I had the good fortune of being the judge at one of the jury tables in the first international Wine-in-Box competition, which was held this March in Toulouse. Nadine Franjus-Adenis, who teaches wine-tasting at the Toulouse school where I did my oenology studies, was one of the organisers of the event. Besides being an oenologist, Franjus-Adenis is also a journalist and a former winemaker in the Languedoc-Roussillon Corbières wine region.
Co-organizer Anne-Marie Estampe is a winemaker from another Languedoc-Roussillon wine region, the Minervois. These two ladies convinced over 100 wine tasters, including among them two dozen oenologues and several well-known French and Belgian wine writers, to taste Bag-in-box wines (“Bibs” are another name for Wine-in-box wines) for more than three hours in Toulouse’s Hôtel de Région, an impressive municipal building located next to the Garonne River that traverses the city. It was quite a feat organizing this event. French wine drinkers, unlike their counterparts in northern European countries, Australia and the U.S., where Bibs are widely accepted for their environmental, value-for-money, convenience features, view boxes, like they see screw caps—as quaint Anglophone inventions better suited to Coca-Cola or Kleenex facial tissues. But you see more and more Bibs on supermarket shelves in France, and Gallic wine drinkers seem to understand that ready-for-consumption wine might be better suited to a bag than a bottle.
The point of having an oenologue head each jury was to rebut the sentiment that wine-in-a-box wine was inherently flawed or it would have been sold in a bottle. This may have been true when Bibs were launched a dozen years ago, but it certainly is not the case today (and this first Wine-in-the-Box Concours demonstrated that fact).
Just like in any wine competition, the 250 red, white and rosé Bib wines, from a dozen different countries, were, by-and-large, just average. But, that’s the entire point of a competition—to find the outstanding from among the masses.
And there were some interesting wines here. Not exquisitely balanced, complex wines that were worth laying down in your cellar for years and years, but the best box wines were fruity, generously structured, honest wines where the grape variety aromas and flavours shown through unhindered by any winemaking manipulation (apparent acidification, oaky floorboard smells or flavors, excessive filtering, residual sugar, etc.).
Yes, there were some wines flawed by oxidation, or made from over-ripe or under-ripe grapes, with too much sulfites, etc., but the percentage was no higher than you might taste at many wine competitions.
Seventy-four of the 250 wines tasted received awards. But the real winners, in my view, are consumers who can pay from two to ten euros a liter for a decent wine that will last up to a month in their refrigerators, protected from oxygen by a polyethylene bladder that collapses as wine is withdrawn from the box. And there’s never a corked bottle to throw away.