We’ve all been there: having a great time at a party and then someone asks if you want something (more) to drink. This being New Orleans we don’t need to inquire as to what kind of drink is being offered. You can be assured that it is for adults, has gone through fermentation or distillation, contains fruit or grain at its core, and is what everyone else is drinking…in quantity.
You are a player. You are one of the gang. You are an adventuresome spirit – usually. You are, at this point, actually not sure of any of those attributes. You are not even sure if the vessel of service is clean or was used for the waste of a failed lab experiment when you were in your junior year of high school.
But you are nothing else if not gracious and so you agree, with some degree of enthusiasm, mutter a partially sincere “Thank You,” and await the arrival of your drink. Oh, it’s wine, is it? Not much on the nose but then again the party is full of all sorts of odd odors, some organic in nature, so no one would know what the bouquet of the wine is like anyway.
You place a sip of the wine on your lips and, surprise, it’s not bad. It’s actually quite drinkable, not your style, but in this situation, acceptable. In the interest of trying to appear appreciative, with a little too much enthusiasm, you ask the host, “So what kind of wine is this? Where is it from?”
And with a half-hearted gesture, he points towards the kitchen and mumbles something incoherent about the wine or that the hall toilet is backing up – can’t tell which. You look in the general direction of where his partially uplifted hand is pointing and see a box on the edge of the counter with a spout.
Are you kidding me? This is box wine? This is the swill you are serving your guests? You expect me to drink this glass? What the hell is wrong with you? I am repulsed that you were even born.
Okay, now, take a deep breath. Calm down. Think happy thoughts, like wine bottles that have corks, or at worst, wine from New Zealand in screw caps.. easy does it.
Think back to a few moments ago, when you were handed the glass of wine, and you tasted it. At that time, back in your days of PBK (Pre-Box Knowledge), you actually thought the wine was decent. After you found out what the package was, you were appalled and insulted. Quite a nice range of emotion, all to the party background soundtrack of the Moody Blues ("Nights in White Satin") and some guy that needs a haircut and a bath stumbling around railing about the injustice of the condition of the roadways in New Orleans.
Wine in a box is actually a terrific idea that has, unfortunately, to this point, been hampered by the quality of the contained product. Just now, after all of these years, we are seeing some pretty good juice appear in this form of packaging.
Early on, the whole idea was to place a product that soon spoils after exposure to air and enclose it in a package that delays that eventuality. The proper term for the concept is wine-in-a-bag-in-a-box. As the wine is emptied from the container, the plastic bag in the box, containing the liquid, collapses. There is no, or very little, air to support the original size of the bag and so, both in theory and practice, the amount of air that touches the wine is minimalized. Not eliminated, but reduced.
With a wine bottle, as you drink the wine the liquid is replaced by air, which is the enemy. That package size and shape remains the same, and within a short period of time, the wine spoils. Think of a banana on your kitchen counter without its skin. Within a day, that banana, thanks to exposure to air, will have completely rotted. And so it is with wine.
But the bag in a box package gives you more time. The problem to this point is that the box wine product has not been very good. Passable, and for the purposes of serving large groups, like at a party, adequate. Now some wineries have determined that there is a market demand for large packages of wine with the wine being of good quality.
The big challenge for the producer was not having that plastic bag odor and taste which plagued early efforts. Those negatives are completely gone in the hands of quality producers. Odor and taste from the bag are not a factor.
Various merchants around town are carrying different labels. Let me suggest if you have a need to purchase this sort of thing, you go to a wine shop. They are likely to have the higher quality juice.
Over at Pearl Wine Company, Shaia from Juan Gil delivers good value in a red blend and a white blend. There is also El Libre, a Malbec that will satisfy the need for that grape.
I have also enjoyed wines from Vin Vault, sort of a gimmicky name, but honest wine.
While we are focused on packaging, let me go further to note that wine-in-a-can is also making inroads. These are not your Dad’s old beer cans where the taste of metal comes through with a vengeance.
The new cans have an inside coating specifically designed for wine. Because of its acidity, wine is a tricky liquid to put into cans but that challenge has been met. Even drinking the wine out of the can without the aid of a glass won’t give you that metal taste. The convenience of this personal-serving package, and the ability to chill these down quickly, presents myriad advantages to casual occasions and outdoor activities.
A name you trust and enjoy, and because they also offer very good varietal-specific wines, is Underwood from Union Wine Company.
It took us consumers a while to warm up to screw caps and it will take a while to appreciate alternate packaging, like the box and the can. What will move the program forward is better wines in those containers and we are well on our way to that goal.
Don’t toss away that corkscrew yet, but open your mind and your palate.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com.