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A lot of people say that Burgundy, in France, is where the most pitfalls lie for the unwary wine drinker -- the Burgundians have a rep, it seems, for separating saps from their shekels. I'm going to disagree. I think boxed wine is where people ought to watch their step.
Of course, this wasn't always the case. It used to be that all boxed wine was bad. That was easy. Now things are trickier, because a number of producers are actually putting good wine -- and sometimes really good wine -- into boxes. It's actually possible to go out there, trade your twenty bucks for a three-liter (that's four bottles-worth) box of wine, and end up not only with something you can tolerate, but something you'll actually enjoy quite a bit. Plus, you get the basic box benefits on top of that: The wine stays fresh for up to three weeks once you start dispensing it; boxes leave less of a carbon footprint, so your green friends will love you.
Because I'm a nice fellow, I tasted through a bunch of boxed wines so that you wouldn't have to, and sorted the bad (and the really, really bad) from the good. Here are the best:
2009 Bota Box California Chardonnay ($19). An easy-to-drink, appley Chardonnay in a box made from 100 percent recycled cardboard. With soy-based inks, no less.
NV Pepperwood Grove Big Green Box Chardonnay ($20). In your face Chardonnay, in an old-school California way: It's big, ripe, oaky and luscious. If you like that style, this one's for you.
2008 Würtz Riesling ($22). This is a trocken Riesling, a German term meaning steely, dry, and not-the-icky-sweet-stuff-so-don't-worry. It's flinty and crisp, and packaged in an all-black box. Very Bauhaus. Download an old SNL episode, and drink it while you watch Sprockets.
2008 Banrock Station Shiraz ($19). Classic Aussie "good juice." A lot of blackberry flavor, not much in the way of tannins, a nip of pepper on the end. This one's ideal for cookouts.
2008 Powers Cabernet Sauvignon ($24). Proof, yet again, that Washington State's Columbia Valley is a great source for inexpensive but surprisingly impressive Cabernets. A jolt of Syrah (about 12 percent) adds some oomph and spice.