David’s article as prepared for the Duluth News Tribune for the article which ran on 6/10/2015:
Box wines vs. Bottle wines – Blind taste test
Recently I taught a wine class to a mixed group of both seasoned and amateur wine aficionados. The theme of the class was wine for camping, specifically box wines. Normally in a wine class we sample the wine and I give a brief lecture about the wine, grape, flavors, etc., before going onto the next taste. For this class I decided it would be fun if we did a blind taste test. I wanted to see if people could taste a quality difference between a boxed wine and a similarity price bottled wine.
I chose one white and two red versions. I chose the most expensive box wines available at Cash Wise and in a very unscientific way I decided that half the amount spent on the box wine would be my baseline for choosing the same variety in a bottled wine. I had the class use a 100 point scoring system that I developed based on a hybrid of the Robert Parker and Wine Spectator 100 point scale. This system was also proofed by a Master of Wine for accuracy and relevance. The students didn’t know which wine was bottle and which was box and they also were not privy to the price information.
Here are my tasting notes and scores:
Blind taste test #1 – Sterling Vineyards Pinot Grigio. Pale yellow, not very aromatic, dry, with crisp acidity, well balanced and medium long finish. Scored 86 points and cost $12.97 for the bottle.
Jewel Box Pinot Grigio. Very dark yellow, aroma of pineapple, a sweeter wine with noticeable sugar. The sugar made the wine taste thick in the mouth and that overwhelmed the acidity making the wine feel sticky. This was a clear indication of an imbalance plus the wine tasted watery. Scored 77 points and cost $24.89 for the box.
Blind taste test #2 – Handcrafted Vineyards Red Blend. Berries and jammy fruit aroma, sweet, full-bodied with good acidity making the wine smooth with soft tannins and a nice balance. Scored 86 points and cost $11.89 for the bottle.
Bota Box Red. Deep red color with no noticeable aroma. Dry, with medium full-body, slight alcohol burn in the throat, no noticeable flavors. Scored 77 points and cost $22.99 for the box.
Blind taste test #3 – Altos Malbec. Purplish black color with an awful aroma of burnt coffee, wet soil and barnyard (truly disgusting smell). Dry with a medium full body, average acidity, fair balance, some interesting new aromas in the mouth and a medium finish (it tasted better than it smelled). Scored 79 points and cost $11.49 for the bottle.
Vin Vault Malbec. Deep purple, nice aromas of green pepper, cedar and wet pine forest. The wine was overly sweet, making it flabby, completely unbalanced and bland with a very short watery finish. Extremely disappointing. One taster’s comment was, “All show, no show up.” Scored 69 points and cost $21.89
As you can see from my notes the box wines scored lower than the bottles. You might think that this is because of my sophisticated palate, but when we compared scores in class we found that most people scored on a similar scale with similar results. Also the majority of people were able correctly identify the box wine vs. the bottle wine with about ¾ of the class guessing correctly.
Box wines market themselves as convenient and economizing. A typical box wine contains 3 liters of wine and sells for around $22. Three liters is equivalent to four bottles of wine. This make the price per bottle around $5.50. But as my notes show they all scored lower than the bottles at $11 – $13. Maybe I should have selected $5 wines to compare to the box wines, and it could be that box wine is really just $5 bottle wine dressed up in a cardboard box.
David Devere is a certified specialist of wine. He teaches wine classes mainly in the Duluth, MN area. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.