San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)
A truly great new boxed California wine
Welcome to Wine of the Week, a series in which Chronicle wine critic Esther Mobley recommends a delicious bottle that you should be drinking right now. Recently, she highlighted a woodsy, light Santa Cruz Pinot Noir from Madson Wines. Check for a new installment online every Wednesday.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been working through a box of wine in my refrigerator. It’s been a joy. Turning the spigot on the baginbox makes me feel like I’m a college student again, pouring myself a cupful of Franzia at a house party — only this time, I have replaced the red Solo cup with real glassware, and the wine in my fridge is about one thousand times better than Franzia.
The wine is Ryme Cellars’ Sangiovese Friulano, an unusual blend of the rustic, cherryforward red grape Sangiovese and the tangy white grape Tocai Friulano. That blend results in a pale, carbonic, lightred wine that’s bursting with bitter, pleasantly sour flavors of cranberry and rhubarb, with a whiff of something simultaneously sweet and vegetal that recalls a ripe summer tomato. It’s a red wine that really demands a chill, which makes it a great candidate for the baginbox format, since any boxed wine’s rightful place is on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator.
These are the first artisanal California wines that I’ve ever seen packaged in a box, and I’ll be thrilled if more wineries follow suit.
Megan and Ryan Glaab, the couple behind Ryme Cellars in Forestville, have been putting the Sangiovese Friulano in bottles since 2018, but the baginbox format is new for them. The idea, Megan Glaab says, arose while the family was in quarantine during COVID19. “We’ve all been there — you’re stuck at home and you want a glass of wine but you don’t want to open up a whole bottle,” she says. “The box gives you the ability to keep it in your fridge and you can access the wine as much or as little as you want.”
Ryme — which was recently revealed as actor Elizabeth Olsen’s favorite winery to visit — began its boxing experiments last fall with a white wine: a bright, crisp Vermentino that tastes like pineapple and Meyer lemon juice, offered only on their website. The Glaabs were shocked to see how quickly it sold, and immediately their distributors were clamoring for some to sell to wine shops. So this winter, they boxed up even more, adding the Sangiovese Friulano and a rosé made from the southern Italian grape variety Aglianico.
Each box costs $65 and holds the equivalent of four bottles of wine, which comes to $16.25 per bottle — a fine bargain, and one that reflects the low costs of the baginbox packaging relative to a traditional bottling. In theory, the cardboard box should represent a lower environmental footprint than a glass bottle, cork and foil, too.
Although Glaab doesn’t yet know the outer limit of how long the boxed wines will last once the seal has been broken, so far they seem to be staying fresh for at least a couple of months, she says.
“Because the wine is getting sucked down, you’re not introducing oxygen,” Glaab says. “We trialed the Vermentino, and after three months, it was still completely delicious.”
Because they pack a lot of wine into a lightweight package, the Ryme boxes have obvious appeal for applications like camping or other types of traveling. They’re unlikely to shatter in a suitcase, and you don’t need to worry about packing a corkscrew. I’m also imagining, when such things are once again advisable, bringing a box of Sangiovese Friulano to barbecues or other outdoor gatherings where you need to satisfy a large group.
But I can attest that it’s equally fun to have the box of wine for yourself at home. It’s efficient. It’s affordable. And if, like me, you are nostalgic for an earlier, more innocent time of your life — a time unmarred by pandemic, when you may have consumed more than a little Franzia — then Ryme’s baginbox red wine may deliver a special kind of joy to you, too.
For now, the Sangiovese, Vermentino and rosé boxes are available only through the Ryme website, but will soon be stocked at Bay Area stores.