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Putting Bacchus in a Box

Boxed wines are anti-chic. They are the wino's wines, Mom's tipple from the fridge after Dad has gone to bed, or painful reminders of cheap college hangovers when our knowledge of wine was limited to "red," "white" and "pink."

Yet wine in a box has some advantages: A three-liter carton takes the space of two bottles but offers the buzz of four. Smaller boxes offer possibilities for covert sipping in places where alcohol might be frowned upon. Boxes fit neatly into a picnic basket and won't break on a patio or pool deck. And they are cheaper than bottles and corks, so the winery can pass that savings on to you.

Despite these conveniences, the stigma remains. After all, wines should bear vintage dates, not freshness dates. Yet with a glut of wine from California, France and Australia in recent years, some producers have been putting better-quality juice in unconventional containers.

The most common uncommon packaging is called "bag in a box" or even, in earthier company, a "bladder pack." Inside the box is a plastic bag that collapses around the wine as it is dispensed, keeping the remainder fresh for as long as four weeks, some companies say. Other wines are packaged in Tetra Paks, those European ´cardboard boxes you may have seen carrying soups at your grocery that come with their own spigots. (And there's something to be said for wine by the spigot!) Here are six locally available wines for those who don't mind thinking inside the box.

— Dave McIntyre - Special to The Washington Post
Banrock Station, Australia 3-liter bag-in-box; $20 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Chardonnay Drinkable, but with an out-of-balance oak flavor — and at this price one suspects these wines never saw the inside of a barrel.
Black Box Wines, California 3-liter bag-in-box; $20 2005 Monterey County Chardonnay, 2005 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 Pinot Grigio, 2004 Merlot For the price, we're just looking for something fun, tasty and interesting, and these deliver. The chard almost makes me want to get geeky and talk of mangoes and tropical aromas and a vague air of complexity. Extra props for the regional-appellation wines that show a hint of the character of the place.
Franzia, California 5-liter bag-in-box; $12 Old World Classics Chianti, Argentina The name Old World Classics Chianti Argentina should be enough to send you to the next aisle, even before you see the freshness date (Nov. 13, 2007, on the box I bought). Sweet, gamey and nothing at all like Chianti, but not nearly as disgusting as I feared, either. Just don't offer me a second glass.
French Rabbit, France Tetra Pak, 1 liter or 500 ml; about $10-$15 per liter 2005 Merlot, 2005 Chardonnay, 2005 Pinot Noir, 2005 Family Reserve Red, 2005 Family Reserve White The wines have quite decent fruit and what your wine-snob friends would call "varietal character" — meaning the cabernet tastes like cabernet, etc. — marred only by a hint of. . . well, cardboard.
Hardys Stamp of Australia 3-liter bag-in-box; $20 2005 Riesling, 2005 Chardonnay The Riesling, a nice picnic wine, is semi-dry (geek speak for slightly sweet), with the flavor of key lime that helps define Riesling. Quite quaffable and enjoyable in moderation, especially with spicier foods.
Three Thieves Bandit Wines 1-liter Tetra Paks; $6 2004 Merlot, 2005 Pinot Grigio, 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon Decent juice, in containers that provide that little extra wine when one bottle isn't enough but two is too many.

PHOTOS: Courtesy

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