THREE things I will never forget from my days as a youngster in the late 70s. First, that we secretly watched Dallas when we should have long been in dreamland. Second, that I always had to go buy Ransom Select cigarettes for my mom when I was barely tall enough to see Uncle José behind his café counter. Last, that there was always a 5-litre box of Cellar Cask in our fridge, even if there was no milk.
The box as wine packaging saw the light in Australia in 1965 and is still considered somewhat uncultured among certain people. But the facts are starting to tell a different story: boxed wine sales surpassed bottle sales for the first time in South Africa in 2020.
Scandinavians are seen as sophisticated wine drinkers, but even here the box has reigned for some time. This market understands the many benefits it offers.
It's not just millennial consumers accepting alternative packaging such as boxes and even cans, but also older wine connoisseurs who prefer this format. Consequently, we're seeing more high-quality wines available in a box, and Scandinavian governments even offers a tax incentive to consumers and producers who use the box because it is so much lighter than glass.
This format — a plastic bag with a tap inside a box — has several advantages:
- For the producer, it offers a cost advantage in terms of production losses and logistics.
- Boxed wine can be up to 40% cheaper than the equivalent wine in glass.
- It can't break, you can open it without any device, and it's resealable.
- You get hygienic access to the content.
- Quality is preserved by keeping light and oxygen out.
- The wine remains drinkable for 2-3 weeks after it's opened.
- It's easy to carry and transport. The box fits perfectly in your cupboard and fridge.
The box stood its ground
According to the industry's governing body, SA Wine Industry Information and Systems, our wine consumption drastically declined in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions on alcohol sales, but boxed wine remained strong. Boxed wine sales were 126.3 million litres, while wine sales in glass bottles were 121.5 million litres. Surely, this is also related to the economic environment in which we find ourselves, but more drinkers are willing to face the stigma in order to have a glass on the table.
This upward trend in boxed wine sales can also be attributed to the fact that we drink more at home since the lockdown and less at restaurants and pubs. The trend has led to a greater variety, and specific varietal blends as opposed to red and white blends are gaining more prominence.
“We're seeing more chardonnays, cabernets and chenins on the shelf today," says Marius Louw, managing director of Du Toitskloof Wines. “We're one of the major producers of sauvignon blanc in a box, but for the first time we're seeing that our specified red varietal blends are performing better than our whites."
The trend of offering higher-quality wines in box packaging received a boost in 2020 when Woolworths introduced four popular brands in 2-litre boxes, and three more brands were added in 2021. Who would have guessed that wines from La Motte, Diemersdal, De Wetshof and Pierre Jourdan would ever be sold in a box? Even the discerning consumer of organic wine can now find red and white options in a box.
Value for money is ultimately determined by how much you pay and what you get. Anyone would be willing to pay R150 for what they believe is worth R250, but no one wants to spend R50 on something that tastes like R20. Consequently, boxed wine is generally good value, but the quality of the wine is still questioned by some consumers. However, the current selection on the shelves is quickly changing this perception.
If you have snobbish friends, you can always pour your boxed wine into a crystal carafe and wait for them to see the light, because boxed wine is here to stay.
Three of my favourites
Robertson Chardonnay (3L)
Round palate with good balance between citrus and the nutty character provided by the light oak. The wine is a must with Thai food, barbecue chicken and pork dishes. Too delicious. It costs R149.99 at Checkers.
Du Toitskloof Pinotage Rosé (3L)
Light pink colour with fresh berry aromas. A dry wine with prominent sweet fruit flavour. Enjoy it outside under shady trees with salad or seafood. Unbelievable. It costs R159.99 at Checkers.
La Motte Merlot (2L)
A lovely aroma of spices and berries. Along with this, I long for a little meat, on the coals or in the saucepan. Excellent. It costs R219.99 at Woolworths.
What do the people say?
Adi Badenhorst of AA Badenhorst Family Wines on Kalmoesfontein near Malmesbury
“My gran's domestic worker always said the head of a caracal tastes exactly like a dune mole. It all depends on your frame of reference. When I think of box wine, I think of families by some muddy-brown river or dam. The dads catch a fish with an inflated plastic bag and the kids learn to swim with the same bags duct-taped around their upper arms.
“We put our Secateurs red and chenin blanc into 2.25-litre boxes for Norway. The quality is great, and people apparently really like it. It's South Africans who have a snooty attitude toward these wines. Every box is different.
“I have no problem with the shape of the container, as long as the wine is good."
Anton Espost from The Wine Kollective, Riebeeck-Kasteel
“It's a growing trend in South Africa that wine producers are now marketing higher-quality wine in box format. But I don't think it will work. While there's certainly a place for the box, I believe the concept of high-quality wine in boxes is the idea of clever marketers seeking a new approach. As a wine trend, it won't gain significant traction."
Sumien Brink, former editor of VISI and now Instagram entrepreneur, Cape Town
“Don't call me grand — I'm not grand. I sometimes drink boxed wine, but good ones like Adi Badenhorst's Secateurs, and also De Wetshof. Boxed wine is also very convenient for cooking. My son, Wilke, who is a big wine snob, always says ‘life is too short for dooswyn', but at this stage of my life, I don't care!"
Kobus van der Merwe, chef-owner of Wolfgat restaurant in Paternoster
“I think the new, slimmer boxes are very practical and fit easily in a home cupboard. And it's a litre, not just 750 ml. I quite enjoy the Pierre Jourdan Tranquille Blush and the La Motte Merlot that are available at Woolies."
Errieda du Toit, food writer and commentator from Durbanville
“I will drink boxed wine, but for the sake of peace in the house I avoid it where my box-phobic husband, Ian, can see me (and I don't really want to hide while drinking). I do cook with boxed wine, but I pour it into a wine bottle — not for aesthetics or due to snobbery; the bottle is less bulky over the pot."
Isabella Niehaus, chef and food writer from Langebaan
“I know one thing, and that is that there's a difference between boxed wine and a papsak. Boxed wine is good wine packaged in an eco-friendly way. Papsak — that's something entirely different.
“With boxed wine, there's the advantage that the wine isn't exposed to oxygen, it lasts longer, and it's easier to transport. It stores nicely in the fridge.
“I'll borrow the words of a friend of mine: ‘I just want people to drink wine and enjoy it, whether it's in a bottle or a box. Drink what you enjoy.'
“I love red wine. And I love cooking, very much, with wine. At the moment, I have a Black Granite shiraz from Darling Cellars, a chenin blanc from Kleine Zalze, and a sauvignon blanc from Diemersdal in my fridge, and of course, Rooiberg's pinotage — an old favourite!
“I always like to cook with a freshly opened bottle of wine, sometimes just a cupful, so my joy over the wonderful-quality wines in boxes is immense."
♦ VWB ♦
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