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Three great reasons to think inside the box (wine, that is)

Let's face it: Boxed wines are not exactly perceived as the pinnacle of wine-drinking chic. Don't believe us? Just try showing up with a box of wine -- any box -- at next week's graduation/barbecue/baby shower and observe the look of utter disdain creep across your friends' faces. Yeah, they'll hate you. But in reality, it'll be their loss, because boxed wines are officially back in vogue -- and they're better than ever.

By no means are we recommending you run to your neighborhood liquor store and clean out its supply of Franzia; that particular breed of boxed wine still sucks. But if you do your homework (or simply pick any of the wines we've gone through the effort of taste-testing on your behalf), then you'll find plenty of infinitely drinkable, completely respectable wines -- which just happen to come in a box -- to impress your crew. In addition to the untold satisfaction you'll experience as a member of an incredibly elite circle of People Who Realize Boxed Wines Can Be Great, just think of all the good you're doing for the environment (much smaller carbon footprint!) and your wallet (no more throwing out wine after it's been opened for a couple of days!). Oh, yeah -- did we mention that the typical box holds a whopping four bottles of wine (750 ml = one bottle of wine; average box wine = three lip-smacking liters of drink-fueled fun) and is generally priced south of $30? Suddenly, boxed wine is looking pretty damn good -- and trust us when we tell you that these three taste even better than they look.

"La Petite Frog" Picpoul de Pinet Coteaux de Languedoc (3L, $28): When you think about an ideal summertime wine, it's liable to be one that's so refreshing and easy to drink that you could accidentally discover that you've sucked down half the bottle mere moments after removing the cork. The bad news about this picpoul de pinet (an exceptionally bright and breezy white varietal native to the south of France)? Wait a minute -- there is no bad news. All you'll get is lean, citrusy goodness, tailor-made for your next City Park Jazz catfish fry or backyard crawfish boil (you get the idea; seafood is the righteous pairing you'll want to orchestrate). And the good news? You'll never have to fret about getting the cork out without breaking it (or getting a corked wine, period) because...it's wine in a box, remember?

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MAN Vineyards "Man in a Box" Chenin Blanc / Viognier (3L, $24): Quick: Name two lesser-known white-wine varietals you're not hip to but should be. If you guessed chenin blanc and viognier, you'd be absolutely right. The rock-star South African winemakers at MAN Vintners know how to concoct wines that are a helluva lot of fun to drink, and their white box wine entry might be the quintessential example of the joie de vivre that makes their wines so very enjoyable. This ain't no wimpy wine, though; the chenin delivers an element of creamy, mouth filling weight on the palate, while the viognier serves up a luscious, spicy layer that complements the chenin perfectly. Got a group camping trip coming up? Pick up a couple of boxes of this stuff and consider your booze shopping over and done.

MAN Vineyards "Man in a Box" Cabernet Sauvignon (3L, $26): If we're being honest, we'd have to admit that we initially only tried the MAN cab sauv in a box because of its close proximity to its sister wine, reviewed above. "Skeptical" would be too kind a word to describe our initial thoughts about the quality and drinkability of box wines in general, so believe us when we say that we were flat-out worried to try a "serious" wine like cabernet sauvignon in a box. Begrudgingly, we agreed to purchase this wine in the name of research. After one glass, we immediately recognized the folly of our judgment, because this cab far exceeded our expectations. We got toasty, smoky blackberry and blueberry aromas and flavors (just as strongly on day four as on day one, by the way) and fell in love with the balanced tannins and smooth finish this wine delivered, glass after glass after glass.

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