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[Photographs: Maggie Hoffman]

Last week, we found some great wine deals: a few very tasty whites packaged in boxes instead of bottles. We love the long shelf life and environmental benefits of the bag-in-box. They're lighter to carry than bottles and use fridge space more efficiently. (We do recommend refrigerating all boxes of wine, even reds, if you're not going to empty them quickly.)

But how do you choose a good boxed wine?

  • Keep an eye out for smaller producers and natural wines.
  • Ask advice from the people working in your local wine shop--they may have had a chance to sample the store's offerings.
  • Consider trying a bottle (if the wine is sold that way) before springing for the big box. If you don't like 750 mL of it, you're not going to love three liters, but if you're a fan, you'll be happy to have it in quantity.

Or stick to our list of recommended reds, after the jump.

Recommended Boxed Red Wines

Cuvée de Peña Vin de Pays 2006 $27 to 30 for 3L (find this wine)
This red blend from southern France is made from 48% Grenache, 30% Carignan, and 22% Syrah. It has blackberry jam and vanilla on the nose, and it needs a little time (or a decanter) to open up. We tasted cranberries and ripe plums, cinnamon, cedar and black pepper. It's understated and drinkable, not a big fruit bomb. This is a great hamburger and picnic wine, and it's light enough to drink slightly chilled as the weather warms.

From the Tank Red about $30 (find this wine, also here)
This Côtes du Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Carignan has a jammy scent and concentrated flavor. We tasted tart blueberries, plums, and red pepper flakes. Decant this one--the firm tannins relax a little, though you can still taste leather and smoke on the finish.

20100324boxglass.jpgChateau Moulin de la Roquille Côtes de Francs 2007 (Wineberry) $39 (find this wine)
This smooth, drinkable Bordeaux blend (70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 15% Cabernet Franc) is deep and inviting, with notes of cassis, vanilla, and ripe blueberries. There's also a hint of tar and slate. We actually preferred this before decanting.

Quelu Cabernet Sauvignon $24 to 28 for 3L (find this wine)
This Chilean Cabernet has some real character and goes nicely with cheeses and dry-cured ham. It has some earthy green pepper flavors and a bit of briny black olive, as well as notes of sage and red pepper flakes. Nice acidity and smooth medium body.

Maipe Malbec $20 to 27 for 3L (find this wine)
Dry and structured, with hints of clay, fig, and strawberry, this Argentinian Malbec is a little spicy. It has leathery tannins and some lavender and mint notes—try it with lamb chops or dry-aged steak; it should cut through the richness perfectly.

A Few More Drinkable Table Wines

Washington Hills Merlot $22 to 26 for 3L (find this wine)
This mellow table wine--a blend of Merlot, Sangiovese, and Cabernet Franc—is not terribly complex, but it's drinkable and rich. It has notes of cherry pie, dark chocolate, and dried fruit, with noticeable (but not overwhelming) oak. It has just enough acidity to keep it from being too sweet.

Red Truck Mini Barrel $24 to 33 for 3L (find this wine)
While it's nothing exciting, you could do worse than this red blend. It's rich and dusty, with warm berry notes and quite a bit of oak. Smooth and drinkable (or fine for cooking). The packaging is cute enough that you could put this out at a party.

Related: The Best White Wines in a Box

Disclosure: All wines except the Quelu Cabernet were review samples.

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