Bartenders are known for their prowess with spirits and cocktails, but many love wine, too. And they’re not precious about their wine, or shy to embrace nontraditional formats like boxes.
During the novel coronavirus pandemic, sales of boxed wine surged 31% in the 13 weeks that ended June 13, 2020, over the same period in 2019, according to Nielsen data. Sales growth slowed to 24% during the last four weeks of that period, but that’s still well above the annual growth rate of 14%.
The appeal of boxed wine has expanded as selections have grown, which includes entries from serious winemakers. It’s gone a long way to dispel the tired old meme of boxed wine as poor-quality “Card-Bordeaux.”
An average box contains as much wine as four 750-ml bottles. While they were designed for dinner parties and other gatherings, it appeals to those sheltering at home, says Chad Michael George, founder of restaurant consultancy Proof Productions. He was previously a partner at Denver’s The Way Back, which used to serve its own private-label boxed wine.
“You can open a box and it won’t go bad,” says George. “It’s easily a month before it shows any oxidation. You can’t do that with a bottle.”
Boxes also appeal to those who’d like to reduce environmental impact. They have a smaller carbon footprint than glass bottles, which require greater resources to make and ship. Thus, they often carry a much lower price point.
The unconventional packaging is versatile, too.
“If you take the bladder out of the box, it fits perfectly into a tote bag,” says New York City-based Chockie Tom, founder of the Doom Tiki pop-up and NYC brand ambassador for Ming River baijiu. She’s retrofitted bags of wine into coolers that can float in a swimming pool. At the beach, when the bag is empty, “it makes an excellent pillow if you blow it up and wrap a towel around it.”
Below, bartenders and other drink professionals share some of their favorite boxes to try. Their selections range from serious wines to light-hearted salves for pandemic-addled drinkers. Some even share irreverent advice for boxed-wine cocktails (did we mention these are bartenders?).
Bota Box Dry Rosé
California’s Bota Box offers a wide range of options, but the Dry Rosé was called out multiple times as a crushable, beach-worthy option. “It has just enough citrus notes,” says Tom.
In true bartender style, she also favors the rosé to mix into tonic spritzers, or freeze. “Frosé is my jam for the summer.” She also praises Bota’s melon-accented Riesling, which she mixes with grape juice and freezes into a slushy “friesling.”
Average price: $23 for a three-liter box.
The Pecorino grape is named for the sheep who wander the vineyards in Italy’s Abruzzo and Marche regions. It’s less common outside of the country, but it can be “amazingly complex,” says Dave Herman, a bartender in Durham, North Carolina.
This Pecorino from organic winemaker Centorame is made with grapes sourced from small estate vineyards. “It has fruit, citrus, minerality,” he says. “It’s just a lovely, crisp table white.”
Average price: $42 for a five-liter box.
Château Montaud Côtes de Provence Rosé
While Noar was familiar with the bottled version, the affordability of the boxed rosé got his attention. The refreshing, blush-hued wine has “strawberry and citrus notes [and] nice acid,” he says. “I was guilty of buying several boxes this summer and making frozen sangria with it, or having it with most dinners on the weekends.”
Average price: $35 for a three-liter box.
From The Tank
“I’ve got a red on the counter and rosé in the fridge at all times,” says Denver’s George of these boxes from Jenny and François, an importer that works with small grape growers and eschews chemicals in wine production. “All the fruit in those boxes is hand-harvested,” says George.
From The Tank’s boxed vin rouge, a Grenache-Syrah-Carignan blend, also gets a mention from Devin Kennedy, head bartender for NYC cocktail lounge Pouring Ribbons and cofounder of new wine brand Michael Lavelle. He calls it “super tasty.” It pairs well with gamier meats, he says, but is light enough to have with seafood as well.
Average price: $32 for a three-liter box (rosé); $33 for a three-liter box (red).
House Wine Rosé & Cheez-Its Package
House Wine’s berry-tinged rosé, also available in bottles and cans, was praised by several drinks professionals surveyed for this piece.
Tom received it as a pandemic-era wedding gift. “I just love pink wine,” she says. “Finding something that’s not so heavy and drinks easily is important to me.”
Yet, the box that bartenders coveted the most this summer was House Wine’s fun, limited-edition wine and Cheez-Its combo package.
Average price: $30 for a three-liter box (with Cheez-Its, while supplies last).
Selection Jocelyn Cambier Côtes-du-Rhône Red
French-born former sommelier Jocelyn Cambier is behind this Grenache-Syrah blend.
“Everyone that I’ve poured it for loved it,” says Noar. This easy-drinking red offers “nice red fruit notes, some black pepper on the end,” he says. Noar says it drinks like a wine that ought to be double the price. Bonus: no guilt when mixed into sangria.
Average price: $28 for a three-liter box.
Schplink Grüner Veltliner
“I picked it up purely because it’s a Grüner in a box, and I’d never seen it before,” says Cocktail Kingdom account manager Scott Stierwalt of this popular Austrian white. “It’s sessionable, very mineral, aromatic, stone fruity.”
He also celebrates its versatility with food pairings. “It’s a wine that plays a lot of cards, and that’s why I like it in a larger format.”
Average price: $30 for a three-liter box.
Wineberry Château Tassin Bordeaux Blanc
“A super-delicious, crushable white” is how Kennedy describes this wine, packaged in a wooden box with a strap for easy transport. Its white melon and honeydew notes, he says, are an ideal companion for seafood or poultry, or “just something cool to have in the house.”
Average price: $40 for a three-liter box.