The Grape Escape: Drinking inside the box

It’s getting harder to be a wine snob. For nearly 200 years, the natural oak-bark cork was the litmus test: You had to have a corkscrew and know how to use it to get into the bottle. But suddenly, the much-maligned metal screw cap has migrated from Manischewitz to finer bottles. (More on that another day.)

Then came those wacky synthetic stoppers made from nature’s finest plastics. And now, believe it or not, even the ultimate déclassé container, the box-O-wine, has started turning up on some fancy tables.

“We sell a lot of them,” says John Johnson, wine guy at The Wine Rack (2632 Frankfort Ave., 721-9148). Johnson says he’s buying my current favorite, Boda Box, in multi-case lots and moving it out fast at a marked-down $18.99 a box.

Do the math: One box holds the equivalent of four full-size bottles. That’s just under $5 per bottle. Boda Box — particularly the reds, Cabernet and Zinfandel — compares in flavor and quality with California bottles selling for $10 or more.

Here’s another reason to love it: Boxed wine keeps. Inside the cardboard container is a flavor-neutral, airtight plastic bag that compresses around the remaining wine as you dispense it through the plastic spout. This keeps out the air that would otherwise turn your wine into cheap Sherry within a few days. Box wine should last at least a month in the fridge, a little less on the kitchen counter.

The downside? Much box wine is mass-market stuff, and they can’t get nectar out of the box when they put crap wine in. My advice: Stick with brands with a proven track record. Boda Box reds meet my test; Johnson also recommends Black Box, another California product.

Drink inside the box. You won’t even need a corkscrew.