When the Canlis team started brainstorming ideas that would become Canlis Community College, brothers Mark and Brian and wine and spirits director Nelson Daquip asked themselves: What do people really want out of wine right now?
Eight months into the pandemic, with uncertainty all around and a fresh spate of frayed nerves courtesy of each day’s news cycle, “You don’t need a fancy bottle of wine,” says Daquip. “People just want to have something at home.” Preferably something that stays fresh and can be summoned easily, in quantities large or small, depending on the day.
That’s how Daquip, who holds a James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine Program and manages a cellar of 19,000 impressive bottles, landed himself a new assignment: Research boxed wine.
While I enjoy the visual of Daquip pushing a cart through QFC and making thoughtful tasting notes on a box of Franzia, his methods were unsurprisingly more productive. He hit up places like Met Market and Total Wine, and checked in with distributors. "I was surprised by the quality of what's out there," he says. Recently Canlis Community College members got to watch Daquip and lead server and sommelier Erica Catubig host “Boxed and Canned Wine: A Sommelier Symposium” streamed from the restaurant’s basement cellar. What he learned: The Bota Box brand of sauvignon blanc has its fans (Catubig very much included). And housemade gummy bears pair beautifully with a 3-liter box of La Petite Frog picpoul de pinet.
To help us get through this wild week, Daquip shared a few favorites from his box wine exploits. May on-demand wine pours get us through the politically fraught days ahead.
From the Tank: Vin Rouge
A Rhone-style blend from organic and biodynamic vineyards—essentially the natural wine movement meets boxed wine. “They have a fun white, but I was really in search of a red.” Pros know to remove the bladder from the box for easier storage in the refrigerator.
Domaine du Clos du Fief Beaujolais-Villages
This one’s tougher to find, but worth seeking out. Restaurants purchase five-liter boxes to pour for happy hours. “I thought this could be a good Thanksgiving wine,” says Daquip. “It’s huggable, really tasty,” and delivers everything a gamay should: clean red fruit, earthiness and a touch of granite, with a soft finish.
Classy tip from the seminar: When we return to the days of throwing parties, you can decant your box of wine to avoid the awkward moment when you plunk a big-ass box of wine, no matter how good, down on your otherwise festive table.
Vins d’Envie Jacquere
A white from France’s Savoie region “gives the impression of chardonnay on the palate,” says Daquip. “It’s richer and weightier in flavor than sauv blanc,” but some poached pear and spice notes add more intrigue than you get with a typical chardonnay. While boxed wine is about comfort and predictability, Daquip points out that too much of that is boring. “It’s exciting to discover something, rather than rely on the comfort of doing a chardonnay from California.”
La Petite Frog Picpoul de Pinet
Daquip picked this up at Met Market and is still impressed with the price breakdown per glass. “And it’s got a frog on it, which is awesome.” On the show, he popped a little ice in his glass to bring down the temperature. It dilutes the flavor a touch, he allows, but “I’m not ashamed to say that ice in a glass of white wine, to cool it down, makes it really delicious.”
Like any other wine journey, Daquip suggests building a relationship with a wine merchant and asking if they can procure you some good-quality boxes through their distributor relationships. He's been working with Champion Wine Cellars and appreciates their "curious palate."
The Canlis seminar—discursive in all the right ways—also touched on the history of box wine, and the days when European bistros or trattorias would tote a cask, or other large-volume container of simple red or white back from a vineyard source to be the house table wine. That cycle diminished and the glass bottle reigned once wine became a commodity to ship around the world, but that journey from vineyard to consumer is evolving, says Daquip. "Smaller producers are willing to put wines in different formats." Canned and boxed wine is ideal for hikes or camping.
Domestically, small wineries tend to worry their reputation will take a hit if they put their product in a bladder, but 2020 has pretty much every industry rethinking what makes sense. Look at to-go cocktails, says Daquip. At the start of the year, they didn't legally exist; now he sees plenty of bars putting them in small pouches for transport. "We never would have got to that point if Covid hadn't happened."