11/25/2011 09:55 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2012

A Box Wine Buying Guide

By Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor, Food & Wine

Follow Ray on Twitter: @islewine

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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