At virtually every consumer tasting or event, someone inevitably asks about bag-in-box wine: Can it be any good? Is it true that better wine is now being packaged in the BIB format? Up until a few years ago the question used to concern screwcaps, which were taboo wine technology when I was growing up (they were traditionally associated with bums and consumption in convenience store parking lots). Now screwcaps appear to be accepted, and BIB is the next frontier.
If you think about it logically, BIB is the perfect storage and delivery system for wine. The bag seals off oxygen, so the wine can’t possibly spoil. It’s probably not optimum for long-term aging, but the wine inside isn’t going to improve with age anyway. The worst danger is boredom: Most BIB formats contain three liters, or the equivalent of four bottles, so you’re likely to be drinking the same wine for a period of time (unless you’re at my house, in which case it will disappear in a day or two).
Traditionally, BIB was the domain of generic producers such as Almaden. Things started getting interesting in 2003, when Black Box and Wine Cube (a Target exclusive) were launched, followed by Bota Box. The wine contained in these BIBs was definitely far better, but not identifiable by specific brand or place of origin—Black Box only says that they use “superb grapes harvested from world-class appellations” such as California, Argentina and New Zealand.
Recently we’ve begun to see specific brands packaged as BIB, and many of them are worth drinking. Whole Foods sells Bandit, made by Three Thieves (pleasant and quaffable) and Pepperwood Grove by Don Sebastiani and Sons, one of the better reasonably-priced California wines on the market. The current apex of the BIB quality scale is probably Big House, a brand originally started by Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and then sold to The Wine Group.
Now we have some startling news from France: The first Sauternes has been packaged in BIB. Chateau de Mounic, a small estate in Cazaneuve, is selling three-liter BIBs of their wine at Aux Delices de Mounic, their own shop that specializes in local and organic products. My guess is that other Bordeaux regions will follow. The world is changing rapidly, and for traditionalists it looks like a bumpy ride.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.