Tuesday, October 31, 2006

SF Chronicle reviews "Boxy Beauties"

Continuing my revisit of the San Francisco Chronicle's excellent series of boxed wine reviews, in December 2004 Carol Emert tasted 30 wines and was surprised to find 24 of them worth recommending. In this article, she reviews five whites and nine reds. Thumbs-up go to:
  • Wine Cube California Chardonnay 2003
  • Wine Cube California Pinot Grigio 2003
  • Wine Cube California Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz 2003
  • Carmenet Vintner's Collection California Chardonnay 2003
  • Carmenet Vintner's Collection California Merlot 2002
  • Carmenet Vintner's Collection California Cabernet Sauvignon 2002
  • Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Merlot 2003
  • Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon 2003
  • Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Shiraz 2003
  • Washington Hills Washington State Chardonnay 2003
  • Washington Hills Washington State Merlot 2003
  • Black Box Wines Monterey County Chardonnay 2003
  • Black Box Wines Sonoma County Merlot 2001
  • Black Box Wines Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Boxy beauties beat the bottle at its own game
Carol Emert, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2004

What if there were a specially designed wine container that kept wine fresh for more than a month after opening? And what if this super container held the equivalent of four regular wine bottles, so you could have a glass of good-quality wine each night for several weeks?

Wouldn't it be convenient if the package were as compact as a milk carton and didn't shatter, making it easy to transport? And if a handy spigot made your nightly tipple easy to dispense? And if the price were reasonable, say, $10 to $32, the equivalent of $2.50 to $8 for a 750-ml bottle?

Of course, this uber-packaging does exist: It's a heavy-duty, airtight plastic bag stowed inside a cardboard box, also known as a bag-in-box or Bota Box or cask -- names that wine producers hope will soon replace the plebeian- sounding "box wine."

On virtually every practical front -- save for long-term aging -- the bag-in-box format offers a superior alternative to the bottle. But unfortunately, boxes inspire the same fear as pink and sweet wines in insecure American wine drinkers: They used to be a solely mass-market phenomenon, so they're still perceived as (shudder) low-class.

Dear, sweet America! You watch "Desperate Housewives" every week, but you're too sophisticated to drink perfectly good wine that comes packaged in cardboard?

Sales of 3-liter premium box wines -- as opposed to the sweeter, simpler, 5-liter boxes that gave cardboard-packed wine a bad name -- are growing fast: 33 percent annually on a small base, compared to just 2 percent a year for old-fashioned boxes, according to ACNielsen.

Box wines far and wide

Look for premium casks at independent stores or chains including Andronico's, Albertsons, Trader Joe's, Safeway, Beverages & More, Draeger's, Whole Foods Market and Target, which sells its proprietary Wine Cube.

I tasted 30 wines and found an impressive 24 to recommend. That's an excellent ratio for a Bargain column -- when under-$10 wines in a bottle are tasted, it's common for fewer than half to make the cut.

This week we'll review five whites and nine reds. Look for another 10 reviews next week.

In the Wine section's first premium box-wine tasting last year, I found only two white wines to recommend. This year eight made the cut: two Pinot Grigios and six Chardonnays.

I was particularly impressed that the Chardonnays almost universally displayed a good balance of acidity and oak, comparing favorably against the many bottled Chards -- even expensive ones -- that try to be both crisp and full and wind up unintegrated and confused. A second pleasant surprise was the quality of Target's wine, which has risen to the standard of its stylish, two-tone packaging. Last year I couldn't recommend any of Target's varietals, although I wanted to: Its box is so cool I think it could help America overcome its box-wine phobia.

Cube a smart pick

Three of the five current Wine Cube releases are worth drinking. (Target has also recently released a mini-Wine Cube holding 1.5 liters, the size of two wine bottles, which sells for $9).

The 2003 Wine Cube California Chardonnay ($16) displays a pleasant nose of buttered toast and apple sauce, with a fresh attack, a grapey flavor and a butterscotch finish.

The 2003 Wine Cube California Pinot Grigio ($16), which comes in a bright chartreuse box, is light and alluring, with appealing aromas of lime and melon. Ripe honeydew and cantaloupe dominate the palate, and it wraps up with a hint of orange blossom. Serve it very cold.

The 2003 Wine Cube California Cabernet Sauvignon-Shiraz ($16) is balanced and consistent, if slightly light-bodied for a blend of these two grapes. It tasted of berries, violets and a soupcon of rubber.

Carmenet Vintner's Collection, a Beringer Blass Wine Estates-owned brand sold in a tall, hexagonal box, has introduced three cask wines, all of which are recommended.

The 2003 Carmenet Vintner's Collection California Chardonnay ($15) is pleasant and balanced, offering an appealing nose of baked pear. Ripe apple dominates the palate and the wine finishes with a brisk tangerine and lime tang.

The 2002 Carmenet Vintner's Collection California Merlot ($15) has nicely layered, plus-size fruit -- plum, blackberry and blueberry -- and a long, baked plum and berry finish.

The 2002 Carmenet Vintner's Collection California Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) displays a big, cherry nose with an undercurrent of black olive and a high note of eucalyptus. The texture is light and flavors combine bright cherry and watermelon with earthy, lower notes.

An Aussie producer, Banrock Station, makes three recommended cask wines. The 2003 Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Merlot ($16) offers forward- fruit flavors of strawberry and blackberry and a smooth mouthfeel.

The 2003 Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Cabernet Sauvignon ($16) is an enjoyable wine with a plum, currant and berry nose, bright berry flavors and a goodly amount of tannin.

The 2003 Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Shiraz ($16) was a favorite in this tasting, with dry tannins balancing its bright cherry-pie liveliness and deep, complex, roasted-fruit flavors.

Washington Hills, which is owned by Seattle-based Precept Brands, has boxed two varietals it has long sold in bottles, Chardonnay and Merlot. The packaging is handsome, with woodblock-style graphics, and both wines are delightful.

The 2003 Washington Hills Washington State Chardonnay ($20) has a fresh, springlike scent of lilies of the valley, cucumber and citrus, as well as the requisite oak. The dominant flavor is apple, with notes of apricot, melon and cinnamon, and loads of acidity. Try it with crab salad.

The 2003 Washington Hills Washington State Merlot ($20) is medium-bodied and packs a fruity wallop of cassis and blueberry, with aromas of coffee and dark fruit.

Black Box Wines (Motto: "The more you know about wine, the less you have to pay") was a pioneer in premium box wines and makes three wines we can recommend. The 2003 Black Box Wines Monterey County Chardonnay ($18) is deep gold, mellow and buttery -- plump, but not flabby. It's a good alternative for those who like plenty of wood on their Chard.

A far cry from the all-too-common cloying California Merlot, the 2001 Black Box Wines Sonoma County Merlot ($25) offers wonderfully dry tannins that lend plenty of structure to flavors of blueberry, plum and earthy mushroom. The wine's nose is a heady combination of bright red raspberry, toasty caramel and spearmint.

The full-bodied 2002 Black Box Wines Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon ($18) is also a winner, with big, spicy berry and fig flavors and a structure to match. Your guests (if they are like my guests) will be shocked it came from a box.

Boxy beauties beat the bottle at its own game

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New Website - Boxed Wine Worldwide

New this year to the online wine community: Boxed Wine Worldwide and its associated blog, The Wine Box.

This ain't your parents' box of wine!

The wine industry is seeing a revolution — a revolution in how we package and drink wine. A new generation of containers are now being used by great producers to deliver great wine in a box, not a bottle. And for good reason: Boxing wine makes a lot of sense. Boxed wines are already wide-spread in Europe and Australia, and they are becoming more visible in the US.

BoxedWineWorldwide.com is totally dedicated to the boxed wine industry and the boxed wine drinker. Here you will find the latest news and commentary on boxed wine in all forms and styles.

Many new exciting features are still in development, so, stayed tuned!

Also: Read about how BoxedWineWorldwide.com was born and follow The Wine Box, a blog by the founder of BoxedWineWorldwide.com that provides commentary on boxed wines, the boxed wine industry, and sometimes just wine in general.

Boxed Wine at BoxedWineWorldwide.com: Boxed Wine - Bag in Box Wine

Diana Sonnenreich is the creator of Boxed Wine Worldwide, and she is obviously a seasoned wine professional.

Ms. Sonnenreich, founder and owner of BoxedWineWorldwide.com, has worked for over 10 years in many areas of the wine business, including wine making, importing, retail, restauants, and private consulting. She studied wine tasting and enology in France and Switzerland before becoming one of boxed wine's biggest supporters.

BoxedWineWorldwide.com - About Us

It's fantastic that such an expert is devoting so much attention to boxed wine. I am looking forward to much more from her website and blog.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Bag-in-Barrel ?

Here's a new item that just turned up on eBay. It's a barrel (I'm assuming made of oak) to hold a bag of wine (3 or 5 liter) which has been removed from it's box.

Introducing the Bag-N-Barrel. This barrel is a serving container for all brands of boxed wine. The barrel will hold a 3 or 5 liter bag of wine and is the perfect decoration for the bar or kitchen! Here's how it works Lift the front panel of the barrel out of it's slot. Place the bag of wine in the barrel and replace the front panel around the spigot. Enjoy your favorite wine at room temperature or chilled!

eBay: Wine barrel for serving boxed wine- 3 or 5 liter bag (item 160046561514 end time Nov-04-06 19:04:38 PST)

South Africa May Ban Un-Boxed Wine

Apparently in South Africa, wine is sold in the bag without the box. It's call a papsak, and the government is moving to ban the packaging. The reasoning is that it contributes to alcohol abuse. The poor reportedly find the bag sans box easier to transport and store than the bag-in-box.

The Business Report (South Africa) reports that an industry association is calling for better policing and tighter regulations instead of banning bag-only packaging.

Wine player challenges calls for papsak ban
October 30, 2006
By Ronnie Morris

Cape Town - Government plans to ban the sale of the papsak, the five-litre foil container of low-end wine, could cost the wine industry millions of rands, lead to job losses and even end up in court, an industry player has warned.

The foil container, colloquially known as the Bonteheuwel briefcase because of its popularity with the poor, retails for between R28 and R40. Bonteheuwel is a working class suburb on the Cape Flats.

Papsak wine is blamed for increased alcohol abuse and for being a major cause of foetal alcohol syndrome. The foil bag is known for its versatility and after its contents have been drunk, it is used as a water container, a cushion and a flotation device.

Boet le Hanie, the chairman of the Standard Price Wine Association, said the organisation's 15 members distributed 12 million litres of affordable papsak wine every year. Instead of banning the papsak, there should be better policing and tighter regulations to eliminate the fly-by-night distributors of inferior quality wine.

The problem of alcohol abuse would not be solved by putting the foil container in a box and if distributors were forced to sell the bags in cardboard boxes, jobs would be lost, he said.

Le Hanie warned that "if this [the ban] is done unilaterally without input from us, we will have to test this in court".

Henry Hopkins, a respected wine writer, said wine-in-a-box was patented in Australia and brought to South Africa in the early 1980s.

Cheaper wine of dubious quality was later sold in the foil bag as consumers in poorer areas, particularly the rural areas, struggled to either carry the five-litre box of wine or transport it on a bicycle and solved the problem by tearing the box apart.

Wine maker Danie de Wet, the chairman of wine and brandy producer KWV, said the real problem was to educate people that alcohol, if abused, could be dangerous.

The foil bag was hygienic, convenient and handy for consumers, did not break and could be fitted into a refrigerator or transported far more easily than wine in a box, he said.

Henk Bruwer, the chairman of Wine Cellars SA, said the foil bag was problematic and created a negative image of the wine industry and the added costs of putting it in a box would not affect the lower end of the market.

Sharron Marco-Thyse of the SA Wine Industry Council said: "We have to be realistic about this. This [the ban] is not going to reduce alcohol abuse or deal with the legacy that the industry has around how the product is being consumed.

"However we are also saying that the industry has a responsibility towards its consumers and towards communities that are at risk."

Kader Asmal, the chairman of the SA Wine Industry Council, said the organisation proposed the bag-in-the-box packaging or high quality plastic bottles.

Business Report - Wine player challenges calls for papsak ban

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Seattle Times Wine Advisor - Think Inside the Box

Paul Gregutt writes the weekly wine column in the Seattle Times. Last March he took a look at boxed wine in general, and tried several wines, a number of which were in 3 liter bag-in-box packaging. Not much in the way of very specific reviews here, but some general recommendations.

Go ahead — think inside the box
By Paul Gregutt
Special to the Seattle Times

Just two years ago, when I first wrote about box (or cask) wines, they were a curiosity at best.

There were very few available, and only the early innovators among the wine-drinking crowd bothered to give them a look. Like screwcaps, which were also being introduced at the time, box wines suffered from a decades-long history of ill repute. Only cheap, generic plonk came in such packaging, scoffed serious wine drinkers. And with good reason.

But this is no longer true. Yes, you still can find jug wines in screwcaps, some decent, some not so good. And yes, there are still the big (5-liter) boxes, filled with that same, bland brand of Chateau Fermented Whatever from the Central Valley's sea of vineyards. But the new generation of boxes, many in a more convenient 3-liter (four-bottle) size, hold vintage-dated, premium varietal wines.

There are many advantages to purchasing your everyday wines in this format.

Convenience is a big factor. Boxes are the perfect solution for boats, campers or virtually any outdoor setting. They are disposable; unbreakable; easy to stack, store and carry; and they require no corkscrew to open. Once chilled, they hold their temperature longer than bottles and offer extra protection from the damaging rays of the sun.

Most boxes are stamped with a "packaged on" or "drink by" date, a useful guarantee of freshness. They have explicit instructions (on the bottom of the box) for opening, and there is nothing cheap or cheesy about the functionality of the airtight bag or the dripless spout. Because the bag collapses as it is emptied, the wine is never exposed to air. Freshness is guaranteed for a month or more. You can enjoy a small glass with dinner, and it will be as fresh on day 30 as it was on day one.

Because they may be recycled, boxes are easy on the environment. The wineries also make a convincing claim that far less fuel is consumed during shipping because box wines weigh far less than comparable quantities of bottles.

Best of all, you can now find both white and red box wines from all over the world, many quite pleasantly drinkable, and costing just $3-$4 for the equivalent of a regular bottle.

Along with the standard 3-liter boxes, smaller packages (called Tetrapaks) are becoming more widely available. Most of these hold 1 liter (an extra third of a regular bottle) and are shaped like a juice carton, complete with a plastic screwcap. Unlike the bigger boxes, they do not have a self-collapsing inner pouch; however, if you want just a glass of wine, you can (very carefully!) squeeze the air out of your Tetrapak, and it will keep the wine reasonably well for several days.

Box wines and wines in Tetrapaks are sold mostly in supermarkets rather than dedicated wine shops and have particular appeal to women and younger consumers who are less interested in stodgy "tradition" and more willing to try something new. Along those lines, wineries keep looking for the perfect single-serving package, trying everything from tiny little bottles to cans to cartons.

An Italian brand, Tavernello, is offering two of its wines in 250-ml cartons, which are sold three to a package (one brick-sized package equals a regular bottle of wine). Tavernello claims to be the world's fourth best-selling table-wine brand but has not been seen in the U.S. until very recently. It offers pinot grigio and merlot in the single-serving size, and adds trebbiano, sangiovese and Nero d'Avola to its 1-liter lineup. Warning: The little boxes open with a foil pull-tab that is a bit tricky. I suggest you open your first box or two over the sink, just to be safe.

Tavernello and the other European box wines I've tasted remind me (in a good way) of the simple wines you will find served by the carafe in little bistros or tavernas around the continent. Fresh, young and bracing, they generally have around 12 percent alcohol, fairly austere tannins (in the reds) and are made to be drunk chilled and with food.

If you are looking for more ripe, round, slightly sweet wines, you will want to explore the offerings from California and Australia.

Here's a roundup of some of the best box and Tetrapak wines now available:

Italy, France

Tavernello: The trebbiano, though quite light, outshone the rather watery pinot grigio. I liked it for its delicate flavors of grapefruit and its finishing hint of almond. All three Tavernello reds were pleasant drinking. The Nero d'Avola had more earth, tannin and berry flavors, with a tongue-drying finish. In the 1-liter packages, these wines sell for $7-$8; the three-packs of the smaller cartons sell for $6-$7.

French Rabbit: Also packaged in a 1-liter size, these wines from the south of France are classic bistro beverages. Get yourself a simple glass carafe (or pichet) and serve them that way along with a picnic spread of cheeses, smoked meats and olives; you can pretend for an hour or so that you are vacationing in Provence. The chardonnay is crisp, lively and shows refreshing citrus and melon flavors. The merlot is insubstantial, but the cabernet sauvignon seems like an honest, no-frills, lightly herbal, very French style of farmer's market red. There is also a pinot noir, which I have not tasted. All four sell for $9 -$10.

Chateau des Alouettes: It's a bit startling to see a box with a Chateau labeling, but this rustic, substantial red from the south of France will please those who are fond of rough-and-ready syrah/grenache blends. It's got more going on than most box wines, with scents that offer floral, mineral and spicy notes. It sells for around $20 in the 3-liter package.

California, Washington

Delicato: It's popular "Bota Box" ($17) comes in five varietals: pinot grigio, chardonnay, merlot, cabernet and shiraz. Sweet, simple and fruity, they are about as quaffable as wines can be.

Black Box: Two different chardonnays, two merlots, a cabernet and a shiraz, packaged in an easy-to-spot (you guessed it!) black box and selling for $20-$25: a bit higher than the competition but still in the five-buck-chuck category (OK, I made that category up). The extra flavor justifies the extra cost.

Avery Lane: A 3-liter Washington chardonnay that tastes the way you would hope, with plenty of spicy fruit flavors of pineapple, citrus, peaches and apples. It sells for $18.


Hardys: This brand leader does chardonnay, merlot, cabernet and, of course, shiraz in the box, all selling for around $17. Forward, grapey reds and soft, sweet, tropical chardonnay make this a surefire choice for parties.

Tindindi: Next month, Tindindi will offer a tropical, minty chardonnay and a grapey young shiraz in cask packaging. A cabernet sauvignon, cabernet-merlot and a rosé are also in the works.

Pick of the week
Casarsa 2004 Pinot Grigio/Pinot Blanc; $10 (for 3-liter cask).

This well-known Italian brand offers both a merlot and a pinot grigio/pinot blanc in the 3-liter cask. The white blend is particularly nice, soft and delicate, with a hint of almond. At $10 (for four bottles' worth of wine!), it is a fine value. (Young's Columbia).

The Seattle Times: Food & wine: Go ahead — think inside the box

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Boxed Wine Skepticism

Thursday's Tahlequah Daily Press featured an article about the boxed wine phenomenon. Good article, but I am surprised that someone who works in a liquor store is so poorly informed as to subscribe to the myth that a bottle of red wine will "breathe" if you simply pull the cork.

The fact is, exposing less than one square inch of wine surface in the neck of the bottle accomplishes next to nothing. As I have said before, (in the Breathe Easy post) this is what decanters are for. Let it breathe in the glass, or let it breathe in a decanter. But breathe in the bottle? Sorry, just ain't happening. Anyway, it is a good article, so read on!

Wine aficionados skeptical about boxed concoction

By Teddye Snell

TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — So you think you’re a wine connoisseur?

You subscribe to “Wine Spectator,” you have tasting parties and you certainly know a Merlot from a Pinot Noir. But do you buy boxed wines?

Stop laughing. Some of the best-selling wines no longer come with corks. They come with spigots and plastic bladders.

Boxed wine has been around for years, but traditionally it was synonymous with sticky sweetness, cheap thrills and bad hangovers.

According to a report in the Detroit News, the latest “bag in a box” wines – so-called because of the wine-filled bladder that comes inside a box – have come a long way. They’re not the sweet pink mystery wines Americans are conditioned to seeing in a box.

In fact, they aren’t even called box wines anymore. The preferred name is “cask” wines. Cask wines are being made by top producers, with premium grape varieties – including Syrah and Pinot Grigio – and are vintage-dated.

Ryan Lester, clerk at Mary’s Liquors, has reservations about the trend.

“If you’ll look, all boxed wines come with dates on them,” said Lester. “Franzia has dates on its boxes, but it’s certainly not a vintage date. Others, such as Black Box and Corbett Canyon, have vintage dates.”

The plastic bladders and spigots boxed wines feature keep air out, which prevents oxidation and extends the shelf life. That’s great, if you enjoy Chablis and Blush wines.

“With the plastic liner [which holds the product in a casked wine], red wine fans can’t open a bottle and let it breathe properly,” Lester said. “I personally prefer red wines, and you can’t tell me a plastic liner allows that part of the process [breathing] to happen.”

Connie Jolliff, co-owner of J&J Liquors, said the industry has a recommendation for red wine fans. “I understand you’re to pour a glass of red casked wine and let it breathe from the glass,” said Jolliff. “Of course, the proper glass is required.”

Each wine, be it Cabernet-Sauvignon, Merlot or Chablis, has a different glass assigned to it. According to Jolliff, the size of the mouth of the glass is very important, as it allows the wine to hit the tongue in different ways.

An ACNielsen report indicated sales of premium-priced, 3-liter boxed wines are increasing faster than any other segment in the industry. Jon Fredrikson, a San Francisco Bay area consultant, told the Associated Press convenience for a fast-paced lifestyle may have something to do with boxed wine’s growth in popularity.

“The advantage of boxed wines is just one of extreme convenience,” said Fredrikson. “Once they’re open, it’s just so easy to draw a nice glass of wine. It’s ideal for working couples, people who are kind of passing in the night.”

Could this be the death of the temperature-controlled wine cellar whose owners treat each bottle like a newborn child?

That’s certainly not yet the case in the United States, but looking at European countries and Australia, you might say the future is now. According to the United Kingdom’s Decanter magazine, Norway’s boxed wine sales now exceed 40 percent of its total wine sales; Sweden is experiencing 22 percent annual growth in boxed wine sales, with 65 percent of all wines sold in the summer packaged in boxes. In Australia, 52 percent of the wine sold is in boxes.

“Cask wines are the hottest trend in Australia and the U.K.,” said Marc Jonna, national wine buyer for Whole Foods Market, with 145 stores in the United States and one in Canada.

While it may be a growing trend in other parts of the country, Okies still seem to like their wines bottled.

“We haven’t had any requests for the casked wines just yet,” said Jolliff. “I suppose mostly because people are slow to change, that and the casked wines are more costly. Customers see boxed wine and expect it to come with the older, lesser-quality wine price. That said, I do see them [casked wines] becoming the latest trend in the industry.”

A customer in Jolliff’s store let her purchases speak for themselves. She had brought several bottles of wine – the kind with corks – to the counter.

When asked if she’d ever purchase a boxed wine, her response was a vehement, “Never.”

Mary’s carries a variety of casked wines, including Black Box, Corbett Canyon, Delicato and Franzia.

“Black Box is probably the most well-known upscale boxed wine,” said Lester. “It’s even had a rating in ‘Wine Spectator,’ which says something. I’m just not completely convinced.”

Teddye Snell writes for the Tahlequah (Okla.) Daily Press.

The Edmond Sun, Edmond, OK - Wine aficionados skeptical about boxed concoction

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Slate's Mike Steinberger On Boxed Wine On the Radio

Today's broadcast of Good Food on KCRW Radio included an interview with Mike Steinberger, wine columnist with Slate. Good Food host Evan Kleinman spoke with Mike about the new world of boxed wines. Recently, Mike wrote in Slate about the boxed wine phenomenon in A Loaf of Bread, a Box of Wine?

The show is about an hour long, and the wine segment is about one-third in. Link here to listen.

Playwright Amy Sedaris surprises us with her wacky, delightfully loose look at entertaining. Barbara Fairchild celebrates nearly 50 years of Bon Appétit. Eddie Lin eats Snakes on a Plate, Jonathan Gold eats up Thai Town and Marcus Samuellson discovers the flavors of Africa. Michele Meyer has spooky new treats from Boule and Mike Steinberger says not to be turned off by box wine.

Hospitality under the Influence; Bon Appetit; Snakes — KCRW | 89.9FM

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The Box Wine Guy Reviews Franzia Chillable Red

Yesterday the Box Wine Guy (the king of box wine in the blogging world) reviewed Franzia Chillable Red. The Box Wine Guy has reviewed some very fine boxed wines, and very seldom slums in this fashion. But, what the heck, he tasted it at an event, and so passes on to us his opinion.

We admit it - we didn’t actually buy this wine. We had an opporunity to taste it at an event, so why not report on it? Franzia Chillable Red has little detectable aroma. Its flavor is a thin-bodied sweet cherry flavor, and the finish is more or less non-existent. This is a wine with few redeeming values. As an alternative to a soft drink, for chugging in a cold state, perhaps it might suffice. It barely deserves the “wine” designation, though. We’d recommend steering clear of this one.

Wines » Franzia Chillable Red

Actually, this is one of those products which the State of Washington is questioning (see Boxed Wine Spot post, 10/23). The Washington State Liquor Control Board is considering enforcing its own rules regarding what can be called wine and what can't. Franzia Chillable Red is one of the Franzia products labled as "Table Wine with Natural Flavors".

If the board sticks to its guns on this issue, it will make regulatory history, because until now, nobody, not even the fearsome federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has ever had the guts to take on the makers of beverages compounded of tap water, flavorings, grain alcohol, and, oh yes, some fermented grape juice, and threaten to deprive them of their God-given right to call the resulting mouthwash "wine."

Sips: Wine vs. 'Wine' (Seattle Weekly)

Gallantly, the Box Wine Guy tasted the "mouthwash", so we don't have to. Don't miss his many excellent reviews of good boxed wines on Box Wines blog.

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More From Canada On LCBO and Boxed Wine

On 10/4 I looked at reporting from the Toronto Star on recycling of Tetra Paks. Now, from London, Ontario, more on the Tetra Pak controversy:

London Free Press

Wine boxes a mixed bag
Sat, October 28, 2006

Now that we've seen boxed wines for a while -- Tetra Paks -- it's time to start evaluating them. My understanding of why box wine was a good idea was that it allowed wineries to sell wine more cheaply, especially in two- and four-litre sizes. In Australia and Scandinavian countries, thousands switched to drinking wine because the box variety became affordable.

The LCBOs introduction of box wines from around the globe has nothing to do with savings. All Tetras are one litre and all cost $12.95. These boxes are about fulfilling corporate aims on the environment. (Those who know more than me about environmental issues say the board is feeding us a lot of B.S.).

So why won't the LCBO let us have big boxes at price savings? Why not ask them? I suspect that offering customers cheap wine might interfere with year-end profits. While they are very public with their commitment to the environment, they are not as public about their commitment to increased profits each year.

But what about the box itself? It's easy to open, but I get that convenience now with a screwcap. I really dislike the wobbly feel of the carton and it tips easily. Also, I miss the cold-to-the-touch feeling with bottles of white wine. I guess I'm not a fan.

Now the good news. Here's a really good red in a box. Most of you are familiar with a pair of great-value Spanish reds from a company called Osborne. Their Tetra, called 'Ducal,' is another delicious wine. It's heartwarming and charming and tastes like a $50 wine at a steak house -- especially if you put it in a decanter.

OSBORNE 2004 Merlot- Tempranillo, Ducal, Spain
LCBO No. 11767 Price:1Lt Tetra $12.95

London Free Press - Food - Wine boxes a mixed bag

It appears that many in Canada believe the LCBO is pulling the wool over their eyes regarding Tetra Paks, the environment, and the real reasons for the LCBO pushing Tetras.

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Wine Tap Adapters -- Say What???

On Yahoo! Auctions right now:

Lot of 5 New Wine Tap Adapters For Boxed Wine

1997 date on packaging. $4.99 price stickers on packaging. Sold as-is as they may have modified boxed wine spots / valves in last 8 years?

Yahoo! Auctions - Lot of 5 New Wine Tap Adapters For Boxed Wine auction in New condition

Lot of 5 New Wine Tap Adapters For Boxed WineImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.usImage Hosted by ImageShack.us

I've never seen such a thing before. If there is a "museum of boxed wine" anywhere, this belongs in it. I myself have never had a problem with "sore thumbs" or "broken nails".

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On Being Boxed Wine

Halloween is coming up, and in case anyone needs costume inspiration, I offer this collection of photos, from the website Box Of Wine - A Cultural Icon. (More on that later).

I think I'll just dress up as a grape. I'd rather be round than square (easier to sit down).

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Hippo Press Is Drinking Out Of the Box

This article from Tim Protzman appeared in the Manchester, NH, Hippo Press in May 2005. Tim seems to be an interesting mix of jaded palate and open mind. I like concept of the "wine rookies" tasting squad.

Which wines got the "thumbs-up"? Corbet Canyon Pinot Grigio, Almaden Mountain Chablis, Peter Vella Delicious Red, Delicato Chardonnay, Franzia White Grenache, Black Box Merlot, and(the favorite) Carmenet Cabernet Sauvigon 2001.

Drinking out of the box

By Tim Protzman

Boxed wines deserve a little love, respect and tasting

Boxed wine is like Rodney Dangerfield; it gets no respect. Maybe if they had a prize inside like Cracker Jacks it would sell more — fake Rolex or the new Nine Inch Nail’s CD would be nice. But for now, boxed wine is not taken seriously. Even buying it was a hassle. I got yelled at. Twice. Was it worth it? Would I do it again? That depends on the Wine Rookies.

The Wine Rookies are a group of 23- to 49-year-old guinea pigs I use to taste-test wine. My palate is too jaded. I discourse for hours on the merits and failures of any wine. And I’ve never met I wine I didn’t like. But, like on American Bandstand, I never give a wine a perfect “100.” So I use the Wine Rookies to present a more objective analysis.

I found out long ago that most people have a perfect pitch when it comes to wine. A beer-drinking friend would uncannily point out the most expensive, best and worst of any blind tasting. My son’s 20-something colleagues, all of whom spend more time at Starbucks than the 19th hole, correctly dissected three Chiantis, easily identifying the Rufina and Classico as tastier. There are no tricks; they don’t see the bottle and it wouldn’t matter if they did. Labels are meaningless to them. All it requires is an openness toward wine. If you don’t like wine, there’s no difference between a 1959 Chateau Latour and a bottle of Night Train Express. The only two wines everybody in the world likes are: Pommery Brut Rose Champagne — mostly chardonnay, with a little pinot noir and a touch of petite meunier. $65. And Sangria.

Fortunately, Almaden makes a Sangria in a box. And, yes, I’d buy it again. And a lot of the other boxed wine too.

The best sangria I ever had, I made myself. A bottle of red wine, a merlot or tempranillo, a half cup of fresh squeezed orange juice, a half cup of grapefruit juice and three-quarters of a cup of brandy. Blend in a punch bowl or pitcher, add lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit wedges and refrigerate.

While the Almaden White and Red Sangrias weren’t as good as homemade, they were refreshing and crisp. That crispness comes from the packaging. The three or four bottles worth of wine are vacuum sealed in a Mylar pouch. There’s no air, no oxidation until the wine hits the glass. The breakthrough is that leftover wine stays fresh for months because there’s no air inside the pouch. But does Mylar affect flavor and aging? Probably a little, but not enough for most people to notice. Will boxed wine replace bottles? Probably not, especially for the more expensive fine wines, even though some will box their second labels. We’re more likely to see a fine burgundy with a screw cap than in a box.

Shopping for boxed wine turned nasty. One of the Wine Rookies dropped a 40-ounce bottle of Steel Reserve (a high-gravity lager with 8.1 percent alcohol, and an American finish of yeast and lemons with a bitter after note from the alcohol) and the owner threw us out. We had no better luck at the second store. The manager was mad I took a paper bottle bag off the counter without asking. Would I have had to go through the abuse if I’d been in the California Cabernet Section?

Like I said boxed wine gets no respect. But, boy, does it deserve it. I like the easy-to-pour spout. I like the freshness. I like the fact you get three or four bottles’ worth for about double the price of a single 750-milliliter glass bottle. And I like the casual picnic-time atmosphere the box exudes. The only thing I didn’t like was the Corbett Canyon Mango Blush $9.99 for a three-liter box. The wine was nice, but the only way I like mangoes are in salsa. The Rookies thought it was a more grown-up alternative to wine coolers because it was still and not sparkling. Carbonated beverages put the alcohol in your bloodstream faster than those without the carbon dioxide, something to remember if you’re drinking beer, champagne or a mixed cocktail. So if you’ve been thinking about boxed wine, but haven’t tried it here’s our list of wines that deserve respect, box and all. Most producers have a complete line of the standard varietals and some interesting non-traditional blends.

Corbett Canyon Pinot Grigio, $9.99 for four liters — Zesty lemon with a touch of watercress.

Almaden Mountain Chablis, $8.99 — One of the first wines I ever drank. The Rookies were so-so on it but it presented iced tea-with-lemon flavors with a bit of tannic finish.

Peter Vella Delicious Red, $9.99 for five liters — I swear every kind of California grape is in this wine. While not quite delicious, it was good in a rustic way and had the food-matching habits of a good Sangiovese.

Delicato Chardonnay, $10.99 — Just a tad too oaky but very layered. Presented burnt sugar, lemon custard and duck sauce flavor notes. Rookies split down the middle on this one; loved or hated 50-50.

Franzia White Grenache, $9.99 five liters — Franzia’s the Microsoft of Boxed Wines. Loved the White Grenache with its cherry and roasted beet flavors. Try the Sunset Blush, too.

Black Box Winery Merlot, $17.99 for three liters — The Prada of Boxed Wine. The merlot soft and mellow with plum and cranberry.

Carmenet Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, $15.99 for three liters — My favorite. Soft inky floral bouquet, nice tannins, pleasant finish. Only flaw was an out-of-place sweetness.

Franzia also makes decent Sangria but it’s not like homemade.

HippoPress -- The Hippo -- Guide to Manchester NH

I myself am just not sure about the "Delicious Red". I think I had it at a picnic once, and it speaks to me of "crushing hangover". But perhaps I should try again and keep an open mind. Often the 5L boxes are OK, if a little thin. Too bad the Carmenet, Tim's favorite, is no longer available. I was lucky enough to discover it before it disappeared from the shelves, and enjoyed it very much.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Dr. Vino Says Put Spain In a Box

I do love Dr. Vino's wine blog. I just wish I could take one of Dr. Vino's (Tyler Colman) classes at NYU. Alas, I am at the end of the highway in a coastal backwater, with no such educational opportunities nearby.

A month ago I bookmarked Dr. Vino's post, An Open Letter to Jorge:

Dear Jorge Ordonez, importer of wine from Spain,

Bring us a good bag-in-a-box.

Robert Parker may have just sung your praises in his most recent newsletter. He may have lauded some of your top wines such as El Nido with 97 points.

But you also have many great value wines ranging from Tres Picos, to Naia, to Juan Gil. Borsao is great juice for $6 a bottle. You need to put it--or something like it--in a bag in a box. There's certainly no lack of old vine grenache in Spain that rolls in at value pricing. Tap that wine glut.

Dr. Vino's wine blog: September 2006

The letter goes on to point out that boxed wine is the fastest growing segment of the business, and that box wine has great advantages for restaurants.

Dr. Vino knows there is good wine in boxes, and he knows there could and should be more of it. Lots of good stuff on his most excellent wine blog; Dr. Vino should be on every wine lover's must-read list.

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Let Taste Be the Judge

Jo and Tom Chesworth, both American Wine Society certified wine judges, have some good comments about boxed wines on the website of the Centre Daily Times (Central Pennsylvania).

Taste the bargains with boxed wines

If you ask most any wine enthusiast about box wine, he will say it isn't very good. And for what it's worth, that is usually true.

But, if you sneak box wine into a blind tasting -- one where the judges have no idea about the wine except what they can see and taste in the glass -- you often get surprising results. The box wine may be rated one of the best, and from time to time, it even walks off with the best of show award. What's going on here?

First, in our opinion, the best wine is the one that tastes best. You cannot tell the best wine by which grapes were used to make it. Nor can you tell by which country, nor climate, nor style, and you certainly can't tell by the price.

Granted, if you haven't tasted the wine, you can guess which ones are likely to taste good by these parameters, but they are indicators not determinants. To investigate the properties of box wine we must talk about both of its characteristics -- the box and the wine. They are independent.

The box is cardboard and it never comes into contact with the wine. It is a container to hold a plastic bag that is filled with wine. Millennia before glass bottles were invented wine was stored in bags -- bladders made from sheep stomachs or wine "skins."

Christ advised his apostles to not put new wine in old skins. Of course, Christ was not talking about wine, but the fact that he used this allegory indicates that the listeners were familiar with wine in bags.

As the bag empties, atmospheric pressure causes it to shrivel so that there is no air space -- air does not percolate back into the bag to fill a void left by the wine that was removed. Because there is no ullage, or air space, there is no oxygen to spoil the wine and no vinegar spores either.

The wine in the opened container will last unspoiled for 45 days. Keep it in the refrigerator. The low temperature will not hurt the taste and you can pour it 10 minutes before you drink it and have it be at the "right" temperature.

Does the plastic taint the wine? We think not. We look around the grocery store and see lettuce, sausage, cheese, milk and even spring water in plastic containers. If plastic did cause the wine to taste funny, the funny taste would show up in the spring water. If you go to Paris or Marseilles, you may be surprised to find liter plastic bottles of wine in the grocery stores.

The wine put into boxes generally is not the best quality, although some very good wine is beginning to show up in these containers. For instance, Cabernet Sauvignon, both red and white merlot, Chardonnay and "chillable red" among others are $12 to $17 for 5 liters or the equivalent of $2 for a 750-mililiter bottle -- Two Buck Chuck. Many of these wines are from California's central valley and are boxed by Franzia and Almaden among others.

There are also some more expensive wines available in boxes. Try Hardy's merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and, of course, Shiraz, because Hardy's is in southeast Australia at $16 for a 3-liter box. Corbett Canyon, Black Box, Vella and La Tresor from California offer comparable box wines. We tasted a 2003 Block Wine Cabernet Sauvignon costing $12 for 1.5 liters. We found the wine intensely tannic (but that is a style -- one that we don't like, by the way) with a hint of fruit in the background. As promised, the small cubic box fit on the shelf in our refrigerator door.

A 3-liter Delicato Bota Box that sells for $17.99 and offers a choice of Merlot, Pinot Grigio, Shiraz or Chardonnay has won "best buy" awards for five consecutive years, 2001 through 2005, from Wine Enthusiast magazine. At the equivalent of $4.50 per 750 mililiters, these "award-winning premium quality California wines" are indeed a bargain.

Because there is no glass to break and because the wine is inexpensive, the vintners tout their boxed wines as being ideal for block parties, wedding receptions, picnics, camping or the beach. A neighbor tells us that they are great with meals at his hunting camp.

Hunting camp?

Jo and Tom Chesworth are both AWS-certified wine judges and can be found in the winecellar@7ms.com.

Centre Daily Times | 10/15/2006 | Taste the bargains with boxed wines

Right on, Jo and Tom!! It's very cool that the real experts are more open to the box. But I guess I should not be surprised that the trained nose and palate is able to judge objectively and set preconceptions aside.

Monday, October 23, 2006

State of Washington Asks: Is There Wine In That Box, or Is It "Wine"?

This situation has been brewing in Washington State for a couple of months. Looks like push may finally come to shove.

From Seattle Weekly, October 18.

Wine vs. 'Wine'

New to the job, and the governor's got you confronting a wine industry heavyweight. What's a Liquor Board president to do?

By Roger Downey

What a way to start a new job. No sooner than he was promoted to the post of supervising producers and wholesalers for the state Liquor Control Board, Jay Field got stuck last Wednesday with calling up one of the country's biggest and most powerful winemakers to ask if said winemaker was mislabeling its products.

So what kind of answer did he get from the Wine Group, manufacturers of the Franzia line of inexpensive boxed "table wine with natural flavors"? No surprise there; according to the liquor board's new PR person, Susan Reams, "We can't say anything about that because now we've talked to them, it's a regulatory matter under consideration, and we can't comment on regulatory matters under consideration."

Right. Still, the very fact that the state agency charged with protecting the consumer has actually initiated an investigation of misleading or deceptive marketing is, to use Reams' own word, "unique." Concerned consumers and wine-industry insiders alike have long complained that the Wine Group's Franzia products are not "wine" under the statutes and regulations of the state of Washington.

Reams says that the liquor board's investigation was set in motion by "a citizen complaint." It's questionable how much impact this complaint would have had if the board hadn't heard simultaneously from the director of the Washington Wine Institute, the staff counsel of Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles' powerful Labor, Commerce, Research & Development Committee, and the office of Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Why should it be so difficult to persuade a state agency to enforce its own rules about what can be called wine and what can't? One reason may be that "table wine with natural flavors" is a cash cow for the state's monopoly liquor stores: Four out of five of their top-selling wine-related products are sold under the Franzia label.

If the board sticks to its guns on this issue, it will make regulatory history, because until now, nobody, not even the fearsome federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, has ever had the guts to take on the makers of beverages compounded of tap water, flavorings, grain alcohol, and, oh yes, some fermented grape juice, and threaten to deprive them of their God-given right to call the resulting mouthwash "wine."

A fair number of Washington winemakers are applauding (though not yet on the record) the accelerating campaign to restrict use of the plain word "wine" to beverages made from "the fermented juice of grapes"—period. Synthetic "wine" isn't a significant percentage of Washington production—yet. If the WSLCB does its job, it may never have to be.

Sips: Wine vs. 'Wine' (Seattle Weekly)

I have looked at the Franzia box labeling, and I believe a large segment of their product line is actually wine, and not "wine". The products in question are, I believe, those labeled as "table wine with natural flavors. I find the Franzia so-called "table wine" to be perfectly vile stuff, myself. It will be very interesting to watch this play out.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

There Once Was a Cask Wine from Oz ...

This is good for a chuckle. From www.oedilf.com (The Omnificent English Dictionary In Limerick Form), a"definition" of cask wine (and chateau cardboard, to boot) in the form of a limerick:

"Chateau Cardboard?" he whiningly asks,
As he indicates one or two casks.
"Cab Sav? Or the white?
Try the red, it's orright.
What the booze lacks, the plastic taste masks."

(cab SAV): Oz shorthand for Cabernet Sauvignon.

The cardboard wine cask with its internal bladder was invented in Australia, as was its nickname Chateau Cardboard.


Of course, we now know that blind tasting has actually proven the "plastic taste" to be a figment of the imagination in the minds of anti-box snobs.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Modern Pinnacle of Wine Packaging?

I loved this article in UnFiltered, the newsletter from The Wine Source, in Baltimore. I am fond of pointing out that marketing of wine in glass bottles is not a very old concept, less than 150 years according to this article. I suspect that the glass bottle brought wine into the homes of the common people. There are several reviews at the end, a number of nice wines in boxes, from acceptable to fastastic. Black Box 2005 Pinot Grigio got a raving thumbs-up! Repeat after me…the quality of the wine is not determined by the container it’s stored in.


Tetra. Aluminum. Plastic. Glass.

All these new fangled materials are being used to store wines these days. No wonder the marketplace is confused.

And yes, glass is a new fangled product, at least in the history of wine. How new? Well, historical credit for the invention of glass blowing goes to the Romans, although glass was essentially a luxury item for centuries. The oldest wine bottle ever found has been dated to 321 A.D. But it wasn’t until 1821 that an English company patented a machine to mold bottles that were uniform in size and shape. Selling wine already bottled, however, was illegal in England until 1860, due to both the political influence of pub owners and the lack of both labeling standards and means of authenticating the fill volume. Relatively heavy and long lasting, glass has provided two distinct advantages for wine packaging; its chemically inert, preventing contamination; and impervious to oxygen, preventing spoilage.

So, glass is the ideal product to package wine in, right?

Well, uhm, no, not really. Since the primary purpose of any wine container is to transport, preserve and dispense, the modern pinnacle of wine packaging is, without question, the bag-in-a-box. It is lightweight, prevents oxidation of the contents over a reasonably long period of time, even when only partially full, and requires only a pinch to pour. No tools necessary. So, what’s the problem?


All right, maybe not image entirely. For collectors, one drawback is that the bag-in-box is probably not conducive to cellaring. I’m not really sure how a wine will age and mature in a poly-bag. I admit that this contention is purely speculative, and I am therefore curious about any research regarding the phenomenon. But for the rest of us, those that don’t plan on aging wines at all, it’s all about the image.

Or in other words, what would the neighbor’s think?

For many, wine choices are about image as much as price and taste. We all learned long ago that good wine was closed with a cork, not with a screw top or bottle cap. (Wrong about THAT, weren’t we!). Likewise, we learned that the stuff in boxes that our in-laws drank was swill. Guess what? Wrong about that as well.

Repeat after me…the quality of the wine is not determined by the container it’s stored in.

You want proof? Remember Charles Shaw wines, the famous Two-Buck-Chuck? That wine was produced by a guy named Fred Franzia. His family used to own Franzia. Fred, who’s a very bright guy, realized that many of us are trapped by our own wine stereotypes and he could make more money putting bag-in-box quality wine in bottle than by jumping back into the crowded bag-in-box market. The result? Charles Shaw wines were a huge success, purchased and applauded by those same snobs that wouldn’t touch bag- in-box wines! Fred laughed all the way to the bank (not that he needed the cash.)

Since then, the wine press is fond of talking about the revolution in boxed wines. As usual, their hyperbole doesn’t match the facts. Bag-in-box wines are a staple in Europe and Australia, as well as other places where wine choices are less status driven. The American wine industry is getting into the game because if they don’t, then French, Italian, Spanish and Australian bag-in-box wines will dominate the marketplace. Its not revolution, its economics.

But are today’s bag-in-box wines better than Fred Franzia’s parents’ wines? Well, sure, but so are most wines. There are more and better wines available on the market than at anytime in history. And its not because of Robert Parker or any other critic, either. Technology, both in the vineyard and cellar, has vastly improved winemaking and the tread towards planting in temperate climates has greatly improved vintage conditions. Oh, yeah, and containerized shipping has lowered the costs of shipping everywhere, and cheap (and unregulated) airfare has allowed the masses to travel more readily, and the Internet is making the spread of information easier and anyway, its always been true that…

…the quality of the wine is not determined by the container it’s stored in. Repeat after me.
2005 Oz Chardonnay South Eastern Australia TWS price $16.99 (4 liter) What to say (nicely!) about Aussie Chardonnay in a box…? Well, I’ve had worse Chardonnay from California for a lot more money in a bottle. No, no, scratch that! OK, OK…this is a typically ripe and juicy Chardonnay. It's got all that stuff that makes Chardonnay the most popular white wine in the USA; vanilla and caramel flavors, some creamy, buttery tones laying atop ripe pear and apples, limited acidity. The fact that it's in a box is frankly meaningless, you either will like this style of Chardonnay (and a lot of you do!) or you don’t. Me, I’m an acid- head, I like high acid Chardonnay from cool vintages, like 2004 Chablis…which is nothing at all like this wine. But, hey, it’s really not about me at all. I wanna know what you think! Well? (PW)
2005 Hugues Bealieu Petit Frog Picpoul de Pinet Languedoc, Southern France Regular price $24.99 TWS price $19.99 (3 liter) Little needs to be said about the quality of this perennially popular crisp white from the Languedoc Cooperative Hugues Bealieu. What is of note is their forward decision to package their irresistibly quaffable Picpoul in an affordable three-liter size box. This is a great box to have stocked in the fridge when your oh-so thirsty and oh-so wine- savvy neighbors stop by unexpectedly. Just tell them it’s a great little wine you discovered on your recent trip to the south of France. The truth is overrated anyway. (IAS)
2005 Black Box Pinot Grigio California TWS price $16.99 (3 liter) Black Box was one of the first successful producers of vintage dated box wine from California designed for retail shelves. They have struck pay dirt once again with their newly released remarkably vibrant 2005 Pinot Grigio. The rather translucent color belies a subtle creamy richness and varietally characteristic mineral note. Try this delicious wine next to a host of insipid mass-produced Italian Pinot Grigio and you’ll be shocked by the cleanliness and verve of this spectacular value. (IAS)
2005 Delicato Shiraz Central Coast, California TWS price $17.99 (3 liter) I have a grudge against Delicato, the really, really huge Central Coast producer that makes this wine. First of all, they call this wine Shiraz. I think that’s basically dishonest. I believe that they’re trying to confuse the market and make the consumer think that this wine comes from Australia. Well, it doesn’t. It comes from California, and in California the grape is called Syrah. I also don’t much like that they call their packaging a ‘bota’ box. Bota box? A bota is leather or animal skin bag that Iberian shepherds use to squirt wine into their mouths. Don’t try that with this product! Those annoying issues notwithstanding, this is very good wine. And, let me tell you, I hate having to admit that. I truly wish this wine sucked so I could let my bias against the stuff on the outside of the box win. Instead, I’m forced to admit that if you’re looking for Syrah from California, then you could do much, much worse than this wine. (PW)
2004 Castelmaure Corbières Corbières, France Regular price $35.99 TWS price $29.99 (5 liter) Of all our bag-in-box wines, this one might be the most un-exciting. Not because of the quality of the wine, mind you. The wine itself is fine, it's good; it's mostly Grenache from the beautiful Mediterranean facing vineyards of Corbières at the edge of the Pyrennes. It’s fresh, ripe (but not too ripe!) with nice herbal touches and a dash of black pepper. It’s un-exciting because the French have been making wines just like this and putting them into poly bags for twenty years or so. So what’s the big deal? It’s a very good value wine from the south of France. It just happens to be in a box, so it’s cheaper and lasts longer than most. Nothing exciting about that. (PW)
2005 Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles, California TWS price $16.99 (3 liter) Lets get one thing clear: it is hot in Paso Robles. The not just hot but dry climate produces Cabernet Sauvignons possessing intense fruit as well as a dusty, dry quality. While the 2004 Black Box Paso Robles Cab contains those qualities it also boasts a softness not often found in wines from this area. Try this delicious red with steak off the grill or pan fried Portabellas. Oh, and it comes in a convenient three liter box, so you can have it at your BBQ and also with the leftovers the rest of the week. (IAS)

winemail issue 17, August 23.p65

Again, repeat after me…the quality of the wine is not determined by the container it’s stored in.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Can't We Have a Wine Tasting Wall?

I was completely amazed at the boxed wine sampling wall in Germany. It's a great concept! You certainly couldn't do that with bottles; they wouldn't keep! Is there any reason this could not be done in the US? Wine stores are allowed to have wine tastings, aren't they? I fear it the problem would be laws having to do with customers pouring their own, and it would require a full time employee to pour the customers' little thimbles-full.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Boxed Wine Daytripping in Germany

Wow, look at this photo! It's the boxed wine tasting wall! This picture was posted on the Rhinocerus 1515 blog. Todd writes:
Here you see Dave taste-testing wine from a wall of wine boxes. We stopped at two stores (one big, one humongous) that cater to the Danish daytrippers. They can purchase apparently nearly unlimited amounts of alcohol at cheaper German prices and then load up their vehicles and drive back to Denmark with it. Although boxed wine is pretty taboo elsewhere in Germany, Dave and I now know the exact store that must sell more than anywhere else in the country! They had hundreds of types from dozens of lands -- all in handy cardboard boxes with convenient carrying handles. Who would fuss with breakable glass and moldy corks again? :-)

Rhinocerus 1515

Now why can't I find the boxed wine superstore in the US?

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Steve's Wine Challenge - A Boxed Wine Video Review

At Steve's $10 Wine Challenge the blog description says "Steve's just an average Joe looking for a bottle of decent wine for the price of a six pack". I loved his video about boxed wine. Click below to see it.

Steve's investigates the box wine revolution in this episode (also available in audio only). Italian Merlot Casarsa is reviewed along with King Fish Shiraz and a passing mention of Franzia Boxed Merlot.

Steve's Ten Dollar Wine Challenge: Challenge 7: Box Wine - part 1 of 2 (Video Version)

The Californians beat the Italians in that showdown! (Rah, rah, for the New World). But Steve, don't pour it down the sink! Can't you at least cook with it? I think Steve should try those aeration tips I found last month, especially, pouring with a long drop into the glass. I wonder how much the Casarsa might have benefited from some aggressive aeration. Thanks Steve, I hope you do more of these.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

SF Chronicle Reviews Boxed Chardonnays

The San Francisco Chronicle has for years published great boxed wine reviews. I have been looking back over them, and I think I will revisit them one by one.

In the most recent, Volvo' Vino: Boxy, but good (on March 16, 2006), W. Blake Gray tasted thirty Chards in the bargain price bracket, and found ten 2004 and 2005 Chards worthy of comment. Three of the ten were in boxes. Which boxes got the thumbs-up?
  • 2005 Banrock Station SE Australia Chard (his second favorite of the ten).
  • 2004 Black Box Monterey Co. Chard.
  • 2004 Black Box Napa Valley Chard.

'Volvo' vino: Boxy, but good

Many great things come in boxes. Jack, for instance. Crayons. Chocolates. And of course, wine.

Now, don't shrink back like Pandora -- hear me out.

Boxes are popular in Europe and Australia for wines in the Bargain Wine price range because the format makes a lot of sense.

The three boxes o' wine I'm recommending this week are all in the bag-in-box style. The wine is contained in an airtight plastic bag that compresses each time you push on the spigot to draw a glass. This means that unlike with a bottle, the wine is not exposed to air, so it stays fresh much longer.
A former colleague claimed these types of box wines, once opened, would maintain their quality for a month in a refrigerator. I wish I could tell you I confirmed that claim, but wine doesn't last that long around my house.

Moreover, boxed wines have some financial advantages over bottles of wine. Boxes are cheaper and lighter than bottles, and easier to pack for shipping. When packaging costs less, wineries can spend more on the juice inside and still compete on price.

In fact, because the 3-liter boxes listed here contain the equivalent of four standard 750-ml bottles, it's not really competition -- not very often do I taste wines this good for under $5 a bottle, or $6 for Napa Valley Chardonnay.

Boxed wines have had slow acceptance in the U.S. market, mainly because of public perception that they're somehow lacking in class. Hey folks, Bargain Wine is Bargain Wine. We're not talking about single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons that you want to age in your cellar for 10 years; we're talking about enjoyable everyday vino to go with dinner. Is Two Buck Chuck your entry into the exclusive Skull and Bones society (George "the other W." Bush and John Kerry are both members) just because it comes in glass?

You can buy Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in a box these days, but the varietal that makes the most sense of all is Chardonnay. Chardonnay is still America's favorite wine in U.S. food stores by a large margin, according to ACNielsen; it sells almost as much as numbers two and three, Merlot and White Zinfandel, combined.

The biggest drawback for wine in a box is that, unless you take it to a party, you have to be content with drinking the same wine every day until you drain it. That's another reason Chardonnay makes sense: I know from my e-mails that many Chardonnay drinkers are loyal to the grape.

After my rant, you might think the boxed wines on this week's list are there just because I have a rectangular fetish. Not true -- I tasted 30 Chardonnays in the bargain price range, and the 2005 Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($18 for 3-liter box) was my second favorite overall, even before considering a per-bottle price less than half of most of the bottled wines. It's nicely balanced between lemon tartness and vanilla smoothness, making it both interesting to sip alone and complementary with herbed roast chicken.

So what's my favorite? At the risk of sounding too 20th-century, it's a wine in a bottle: the 2004 Reynolds Vineyards South Australia Chardonnay ($9). The initial flavors are of vanilla and butter; lemon takes over midpalate and lingers on the medium-long finish.

The 2004 Grayson Cellars Monterey Chardonnay ($10) is unique on this list because it offers a hint of mineral, along with tart initial lemon-lime flavor and vanilla on the midpalate. Good complexity and a medium-long finish for $10 are wonderful things.

The 2004 Meridian Santa Barbara County Chardonnay ($10) has more lime character than any other wine on this list, balanced with vanilla and butter on a medium-long finish. If it came in a box, it would be easy to drink day after day.

The two Black Box Wines on this list are very different, more because of winemaking style than the provenance of the grapes. The 2004 Black Box Wines Monterey County Chardonnay ($20 for 3-liter box) smells oaky, of vanilla and butter, but there's plenty of lemon fruit on the palate along with some butter and a little vanilla.

The 2004 Black Box Wines Napa Valley Chardonnay ($24 for 3-liter box) is for fans of oaky Chardonnays, with vanilla and butter aromas and flavors dominant. Skull and Bones would probably let you in with it: the box design is so stylish that I've had one on my desk for a year, and I'll bet those ex-Yale University rulers of the universe like their Chardonnays oaky.

If you like in-your-face flavors, pick up the 2004 Smashed Grapes California Chardonnay ($10), which cranks up the vibrancy of its lemon and vanilla taste until it's almost an extreme wine.

The large Australian producer Hardys makes Chardonnay for the U.S. market in both a box and a bottle; despite my box-worship, I have to report that the bottled version is better. The 2005 Hardys Nottage Hill South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($9) is simple but decent, with flavors of lemon and vanilla and a medium-length finish.

The 2004 McManis Family Vineyards River Junction Chardonnay ($10) from a perennially good budget producer delivers rich aromas and flavors of ripe banana and vanilla with a hint of yellow plum.

It's hard to take a wine named 3 blind moose seriously -- weren't those the guys umpiring the U.S.-Japan baseball game earlier this week? -- but the 2004 3 blind moose California Chardonnay ($10) delivers flavors and aromas of lemon, cilantro, vanilla and white pepper. If you expect a "critter wine" to be straightforward and slightly sweet, these moose will surprise you with their sophistication. If only it came in a box.

'Volvo' vino: Boxy, but good

Thanks W. Blake Gray, and the SF Chronicle for pointing out that drinking "everyday vino" is not defacto declasse. Now drinking "everyday vino" on your wedding anniversary might be declasse (unless you're celebrating your wedding anniversary on the beach or at a backyard BBQ).

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Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Tote Bag For Boxed Wine

Here's another photo of the Twisted Tea at the pig pickin' last weekend. We took the bag out of the cardboard and hung it in a tote bag designed for the purpose. It's called a Tapsack, sold at Fairtradewind. Really handy for outdoors. We had tables, but needed to free up all the table surface for the piles of food. And in this bag, we could drop it into the cooler full of melting ice - got it nice and icy cold without soggy cardboard.

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Have Boxed Wine, Will Travel

I came across a great post on the Cruise Talk Central blog called Fine Wine, Alternative Packaging about taking wine on cruise ships. I didn't even know that cruise lines allowed passengers to bring wine to keep and consume in their cabins. Boxed wine is great for travel.

Screwcap Bottle or Box of Fine Wine

Thinking of bringing wine on board for consumption in your room? Some vintners of fine wine are now selling their quality wine with a screw cap. Others are offering fine wine in alternative packaging. For in room consumption you can’t beat the convenience, and the wine makers insist that you are getting the same or better quality wine as you would in a corked bottle.

OK, this wine lover needed some convincing! A fine wine with a screw cap instead of a cork? A quality wine in a box? I have been a wine lover for almost 15 years, starting when I first started dating my husband and he introduced me into his favorite wine at the time, Graves. Since that time my husband and I attended numerous different wine tasting classes and parties and have enjoyed wines from all around the world. We consider ourselves wine lovers, not wine snobs, and have always been willing to try just about any wine or style. During our trips to Germany, Austria, and France we simply enjoy the local wines. When in Italy we love to go to an Enotech or wine bar and try their wonderful variety of Italian wines at different price ranges. However, we have always had one rule: It has to have a cork.

The Screw Cap

Over the last few years I’ve been reading about fine winemakers starting to use screw caps. Wine makers have three choices for sealing off their bottles of wine: natural cork make from tree bark, synthetic cork, or a screw cap. Each of these choices have their own draw backs and advantages. Could it possibly be true that a maker of a fine wine would choose the screw cap over a cork, and why on earth would they do this?

This week we attended a wine tasting event featuring wines from around the world. Many of the wine makers were present and provided us with a wealth of information about their wines. I talked with Mat Garretson, of Garretson Wine Company, Garretsons Wines, who has recently made a switch to a screw cap from a cork. He was able to answer all my concerns about the “Screw Cap” issue. He explained to me that he has done extensive research, visiting many wineries in Australia that have been using the screw cap for years. His dislike for cork stems from the fact that because cork is an organic product its quality and performance is inconsistent. Garretson says he looses 10% of his production to failed cork. Frustrated with this loss of product, he set out to find a better solution. He decided on the screw cap because of its consistent quality. He also said that he has not had to change or adjust his wine making methods in any way to accommodate the screw cap instead of a cork. He feels that the only drawback of the screw cap is that it a less elegant than the cork, but feels that consistent quality more than make up for this. For more information on Mat’s move to the screw cap you can visit Garretsons Wines.

Quality Boxed Wine

Black Box has pioneered the release of quality wine in bag-in-box package. This is not the box of “Burgundy” or “Chablis”, which is basically just inexpensive jug wine packaged in the more convenient bag-in-box. Black Box’s website says “Forget the old stereotype - quality boxed wine is finally here! You can now enjoy excellent tasting wine in our 3-liter box for about half the price you would pay for a bottled wine of the same quality. “ Vintner Ryan Sproule says that while visiting Europe he found many quality wines packaged in the cost saving and freshness preserving bag-in-box. When he found that no winemakers in America were putting higher quality wines in this packaging, he founded Black Box Wine. He now offers a variety of wine including two different California Chardonay’s, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Australian Borrosa Valley Shiraz. To find out more about Black Box wines visit BlackBox Wines.

So for your next cruise you may want to bring along one of these fine wines in the easier to open packaging. Be sure to check your cruise line’s alcohol policy. Most lines will allow you to bring wine onboard for in room consumption, some ask you not to do this, but do not enforce the policy, others will confiscate all alcohol from you luggage and return it to you at the end of the cruise. You may want to ask previous passengers on how the alcohol policy is enforced. Also, many lines allow you bring your own wine to the dining room for a corkage fee. I guess if you bring a screw cap bottle of wine it might be considered a “Screwage” fee?

Cruise Talk Central » Fine Wine, Alternative Packaging

Boxed wine would be even easier to pack on a cruise if the box was left behind - much easier to get it into the luggage. There's a bag available for carrying the wine bag without the box at www.fairtradwind.com.

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