Fans of boxed wine have always taken the good with the bad, the good being the price; the bad, of course, being the quality. But for those who've outgrown cheap hangovers but not cheap prices, a new breed of "premium" boxed wines has arrived. Made from pure wine varietals that don't carry additives or extra sugar, these wines have long been popular in Europe and Australia (where they make up 50 percent of sales, say industry experts), and are now the fastest-growing sector of the American market. Sales were up 50 percent in 2007, according to AC Nielsen.
Brands such as Black Box, Bota Box and the Wine Cube by—get ready—Target use California grapes, and are stored with bags that collapse to keep out oxygen so the wines last longer—some up to six weeks. They're still cheap: a three-liter carton (that's four bottles) goes for about $20.
That's still unlikely to attract connoisseurs. "My patrons would laugh me right out of the restaurant if I brought a box over to their table," says James Endicott, a Manhattan sommelier. But the wines should be a hit for less discerning drinkers. "Wine should taste good. It's that simple," says Steph Waller, a California wine lover who is working on a book called "Box of Wine: A Cultural Icon." Waking up without a headache can't hurt, either.