Cooking wine should be good enough to drink, but not so good that you feel bad dumping it into a sauce or stew. (It should not, under any circumstances, come in a bottle that says “cooking wine.”) It’s easy to find a $10 bottle that tastes good when simmered with tomatoes, garlic, and onions, but it’s harder to find one that I want to guzzle after I’ve poured the needed aliquot for my dish. This can lead to oxidised wine which, while still usable, is something I like to avoid.
Enter boxed wine, the wine that — once opened — stays drinkable for a few weeks or (depending on which wine expert you ask) up to a month and a half, much longer than a bottle’s 3-5 day consumption window. This is thanks to the little plastic tap that connects to the bag inside the box, which is much better at keeping oxygen out of your wine than a cork, or even a screw top. (Glass is still a better choice for longterm storage, however, as semi-permeable bags can only hold off oxidation for a few months.)
The longer lifespan takes the pressure off. The light guilt and mild anxiety that can accompany opening a bottle of mid-level wine for the half a cup I need for cooking is a thing of the past — suddenly, no amount of wine is too trivial. And, even if you do fail to consume all of your wine-in-a-box before it starts to turn, boxed wine’s low price point is there to soften that blow. A three-litre box usually costs around $25, which translates to around five bucks for a standard 750-millilitre bottle’s worth. (Canned wine seems to offer similar benefits, but cans usually hold half a bottle and are not made for storage once opened.)
All of this makes it great cooking wine, but it’s also a great “cooking with wine” wine. Boxed wine is casual and freeing, devoid of the ritual usually associated with wine drinking — there’s no cork — for Wednesdays that don’t need all that pomp.
My boyfriend doesn’t drink, and there is no one else around, which means that once a bottle is open it becomes my responsibility to use it all up before it turns. And, while I’m certainly capable of drinking 750 millilitres of wine in a a few days, I don’t always want to. (I have been drinking a lot less, and often get headaches if I have more than two drinks in an evening. Ageing is fun!) Sometimes I just want one little glass to go with my little supper, or a couple millilitres for a Sunday afternoon kalimotxo, and boxed wine is there for me. (Conversely, if you have a lot of voracious wine drinkers in your household, boxed wine is a very economical choice.)
Quality-wise, boxed wine is better than its image would suggest. Though Franzia is still very popular, it is far from the only boxed offering, and some boxes available are downright bougie. I’m a fan of Black Box, but a good strategy for finding good boxes is typing “best boxed wine” into a search engine and reading the recs of the snobbiest site you can find. The fanciest boxes will run you around $40, which is still pretty freaking cheap.