it, other than the improvement in quality.
It’s ecologically sound: boxes are mostly recyclable and use much less energy to produce and transport, so their carbon footprint is reduced. It lasts longer: you can keep an open box wine for up to three weeks, apparently – because it’s a vacuum inside the bag; it just collapses in on itself rather than letting air in, which means the wine doesn’t spoil. It’s really easy to pack and store if you’re hiking or camping: we’re quite an outdoorsy nation, and box wines are ideal for that lifestyle – much easier to pack and also less broken glass in public spaces. Win-win. A 3L box contains the equivalent of about four bottles: that is excellent value for money! Of course, none of that matters if it tastes bad, but the good news is, box wines have really improved in the last while, and there are some really drinkable options out there. We did a staff round-up, and these are the team’s six best in box (all prices are approximate, depending on where you buy them).