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Gauging Wine Gadgets

Bag-in-Box dispenser; chillers; aerator

by Jane Firstenfeld
Alternative text
The Boxxle is designed to serve bag-in-box wines without the box.
Vallejo, Calif.—Publications and other media are bombarded with unsolicited product samples from suppliers seeking publicity. As the North American wine business has surged, so has the flood of innovative “accessories” intended to enhance the drinking experience and enrich their inventors/promoters.

While some of these gizmos look like foolish or overpriced trinkets, others at least appear to have practical application. Wines & Vines editors evaluated a few recent entrants last week.

Most striking is the Boxxle: A sleek countertop container that dispenses bag-in-box wines while dispensing with the actual box. Designed and produced by Tripp Middleton, a former banker in North Carolina, the Boxxle would be especially useful for on-premise, by-the-glass sales.

First described in our October 2011 print edition, the Boxxle “came out in spurts,” according to Middleton. Seeking perfection for his vision, the fledgling inventor took time to refine and retool the Boxxle, which is manufactured in China.

“We really just started pushing in the last month,” he said. Already more than 200 of the devices have been sold through Boxxle website, and deals with Wine Enthusiast and Preferred Living.

Middleton is negotiating with distributors in Tennessee and on the West Coast, and, he said, has heard “a lot of interest from wineries themselves, plus wine and spirits distributors to the restaurant and bar industry.” His sales goal for this year is 10,000 units, a figure he considers doable.

Boxxle has a non-skid base and stainless steel/black exterior. Unlike conventional 3L bag-in-box packages where the spout at the bottom demands placement at the edge of a shelf, Boxxle dispenses the wine from the top: Even a tall glass fits under the spigot for a clean and easy pour.

Middleton believes the growing demand for on-premise by-the-glass service will fuel his sales. Any 3-liter BiB package can easily fit inside, where a spring-loaded dispensing devise pushes the remaining wine up and out. This helps ensure an oxygen-free environment that preserves wine for a month or longer and allows every last drop to be poured out as the package is depleted.

Middleton hopes that wine producers or distributors will begin to provide the Boxxle as a premium or an add-on to top on-premise clients. He said he can provide custom, peel-off, self-stick labels to identify the wine brand and varietal in commercial settings. He also hopes to tap winery tasting rooms, although it’s the rare winery that serves tasting room pours from BiB packages.

The Boxxle is sturdy: Middleton said it’s guaranteed to serve 10,000 boxes. It is simple to use, but currently the simple-to-follow instructions appear only on the box it arrives in. That will be remedied in future shipments with a single-sheet instruction insert, a real requirement for bars and restaurants with multiple shifts and shifting staff. Dismantling the wine box was more complicated than operating the Boxxle.

One quibble: Standing 12.5 inches tall, the Boxxle is simply too bulky for most overcrowded residential refrigerators. For those who prefer white wine, this presents an obvious problem. Middleton suggested inserting frozen gel-packs into the unit with wine pouch. He is already working on Boxxle.2. “The next model will include a plug-in cooling system,” he said.

Boxxle retails at $100; wholesale prices available on request.

Aging on demand
Devices of all ilk that purport to instantly aerate or artificially age wines have been around for years. Our most recent sample comes from Host Studios. The Twist Adjustable Aerator is a nicely crafted heavy plastic gadget that “decants” individual glasses of wine instantly.

“Turn the metal band, pick an aeration setting and decant in a manner of seconds,” the manufacturer claims. “Tired of letting your wine breathe for hours before drinking? Instantly decant any wine from zero to six hours.

The Twist is easy to operate, allowing guests to choose their preferred level of decanting. Set the band and pour the wine (from bottle or bag). With a satisfying gurgle, the wine pours quickly into the glass. With a popular priced Mendocino Pinot Noir, a zero setting provided a crisply acidic sample; at “six,” the wine had lost all of its acidity—and most of the fruit. For that vintage, a middle setting provided the best balance.

Conclusion: Results will vary with the wine, providing an entertaining interactive experiment. Retail price: $34.99.

Chilling out
Drinkers of white wine always face the extra challenge of keeping it cool. Some answer this by making their own “skinny” beverage, just adding ice. Those who prefer the full-flavored version need that bottle chilled in a bucket or a fridge, which is not always convenient at home or out.

Host Studios proposes a solution: The Chill Cooling Pour Spout. While it will not sufficiently cool a room-temperature bottle, after some time in the freezer, it will keep that bottle cool on the table—at least for a while. In our trial we found that as the level of wine went down, the temperature rose.

The Chill does seal a normal size bottle neck; remove the stopper and it serves as a pouring spout. Frankly though, for hot summer days, an ice bucket delivers more appetizing wine to accompany a leisurely lunch. Retail price: $18.99.

Is cooling individual glasses a better solution? The Tilt single from Soiree Home promises to eliminate that “watered down taste when the ice melts in your drink.”

The Tilt is a gel-filled stainless steel “chilling sphere” the size of a meatball. After a session in the freezer, it’s placed in a glass. The package includes a fiber bag (to protect while freezing) and a retrieval device that closely resembles a crochet hook.

Method of use: Place frozen sphere in glass. When sampled straight, the retrieval device tended to point unnervingly toward the drinker’s eye. If detached from the frozen ball, however, it was difficult to re-hook for retrieval. It seemed most useful for inserting into the glass: The sphere is heavy enough to crack a fragile wine glass.

The Tilt managed to effectively keep two separate glasses reasonably cold for a reasonable sipping period.

Caveats: The Tilt single is packaged in an annoying hard-shell plastic package that required kitchen shears or pliers for safe removal. And at a retail price of $17.99, having enough Tilts for a big party would be an expensive proposition.

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