Summer is the season for getting personal with Mother Nature. Unfortunately, there are plenty of places we like to go that our wine can't. Because it's packaged in glass, wine is often banned from boats in the harbor, picnic baskets at outdoor concerts, and poolside cookouts. But relief is at hand as alternative packaging for wine continues to gain momentum. Producers are trying out everything from aluminum to PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic, mostly to cut down on shipping costs. (And as the price of fuel rises, more folks are getting out of glass.)
The format we're most familiar with is the bag-in-box. A cardboard box contains a Mylar bladder that collapses as liquid is drawn from it. Because no air ever touches the wine, it stays fresh far longer than it would in an open container. France has recently gotten into the act, reeling from a one-two punch of soaring freight costs and euro valuation. Now available in a box, La Vieille Ferme Cotes du Ventoux Rouge (Bacchus Importers Ltd., $23, 3 liters)—always a winner for Tuesday night pizza or weeknight barbecue—offers a rustic mix of blackberry and bright cherry without being heavy. This wine benefits from a little time in one's glass before sipping, presumably happy to get some air after being pent up in that box.
If you're looking for a bit more finesse (or just more wine), consider Grand Veneur Cotes du Rhone Reserve 2005 (Kysela Peres et Fils Ltd., $46, 5 liters), also in a box. Loads of ripe cherry, plum, and a hint of spice define this charming red. It's perfect for grilled meats, especially sausages and other bold flavors like lamb. It's also soft enough just to sip, maybe even slightly chilled, while watching the fireworks from your boat in the Inner Harbor.
The most exciting wine I have found so far in a funky package is Yellow + Blue Malbec Mendoza 2007 (Chesapeake Beverage Group, $11, 1 liter). Made from certified organic grapes, this Argentine delight comes in Prisma Pak, a format usually found in the soup aisle. The wine brims with dark berry fruit, smoky herbs, and even a little orange zest. Yellow and Blue's mission is to reduce the carbon footprint of wine importation by using organic grapes and shipping wine in a container that is lighter and far easier to transport than glass. Now you can feel good about saving the outdoors, not just enjoying it.