Sips: a box-wine bargain with a surprisingly good New Zealand sauvignon

Bringing a bottle of wine to dinner at a friend’s house isn’t usually a complicated affair. I simply ask for a general description of what’s being served, focusing on the main dish, and make a selection. Then I’ll often bring a second bottle, almost always a white, a rosé or a sparkling wine, to serve before dinner with appetizers. But when the dinner is “pot luck” with lots of people bringing all kinds of dishes, choosing a wine becomes a bit more challenging, as it was the other night as we got ready for a Fourth of July pot luck dinner.

But then I thought of a wine I’d been meaning to try, the one in the light blue octagonal box. Yes, box. Until the silver birchlast few years,  boxed wine was thought of largely as generic and uninteresting – cheap, drinkable stuff that you bought in the supermarket in large sizes that would last for weeks, if need be, after opening. But there have been recent moves toward packaging better wines in boxes, whether they are in the familiar “Tetra Paks,” which don’t preserve wine any longer than bottles but which are considered more “green,” or the larger bag-in-box containers that keep wine fresh for weeks and are more environmentally friendly as well.

The wine I chose fell into the latter category, the 2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. I wanted something fairly bold that would hold up to just about anything served at the dinner, and this one did. The wine, a brand of California-based Underdog Wine Merchants, went well with everything from salmon to chicken to rice pilaf and couscous. It was fairly typical Marlborough sauvignon, though not as racy as some, with notes of grapefruit and lime, an herbal touch and a little vanilla on the round finish. Almost everyone found it pleasing.

The box system, which prevents oxidation and is called the Octavin Home Wine Bar, has a black spout that you pull out from inside the cardboard and then twist to pour yourself a glass. It may have taken a little getting used to for a decidedly non-box wine crowd but proved to be a nice curiosity and a pleasant surprise when folks took a sip of the wine. The box contains three liters (the equivalent of four standard wine bottles) and sells for $24, making it a bargain if you think of it as $6 for a standard a bottle. The labeling claims the wine remains fresh for up to six weeks after opening, though it’s hard to imagine anyone keeping it that long. This bag in a box of wine is good enough to be drained well before that. I’ll plan to review other Octavin offerings in future posts. (Wine received as a press sample.)

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