Wine

Why Box Wine Is Your Best Bet This Thanksgiving (& Beyond)

Sustainable, affordable, and durable—what's not to like about it?

Photo by Rocky Luten

Box wine is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Cardbordeaux,” thought of as a college party drink we wouldn’t serve on a sophisticated table. But we’re here to tell you that times, they are a-changin'. The newer, upscale boxes from smaller domestic producers or cult European importers are a maybe-overlooked, actually optimal choice for this year’s meal—once opened, they store up to a month in the refrigerator.

In Europe, “bag in a box” wines are a growth segment, popular because they’re sustainable—less packaging, less fuel burned in transportation, smaller carbon footprint—and low-cost, usually coming in at $20 to $40 for four-bottles-worth of volume. Here, they can be an insider trick; one of the biggest markets in the U.S. for this wine are chefs in higher-end kitchens who “want wine that is of a higher quality to use in cooking, and stays fresh longer,” says Camilo Ceballos, wine director of New York–based wine importer Omni Wines.

The design and packaging on upscale boxes is attractive on its own, but some home users are investing in fancy box-wine dispensers like those made by Boxxle or handcrafted ones from Etsy. The following are seven superior-quality boxes that pair well with typical holiday menus. Consider them a “house wine on tap”—a fun way to add restaurant flair to a scaled-back celebration.

An Alternative to a Big Red Wine: Michael Shaps Wineworks Cabernet Franc, $40

As a general rule, the weight of the wine should match the weight of the food, but the holidays (and particularly Thanksgiving) are deceptive; it seems “heavy,” but that perception can be more about the volume of food. If you’re serving a red wine, you want a lighter option, with more acid, less sugar, and a lower alcohol content to stimulate the appetite and lighten up the carb overload. You also want it to have enough complexity to hold up to a mixed table with fats, smoke, and many flavor notes.

No wine will pair with everything on the table (candied yams are tough), but Cabernet Franc has a good amount of acidity, pronounced minerality, notes of red fruit, berries and even chili peppers, and a slight vegetal hint. If your meal is turkey plus cranberry sauce and veggies such as Brussels sprouts or green beans, a Cabernet Franc’s bright fruits and savory, herbal taste will complement it. This one is from a Charlottesville, VA winery whose innovative owner, Michael Shaps, has serious wine-making credentials: He also makes boutique wine in Burgundy. For a box of white from the same maker, we recommend the Viognier.

A Local Rosé: Bridge Lane Rosé, $38

Also available through Vinoshipper.

Rosé has become a year-round wine in part because it’s so versatile—it achieves a mid-point between what people like about white wines and what they like about reds. Some see it as the “Goldilocks wine” because it has just enough, but not too much, body for food, which makes it a good choice for Thanksgiving’s medium-weight spread.

Rosés from the East End of Long Island are trendy right now, and Lieb Cellars in the North Fork has cachet. Lieb is a small, craft producer that uses only sustainably grown fruit from their own vineyards. Bottles start at $25, and can go up to $50, but Lieb’s “second label,” Bridge Lane, offers the same great winemaking know-how at a lower price, using sustainably produced grapes from Lieb and some other sustainably farmed sources in New York State. This particular rosé is made from Cabernet Franc, but does not taste like a lighter version of its red counterpart. It’s refreshingly low in alcohol and high in acid, with notes of strawberries, watermelon, and stone fruit. If you are sticking primarily to breast meat and more simply prepared vegetables, this may be your accompanying wine choice.

The Holidays via Italy: Castello Sonnino Sangiovese, $29

Available in stores in NY, NJ, PA, RI, MD, VA, TN, and DC. Wine Searcher will list some retailers nearby to you.

In the Italian tradition there is no dinner without wine—it’s simply a component of the meal—so most Italian wines are made in a style that goes well with food. Sangiovese, the noble grape of Tuscany, is food-friendly thanks to high acidity and typically moderate to no oak aging. It’s paired locally with grilled meats and red sauces, but has the kind of complexity of flavor that works well with the holiday table’s variety. Sangiovese can taste earthy and rustic or brightly fruit-flavored depending on what you’re eating. It has so many notes in it—cherries, plums, tomatoes, leather, mushroom, spice, herbs—that you’re likely to have a hit with your menu.

This one is from Castello Sonnino, an historic Tuscan winery run by the same family for 18 generations. The importer, Omni Wines, brings in higher-quality estate-specific wines (made from grapes from a single property) from all over Italy. For an Italian white alternative, wine director Ceballos suggests the Garganega from Cantine Valpantena as one of his favorites for a Thanksgiving meal.

A Grape To Put on Your Radar: Maison Cubi Syrah Carignan, $30

Distribution in NY, NJ, TN, KS. Also found on 48vino, Wine Searcher, and Wine.com.

Lately, wine-makers in different regions have been rediscovering old, out-of-fashion vines and finding ways to make great, stand-alone wines from them. Carignan, a grape originally from Spain but most commonly found in France today, is having such a resurgence, and we’ve had excellent versions lately from California, Spain, and Chile. Maison Cubi, a wine importer founded in 2012 with the goal of destigmatizing box wine, sells only organic single-vineyard wines from the Languedoc, the largest wine-producing region in Southern France. Its Carignan (with a small percentage of Syrah) in a box has notes of cranberry, raspberry, baking spices and cured-meat—it’s like Thanksgiving in a glass. Said Cubi founder Philippe Mao, "Our biggest seller is the pinot noir rose, but I personally keep coming back to the Carignan because it works well with all kinds of food.”

A Natural Chardonnay: From the Tank Vin Blanc, $33

We like to say that Chardonnay is like chicken—most people like it; it’s versatile and can be made in many ways; and when it’s good, it can be superb. Jenny and Francois Selections, a trendy importer of low-intervention and natural wines, has a line of bag-in-box wines under the name "From The Tank,” made for the importer by southern France producer Domaine La Patience. Their Vin Blanc is 100 percent organic Chardonnay, crafted in a leaner style. It’s not aged in oak, has a crisp flavor profile of citrus and green apple, and a nice acidity that should all be complementary to most food without overwhelming it. It’s crowd-pleasing, yet both importer and maker also confer some insider glamour: Domaine La Patience’s other wines have beautiful labels and are known for offering a high quality at a great value.

Not A Nouveau Beaujolais: Wineberry Chateau du Chatelard Beaujolais, $45

Available for shipping on Applejack.

Every year, Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November—exactly one week before Thanksgiving. The coincidence makes it a natural holiday purchase but has led the real beauty of vintage Beaujolais to be overlooked. The Nouveau versions are fun, fruity and less tannic, without much depth, and can get lost with food. A mature Beaujolais is the classic bistro wine of France and is served to go with a broad range of food, such as we find on a Thanksgiving table. It has depth and nuance, with raspberries, cherries and cranberry flavors, and savory elements like smoke, bacon, mushroom and forest floor. The region is a sub-appellation of Burgundy and in some years, better Beaujolais can drink like red Burgundy. The entire Wineberry Box portfolio comes in nice-looking wooden boxes, too.

For a Vegetarian Holiday: Schplink! Gruner Veltliner, $32

Available from Fresh Direct.

Gruner means “green” and Gruner Veltliner, a grape native to Austria, may be the best wine to pair with all things vegetal. It goes especially well with greens and the often difficult-to-match spring vegetables like peas, asparagus, and artichokes, many of which you’ll still find on the holiday table. Gruners are citrusy, herbaceous and of higher acidity—in this case the same flavor notes you’d put in the food, work well in the wine—and have a characteristic finish of white pepper. Schplink!, a Gruner made by Weingut Norbert Bauer in Austria, is imported by Communal Brands, which has arguably the best collection of imported box wine in the country right now. Its portfolio focuses on natural, low-intervention and sustainably produced wines; we also like the Herisson bag-in-box line, for every-day—and of course for the holidays.

What wines will be on your table this holiday season? Let us know in the comments.
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Events @ Grapes Unwrapped; Writing @The Paris Review

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