SAN FRANCISCO --- What you want: a holiday get-together with friends over a cheering glass of wine. What you don't want: a budget deeper in the red than an old vine zin. The answer might be in the box.
Once the runt of the wine world, boxed wines have come a long way, says Natalie MacLean, the author of the Internet wine newsletter Nat Decants.
"Get over your hang-ups about boxed wine being plonk. It's a great way to go with a large party," she says.
Today's boxed wines are sold mostly in 3-liter containers, the equivalent of four bottles. Although the quality has gone up, prices remain reasonable.
Fish Eye from The Wine Group in San Francisco, for instance, is $16 a box, which works out to $4 a bottle. How do they do that?
"We've put all of our money into the wine and not into the package," says Laurie Jones, a Wine Group spokeswoman.
Of course, price isn't the only consideration when choosing wine. You also want something that will complement, rather than overwhelm, your meal. This time of year, everyone is looking for the right wine for the big bird.
Pinot noir is the classic accompaniment for Thanksgiving turkey -- you want to stay away from heavy tannins, such as a hearty cabernet sauvignon. Herding Cats Merlot-Pinotage from South Africa is a fine choice. It comes in a 3-liter box from Underdog Wines and is about $16.
Try French Rabbit pinot noir, from Boisset Family Estates, which comes in a 1-liter Tetra Pak (juice-box style packaging), for around $10.
Whites can be right, too, especially if you want a wine that does justice not only to the turkey but also to all the sweet and spicy trimmings that make up the traditional Thanksgiving feast.
Look for aromatic, dry whites, such as a pinot grigio or maybe a viognier, says Leslie Sbrocco, a frequent wine judge and the author of Wine for Women . Target's Wine Cube pinot grigio, available in a 3-liter box for $17.99, is a good choice.
Though boxes have largely shed their rube cube image, it can't be denied that there's something just a bit inelegant about slapping a big box down onto the buffet. To that we say one word: carafe.
The advantage of boxes is the plastic bag inside that contains the wine. The bag doesn't let in air, which means the wine can stay fresh for six weeks after opening without going in the fridge.
Just before drinking, however, a bit of a breather is a good thing for wines, boxed or otherwise. Decanting into a carafe or other reasonably attractive glass jug makes host and wine look a little better.