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?).
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).