Don't worry, it wasn’t just you that was drinking more during lockdown. Most of the nation was also hard at it. The latest evidence comes from the Co-op chain who have reported that sales of bag-in-box wines at their supermarkets surged by 300 per cent in recent months. Which means your guilty eye on a 75cl bottle rather pales in comparison with a box that typically contains three litres of the juice.
The Co-op has responded positively, adding a further six wines to the range. Sainsbury’s is similarly adding to their collection, having seen a stonking 41 per cent increase in sales. And even the wine snobs seem more relaxed because the juices within are of rather better quality these days.
In the past wine-in-a-box was practically a euphemism for poor quality. If my father ever bought a box home it seemed to suit the free glasses he filled the house with during the Eighties after a trip to the petrol station.
As students we took wine boxes to the park. They were easy to carry, with a plastic handle on top, contained more booze, were cheap and it didn’t matter if you’d left the corkscrew at home. We didn’t particularly care about the contents and you didn’t actually need a glass; if you lay down on the grass and opened your mouth a friend could just turn the tap on and hardly a drop was spilt.
Today, however, their contents are for savouring. Scientists have developed better bags so that the wine can last for longer encouraging producers of better wines to dip a toe into the business. "As packaging technology has improved, so too has wine quality," says M&S winemaker Belinda Kleinig. Her team now also sell 1.5 litre pouches that fit easily into fridges and cool-boxes.
And because no glass is used millennials have even embraced its seemingly better eco-credentials, happy to brandish them on picnics. Of course, pre-covid they had already become a festival staple - so much easier to lug around that a number of clanking bottles. Little wonder then that sales have duly rocketed by 40 per cent.
This latest revolution in wine drinking, is a kin to how the screw cap slowly came in as a valid alternative to the cork. Once seen as for the down and out wine drinker, such investment was afforded to the screwcap, the latter now are listed in many top end restaurants.
Today even the finest sommeliers in the country’s top restaurants can be seen swivelling bottles with a flourish as they twist off the Stelvin seal (happy in the knowledge that they won’t lose bottles to cork taint). Although I don’t know yet of a sommelier who has brought a wine box to the table, I can’t honestly say that one might not have decanted one behind-the-scenes.
I, personally, am occasionally tempted to buy a wine box and have been pleasantly surprised by the great quality that is now available. But what stumps me is the psychology. Like every big sipper, like anyone with a healthy thirst, I am minded that I need to temper my greed for wine.
On the one hand a box of wine serves to assist me in my dreams of modest consumption. For if I open a bottle then that bottle will, in a relatively short space of time, need to be finished. If not it will go off and I will have wasted the effort and money used to buy it. So the ambition to sip a single glass of wine can easily lead to me consuming the whole bottle; whether I am with friends or alone. And while a bottle of white might last a little longer with the use of the fridge, a bottle of red just looks sad and wanting standing on the kitchen counter with its cork half out. As the moralist within me assures myself that I won’t be drinking tomorrow and I don’t plan on making a stew, it always seems the better idea to polish it off in there and then.
Which makes the prospect of a wine box so enticing. Once opened it doesn’t need finishing and can last for weeks. That means I can happily pour myself just one glass. And, even better, if I need a slug of wine for some sauce I don’t need to open an entire bottle.
I merely twist a few drops into a glass and then chuck it into the pot.
All of which works perfectly in theory. Annoyingly, in reality, a box wine means you have guilt-free access to wine at all times. That Monday night when in the days of bottles saw you desist from opening one because you’d then consume the entire thing (see above) now sees you happily having a cheeky glass because there’s no threat of drinking too much…except of course you can then have another, and another.
It’s like being in a mini winery or a drinker in toy town. Pressing the little tap is thrilling and I love how it sloshes into the glass or fills a carafe. And who else gets that thrill to discover its the gift that keeps giving; when you think it’s finished only to turn it on its side you can get another glassful. You can’t get that revelatory magic joy with a bottle.
It’s also less embarrassing when the bin men come. A finished wine box can be subtly squashed; no neighbour’s cocked eyebrow at your empties and the humiliating crash of glass thundering into the lorry…
As they say in France: Vive le cardbordeaux!