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Go ahead, say it: Wine in a box 

It's 95 degrees in the parking lot, 105 in the backseat of your car. You didn't leave your wine in there the whole time you were in the grocery store, did you?

Ick. Maybe you could use it to clean the windows or polish the silver, because after sitting around at those temperatures for more than 15 or 20 minutes, that's about all it will be good for.

Unless, of course, that wine came in a box. That's right. I said it. I'll say it again: box wine.

Sure, the phrase has been synonymous with headache-inducing slop since Franzia started shipping cardboard containers of the stuff from California in the '80s. But remember that the words "screw top" left a similar taste in the mouths of most wine lovers then as well. Today you can find some pretty decent, even good, wines that come with twist tops.

Likewise, the box is catching on. Veteran North Carolina wine distributor Art Gennari says Franzia still owns the largest share of the box wine market, with about 40 percent of U.S. wine sales by volume. But options began to multiply in the early 2000s, when Black Box and Bota Box hit the market. This is not to say that the world's best winemakers are going to start bagging their juice tomorrow. But the days of dismissing a wine simply because it's in a box are over.

Boxes are efficient, economical and environmentally friendly. And the wine that makers are putting in them is better than it has ever been. Gennari, the general manager at Wisdom Beverage, a wholesaler with offices in Winston-Salem, Durham and the Outer Banks, says the growing popularity of box wines is due to changing minds, not technology.

"My perception is that the technology has always been pretty much consistent and fail-safe," he says. "It's more of a consumer-acceptance thing. As we've gotten greener as a culture and a society, this just makes more sense."

Boxes are cheaper to make and ship than glass. They are lighter and more durable, too, which means you can take them to the pool or up the side of a mountain in your backpack. Boxes are especially handy in the summer because the four bottles' worth of wine inside are insulated and stay cool longer sans refrigeration than wine in bottles.

Europeans have long embraced wine in a variety of packages. These include cans and tetra packs, which are akin to milk cartons, and boxes, which are polyethylene bladders encased in cardboard. Gennari says European consumers' acceptance of different packaging stems from the culture's long history with wine.

"In the old days, the way you got your wine was you took your jug down to the local village co-op, where they processed everybody's grapes, and you filled up your jug from a spigot, and that was how it worked," he says. "Europeans have been used to having wine as a part of their lives for a long time. It's about the pleasurable aspect of the wine. The end game is to get a good glass of wine."

If you drink wine mainly because you like the taste, not to impress others, you should consider all options. So, how good are your box wine options?

We tasted a few that are available at the Triangle's Total Wines. Considering the heat, we focused on whites. I'm not sure I can pour any red before September. Keep in mind that while polyethylene keeps wine fresh for a long time, nothing, not even box wine, lasts forever. Most boxes promise to keep their contents fresh for four to six weeks after you open the spigot. Also, if you keep your whites in the fridge, give your pour five to 10 minutes to warm up before you sip. You'll taste more.

  • Washington Hills Paradise Peak Chardonnay ($19.99): This was my favorite of the boxed summer sippers. It has a pretty, floral nose with notes of buttercups and daisies. The taste is light and breezy. It has no hints of oak and very low acid, which helps it go down as smoothly as a kid on a waterslide.

  • Silver Birch 2009 Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ($17.99): The nose is full of ripe grapefruit, and the body is sturdy. Notes of acid, earthiness and gravel marked the finish, and it leaves a lingering taste of ripe oranges. It's not going to replace my favorite bottled sauvignon blanc, but it's good, and certainly worth the price.

  • Santiago Station "Devil's Back" Sauvignon Blanc: One of the few white Chilean wines, it didn't offend, but the impression was fleeting. I kept tasting it, then instantly forgetting what it tasted like, only to taste more. I finally wound up blowing out my palate, too woozy to register much of anything. It just sort of disappears on the tongue.

  • Cuboid 2010 California Chardonnay ($19.99): This one looks cool, with its compact box and a logo that recalls the 1980s arcade game Qbert. But the truth is, it didn't taste great. The nose was harsh and the flavor was unbalanced, too much acid and not enough sweetness and light. The sticker on the box asking me to friend it on Facebook didn't help either. I wasn't interested in making a new long-term commitment, especially not after a glass of this wine. But I guess I deserved it for falling for the packaging. Wines are like friends: It's all about what's inside.


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