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Science's toast to wine-in-a-box

Study shows packaging reduces an off taste.

Long dismissed by certain purists, boxed wine is now getting a thumbs-up, of sorts, from the realm of science.

One type of cardboard packaging, according to a new study, is better than any cork or screw-cap when it comes to reducing an unpleasant "green" taste that strikes some wines.

This taste may come from one of two sources, said Gary J. Pickering, senior author of the study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Either the wine was made from unripe grapes, or the grapes were infested with a species of ladybug.

For some reason the researchers can't explain, wines stored in Tetra Pak-brand cartons had the lowest levels of these unwanted chemicals, called methoxypyrazines.

One possibility, Pickering said, is that the chemicals escape through the carton's innermost layer, made of polyethylene, and then attach to an adjacent layer made of aluminum foil.

On the downside, the boxes were not so good at preserving wine from oxidation over long periods, said Pickering, a professor of wine science at Brock University in Ontario.

The best storage method for preventing that problem, the study found, was a bottle sealed with a screw-cap - which, like the cardboard carton, has some connoisseurs wrinkling their refined noses.

Pickering says perhaps there is some hybrid approach that will borrow the best elements of each wine-storage method.

The benefit of using cartons was a surprise to one winemaster, who works for a member of a trade group that helped fund the study.

"I personally am not a fan" of boxes, says Marc Bradshaw, of Pillitteri Estates Winery in Ontario. "I like to think of myself as more of a traditionalist."

Yet even Bradshaw started using screw-caps on a few of the vineyard's wines last year. The reaction?

"There was somewhat of a backlash," he says.

- Tom Avril