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Backcountry Bartender: Box Wine Test

Box wine is back in a big--and quaffable-- way. Here are our favorites for the trail.
box wineBox wine at its best. (Crystal Sagan)

Backpacking with wine has always been questionable–a heavy glass bottle doesn’t exactly scream ultralight. Even so, there still exist backpacking wine enthusiasts (a small but brave group of individuals) willing to forego the chore of carrying extra weight into the backcountry for the sake of sipping the finest Cote d’Or on a 5-day venture through the Pacific Northwest. 

Although we applaud the tenacity of these brave souls, we‘re here to tell them  things are about to get lighter– box wine is better than ever and back on the connoisseur’s menu.

It’s been a rough ride for box wine since its inception in the mid-sixties. A cheap and, for the most part, tasteless stigma has carried over the last few decades, making the current plight of new-age box wines an uphill battle. While there are still a few lesser caliber Franzia-type staples around in the box wine industry, there are many up-and-coming attractive freshman on the block.

Most box wine comes in a three-liter plastic bladder (equivalent to 4 bottles) inside a cardboard box. Ditch the cardboard box and you have a nearly weightless vessel in which to transport your wine. Because oxygen can’t reach the liquid retained in the vessel, ‘opened’ wine stays fresh for weeks if not a month.  If 3 liters of wine is too much for what you will need on your trip, plan accordingly.

We sat down with rock-star sommelier David Miller in Boulder, Colorado, to get the lowdown on the finest cardboard carry-withs. 

Black Box Malbec, 2008- From Mendoza, Argentina, this spicy, leathery, and rustic wine is a perfect match for the outdoors, and our favorite in the lineup. With an earthy nose, the medium and slightly dry body yearns to be paired with Southwest Jambalaya. www.blackboxwines.com,  $24

Bota Box Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008- This medium bodied California-born wine is simple and fruity. A nose of dark berries and vanilla proceeds a palate featuring a hint of oak to compliment the berries. A great backcountry pair for Moroccan Fish Taginewww.botabox.com, $20

Bota Box Pino Grigio, 2009-
Light, crisp, and clean, this California wine is perfect after a big mile day on the trail. Citrus with a hint of candy on the nose, followed by a more intense crisp citrus, hint of ginger and a light mineral flavor on the palate. Pair with light dishes like Salmon-Studded Spaghetti. www.botabox.com, $20

French Rabbit Pino Noir, 2008- This easy drinking village wine from the south of France is very light bodied, with a nose of dark cherries and leather. On the palate, a subtle earthiness coupled with hints of dark berries. A great accompaniment to Columbian Arepas. www.frenchrabbit.com, $10 (1 liter Tetra Pak*, about 7 glasses)

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay, 2008- Apple, oak, and tropical fruits are at the forefront of the nose for this California Chardonnay. Very well-balanced, with a touch of apple and citrus on the palate followed by a clean citrus finish. Pair with Smoked Salmon Pasta. www.octavinhomewinebar.com/monthavenwinery,  $18 

For the Naysayer:
Still not sold on box wines? Try the Platy Preserve wine preservation system. Extend the life of an unfinished bottle of wine at home (minimize wine contact with oxygen by squeezing excess air out before capping), or transfer your favorite glass-bottled wine to the BPA-free bladder for an overnight trip.  www.platypreserve.com, $10, Holds 750ml

*Some companies are now offering wine in Tetra Paks, a product made from recycled materials, but the plastic coated paper is not necessarily recyclable in all areas (tricky, I know). Squeeze excess air from package when re-sealing to preserve wine.

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