Food & Drink: Grapevine: Kathryn McWhirter on the best of the boxes

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The Independent Culture
IT'S amazing how much better bag-in-box wines are these days. The bags and taps have improved, so that the wines keep better before and after opening, and some very decent wines are put into boxes nowadays. For populous picnics far from the car, boxes are a godsend, and for an odd glass now and then over a period of weeks, they are also useful. But this is expensive packaging, so boxes are bad value for parties.

Of the 36 boxes I've just tasted (ones their retailers claimed to be proud of), only five were total rejects. My favourites among the whites were **Stowells Gisborne Sauvigon Blanc (about pounds 15.99 Tesco, Sainsbury, Safeway, Gateway, Somerfield, William Low and Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), attractive and easy-drinking with crisp acidity and grassy, gooseberry fruit; and **Domaine des Fontaines Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 9.99 for two litres Tesco), very respectable unoaked Chardonnay, soft but fresh and crisp and very appealing. Also good is the richer *Stowells Semillon Chardonnay, Riverina (about pounds 14.99 Victoria Wine, Unwins, Tesco, Gateway, Somerfield, Morrisons, Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up), a full Australian white with toasty, greengagey fruit and some peachy flavour from the Chardonnay. *McWilliams Hillside Colombard Chardonnay, Riverina (about pounds 8.49 for two litres Asda, Waitrose, Gateway, Somerfield, Oddbins, J T Davies, Budgen, Quinnsworth and Blaney Wines in Northern Ireland, William Morton in Scotland) is not quite as good, but agreeably crisp and lemony, with some peachy Chardonnay flavour and a hint of oak. The *St Michael Italian Chardonnay, Vino da Tavola del Piemonte ( pounds 12.99 Marks & Spencer) is attractively soft, appley, and slightly buttery, but with crisp acidity and *Victoria Wine La Mancha Dry White ( pounds 10.79) is a very good basic white, fresh, modern and peardroppy.

The best reds are from Australia, with top of my list the **Stowells Shiraz-Cabernet, McClaren Vale (about pounds 15 Tesco, Gateway, Somerfield, Morrisons, Thresher, Wine Rack, Bottoms Up and Victoria Wine), deliciously plum-fruity Cabernet spiked with a bright, peppery character from the Shiraz, and just a touch of tannin; and **McWilliams Hillside Riverina Shiraz-Cabernet (about pounds 8.50 for two litres, stockists as for the white McWilliams above), which is also ripely fruity and flavourful, with hints of toffee and mint. *Cabernet Sauvignon Vin de Pays d'Oc ( pounds 11.99 Unwins) is almost as good, richly blackcurranty and grassy, with a touch of tannin. *Sainsbury's Corbieres ( pounds 10.95) is a very light style for Corbieres, but meaty and slightly plummy.

Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon is usually a safe buy in bag-in-box. My favourite is *Sainsbury's Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon, Suhindol ( pounds 10.95), almost worth two stars, agreeably light and strawberry-blackcurrant-fruity. More rustic in style but still a good drink are the *Stowells Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon, Plovdiv (about pounds 11.50 Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up) and the *Co-op Bulgarian Cabernet Sauvignon ( pounds 10.69).

(All contain 3 litres unless otherwise stated.)

Star ratings: **very good *good