I’m sipping a glass of raisiny red at St John in Spitalfields, chatting to the duty manager about box wine. ‘I remember my mum always got a box in for Christmas,’ he laughs. ‘My friend and I once downed a whole one between us.’
Box wine is synonymous with parties, festivals and the kind of booze you drink for its alcohol percentage rather than its complex bouquet. But indie winemakers are starting to use box technology (usually employed by bulk manufacturers) to make their tipple more affordable. It opens up a whole world of wine for people (like, ahem, me) who won’t pay more for a glass of vino than they’ll spend on lunch in Pret.
In fact, the tipple I’m enjoying is one of St John’s three box house wines. As well as the red there’s a fruity rosé and a dusky white – and they’re a world away from the supermarket box wine I’m used to chugging on the pre-lash.
‘About four years ago people just couldn’t believe that a nice restaurant would stock box wine,’ says Trevor Gulliver, CEO and founder. ‘I’m old enough to remember the first time they came to the UK from Australia in the ‘70s, they were called "chunder boxes".’
Trevor explains that there are no benefits to putting wine in a bottle over a box. In fact, the box mechanisms are actually so secure that they keep wine fresher than when it’s in a bottle: ‘People think it’s wrong to put a good wine in a box or bag, but I don’t really understand the argument. With a box, you get four bottles for the price of three.’
The likes of Albertine in Shepherd’s Bush, Primeur in Stoke Newington and Vinoteca in Soho, Marylebone, Farringdon and King's Cross all have box wine on the menu. They're joined by increasing numbers of bars and restaurants across the city who've started serving bag-in-box, but guess what: bars often decant the wine into glasses and bottles before you get hold of it. ‘People think box wines are terrible,’ says Kirsty Tinkler, founder of Dalston box wine pop-up B.I.B. ‘So, it’s usually something that stays under the counter at restaurants. It feels a bit naughty.’
Kirsty, who also runs wine club Weino, launched B.I.B at the start of November with one aim: celebrate the fact that putting wine in a box makes it more affordable and eco-friendly. She serves organic and natural wines for just £2.90 per glass (that’s less than 250ml of Blossom Hill in Wetherspoons). ‘What’s great about box wine is that you can have a whole range that’s just 60p apart in price,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t come down to just having the house wine.’
Plus, by switching to box wine we also help the environment. Marina Jankovic owns London-based box wine merchant Sfuso Wine, supplying restaurants like Spring in Somerset House and LeCoq. She explains: ‘Not only do you have to use more energy to transfer the weight of the bottle, they often end up in landfill. And even if you do recycle, the act of recycling a bottle has a far greater carbon footprint then just using cardboard.’
Box wine might have a bit of a bad rep, but it’s time we turned that around. It’s not just something you glug straight from the bag at a festival; it’s a technology that makes actually delicious wine more eco-friendly. It’s not just throat-scratching tipple your parents keep in the garage for when the Christmas prosecco runs out; it’s a democratiser of drinking. And for that I’m very grateful. This festive season, let's raise a glass to bag-in-box.
Wanna try? Kirsty Tinkler picks five box wines that will fill your guests with festive cheer
This biodynamic red wine is just as palatable for white drinkers with its perfectly balanced and elegant light body, with just a hint of spice to match winter warming.
This Mafia-free medium-bodied organic red is super-easy to drink at any time; it has big mouthfuls of red fruit and Mediterranean sun.
3. Poivre D'Ane, Vin de France, Blanc, Languedoc, France
This crisp, clean white blend is a collaboration between two biodynamic producers, with beautiful pear and honey notes to boost the festive feel.
4. Chateau La Coste, Vin De Pays, 'Frigousse' Rouge, Provence, France
This organic blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache is a one-size-fits-all for the season, with enough weight and structure to marry with roasts, but fresh acidity allows it to be drunk on its own.
5. Il Farneto, Caberzeim, Reggio Emilia, Italy
Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with local grape Mazemino for this biodynamic red with good tannins and very concentrated cassis and currant flavours. An Italian Christmas pudding.
B.I.B is running at Brunswick East Coffee, Dalston, N16 8JH. Open from 6pm on Wednesday November 25 to Saturday November 28.