Without a doubt, boxed wine has progressed past the days of the Franzia you may remember (or be trying to forget) from college.
Times wine critic Eric Asimov reviews a roundup of some more recent offerings in the boxed wine arena and comes away . . . meh?
Though he gives the winning Côtes-du-Rhône three stars, his description doesn't exactly sound like a ringing endorsement:
A juicy, pleasurable wine, it would be good for gulping uncritically but offers enough interest to satisfy people who care about what they are consuming.That is how I would describe probably 50 percent of the bottled wine you can purchase for $10-$12 at your local supermarket (the other fifty percent bear names like Turning Leaf and Yellow Tail). Granted, I'm not Eric Asimov, but I've encountered many a bottle of "juicy, pleasurable wine" in the bargain aisle at Kroger.
Don't get me wrong, I don't doubt the general tenor of the article, namely that boxed wines sold in the U.S. are by-and-large improving in quality. That said, it's easy to improve when you have nowhere to go but up.
I want boxed wines to improve to the point that they are a real alternative to inexpensive but good quality bottled wine. Why? Mainly because of the host of practical advantages it has over bottled wine. It's cheaper to package, cheaper and more environmentally friendly to transport for both wholesalers and consumers, and once opened can last for weeks versus a couple of days for bottled wine. Unfortunately, it's damned by a self-fulfilling prophecy: consumer perception is that boxed wine is inferior to bottled wine, and since it's perceived that way, producers don't want to waste good wine by putting it in a box.
I can only hope that perhaps this time, at long last, boxed wine has improved to the point that consumers will be tempted to put aside their prejudices and give them a shot. Hey, it's happening with screw caps, sort of.