Some times call for complexity, delicacy, harmony and finesse, and other times, firmly, don’t. We like to aspire to a majority of the former, but facts is facts, and let’s stop pretending: often, what’s called for is a box of wine.

Just as screw caps (sorry, Stelvin closures) are no longer a sign of inconsequential wine, box wine has come a long way in the past few years. More and more winemakers, restaurant bar managers and general wine drinkers are realizing the benefits of the 3-liter box.

Indeed, if you really want to emulate French farmers and get your simple/green/low-fi/low-impact/country-peasant lifestyle signifiers up to snuff, you’ll drink more from boxes. Travel the European countryside and dine everyday-style with families you meet, and you’re bound to encounter a whole lotta box.

You can drink as much or as little as you want without risking oxidation. Because the wine is kept in a continually vacuuming bag, it can last three or four weeks (conservatively) and still taste fresh. (This is one reason to pester restaurants about glass pours: You’ve got a better chance with a glass poured from a well-chosen box than from an open-since-last-week bottle.)

Boxes are eco-friendly, because they’re made of recycled/recyclable cardboard and don’t require glass, and can ship more compactly. And if you need a half-cup to cook with, it’s there for you.

Boxes are crowd-friendly, because the standard 3-liter size is four bottles’ worth. Just have it out for your multi-day holiday guests to tap into whenever, with whatever food or no food.

And of course, boxes are cost-effective – usually. Most boxes cost less per ounce than most bottles because they cost less to package, and/or they contain cheap, bad wine. Don’t dismiss box wines reflexively simply because of their strange container, but don’t ignore the fact that many boxes remain the destination for mass-produced dreck.

So, one must choose wisely. When viewing the prices below, divide by four to compare to a bottle price.

One caveat: All wines improve after breathing a bit. The technology of a bag-in-a-box prohibits breathing. If you really want to maximize these wines’ potential, tap some into a decanter or pitcher before serving.

Picpoul de Pinet, La Petite Frog, Coteaux de Languedoc, France, $36 (Davine): Sometimes called the “Muscadet of the south,” Picpoul often gets pegged as a summer sipper and yeah, OK. But this is just a delicious, fresh, soft and balanced white that’s easy for everyday foods: chicken, non-red-sauce pastas, Asian-influenced. Balance is what separates the pretenders from the real deal, and this has it.

Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand, $20 (Nappi): Not my favorite style of wine, because it doesn’t prize harmony. First, it’s one thing, then the other. But for $5 a bottle, you get the classic New Zealand gooseberry, a little melon and soft mouthfeel, welcoming to food.

Badger Pure White 2008, Columbia Valley, Washington, $21 (Pine State): I’m such an annoying jerk that before I knew the make-up of this organic-grapes wine, I guessed Muller-Thurgau, and whaddya know: that unheralded food-y gem plus Semillon, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc, for a delicious off-dry wine. Lo and behold: it’s actually interesting, with nuts and flowers you want to explore. The Pure Red is less distinctive, but fine.

Duca Cabernet/Corvina 2009, Venezie, Italy, $22 (Pine State): A delicate, refreshing, light/medium-bodied red, from northeastern Italy, where the cool nights make it that way. For sensitive people who favor simple, bistro-y kinds of meals.

Roger Perrin Cotes-du-Rhone 2009, France, $32 (Devenish): The best of these I tasted. A wine grounded in reality, with all the peppery fruit, violets and bracing minerality good CdR is known for. Why is every restaurant you like not pouring this by the glass?

Moillard Cotes-du-Rhone “Les Violettes” 2009, France, $30 (Wicked): Where the Perrin has more componentry, the Moillard is more integrated; where the Perrin is chewier, the Moillard has more velvet. Buy both and have a CdR box-off.

Bota Box Old Vines Zinfandel 2009, somewhere in California, $19 (Nappi): I’m coming around to Zin. Often punchy and overly alcoholic, this is a relatively low 14-percent, soft and restrained, the concentrated plums tempered by tingly acidity throughout. Ready to throw down with barbecue, rare burgers or Chinese beef dishes.

 

 

Joe Appel’s day job is doing lots of different things at Rosemont Market and Bakery. His blog, soulofwine.com, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at: [email protected]