Last week, I took advantage of my part time status as a food blogger (here and here), to attend a FoodBuzz Community Table dinner at Spruce in San Francsico's Presidio neighborhood, sponsored by Black Box Wines. I've been dying to patronize Spruce since trying Chef Mark Sullivan's most blissful carrot soup at the Taste of the Nation event earlier this year, but must admit I was skeptical on whether the quality of any wine that came from a box could match to the food I was going to be eating. I shouldn't have been worried. Black Box wines are nothing like their fraternity-favorite boxed counterparts which dominate the low end wine markets - a good reason for environmentally conscious wine lovers to rejoice!
For decades Australia has been packaging good wines in boxes - it seems that not only do they have a fondness for wine, but an equal fondness for portability - and boxed wine provides both portability, reduced packaging size, and reduced spoilage. The global wine industry has been slow to catch on, partly because the gaps in technology (which have since been greatly improved upon), but mostly, because of an image problem - the false assumption that "a box can never compete with a glass bottle sealed with a real cork". Certainly the box doesn't look as aesthetically pleasing, but this doesn't stop you from emptying it into a nice decanter, and drinking a resulting good glass of wine, that will certainly be a step up from your average ten dollar bottle.
Ultimately, high fuel prices may be the critical push the industry needs - the reduction in space and weight will drastically reduce transportation costs, much reducing the lifecycle costs of the product, and reducing the carbon footprint by over 50% (Each box of black box wine is filled with the equivalent of 4 750 ml bottles, and is only a fraction of the space and weight of it's glass counterparts). Additionally, the boxes are fully recyclable.
Furthermore, a boxed wine, once opened, can last up to four weeks without spoiling because of it's vacuum sealed technology, a particular bonus for those who don't wish to consume an entire bottle in one sitting. While previous versions of boxed wine technology have been criticized for allowing oxygenation to occur during storage, and thus spoiling the wines, new technologies are working against that. What boxed wine technology hasn't been able to figure out is the natural aging process - for now, the highest end vintages still call for bottling technology, but this might change as technology improves.
Hopefully more and more quality wine producers will take the chance of boxing some of their wines, in order to keep the research and development going, and to change the public perception that you can't get quality wines out of a box.
Blackbox is encouraging a viral marketing campaign "You've been Boxed!", encouraging it's patrons to serve the wine blindly to their friends, taking it out of the box, and say, pouring it in a beautiful decanter - for the pleasure of being able to share with them that they have been served a boxed wine that they actually enjoyed. While this is a tiny step to creating industry wide change, clever marketing encouraging the consumer to change their habits is one way of bringing on change. While by no means do I encourage duping one's own friends for pleasure, getting people to try something that they might otherwise not without any preconceived notions is an important way of changing consumer opinions.
What though, of the quality of the wine? While a boxed wine might not compare with say, a finely aged vintage wine that you have been saving for 50 years waiting for that right moment - this wine is good quality, from well cultivated grape varietals, and is a fine alternative to a really good bottle of wine at both a reduced price and reduced environmental impact. No longer does a boxed wine mean a compromise in quality, or the punchline in a bad joke. Recently, magazines such as Forbes, Esquire, and even O, the Oprah Magazine have published articles on boxed wine. And trade papers such as the Wine Spectator have geen giving boxed wines high ratings, including two recent recommendations of Black Box: an 87 point Monterey County Chardonnay 2008 and 85 point California Cabernet Sauvignon 2007. Despite what critics say, there are two types of wine: the wine you like and the wine you don't - when it comes to quality boxed wine, just don't knock it before you try it!
If you are looking to try these wines, out of the several varietals we tasted, my particular favorites were the 2008 Colombia Valley Riesling, which was paired with the house made charcuterie, yet I managed to sip admiringly throughout the entire dinner, and the 2007 Central Coast Shiraz, which paired with the cheese course, made for a lovely accompaniment to both the cheeses and the sweetness of honey, marcona almonds, and cherry compote.
Please note: While I did get some free wine and food and the company of several of my favorite foodbloggers, Black Box certainly did not pay me to write this - in fact, I consider myself to be a bit of a libations snob, and ended up writing this out of sheer admiration for a company which was able to change my strong negative perceptions about an industry one short evening. The quality of the product speaks for itself.