Thursday, November 09, 2006

Twelve Boxed Wine Favorites

Three food writers, and over 40 boxes of wine. Eating Well has recently been "Thinking Inside the Box". Sounds like fun!

In the not-too-distant past, box and screwtop wines held roughly the same ranking in the wine pantheon as barely drinkable jug brands—the perfect choice for college kids. Screwtops have already made the leap to respectability—plenty of high-end vintners have forgone natural cork in favor of screwtops that assure predictable quality. But is box wine really ready to undergo a similar Cinderella transformation? The answer is unequivocally “yes”—and the revolution has already begun.

Thinking Inside the Box - Eating Well

So what were those 12 favorites? Six Chardonnays (ho hum) and six reds, mostly Cab and Merlot.

The Bottom Line

We tasted over 40 wines in several tasting sessions and have selected our Top 12 favorites from the group. All our picks in the white category were Chardonnays, which was primarily a function of availablility; of the 17 whites we found, five were blends, two were Pinot Grigios and the rest were Chardonnays. There were more varietals available in the red category. While we are not ready to give up bottled wines, there are some eye-opening discoveries to be made in boxes. The joy of uncorking a nice bottle of wine is deeply ingrained in many of us, but the days of judging a wine by its cap or container are clearly numbered.

Top Whites

Delicato, Chardonnay (California) 2004 $16 This rich Chardonnay is full of tart apples and pineapple mellowed in young wood with a hint of vanilla.

Carmenet, Chardonnay (California) 2004 $17 Tropical fruit, bananas, vanilla and a bit of oak burst from this golden-colored wine. Light bitter and sour tastes balance out the big Chardonnay flavors.

Stonehaven, Chardonnay (Australia) NV $17 Butter-yellow-colored wine, with soft oak and warm Golden Delicious apple scents. This smooth wine is medium-bodied with just a hint of acidity for balance.

Hardy’s, Chardonnay (Australia) 2005 $18 Straw-colored with a heady aroma of gardenia, melon and fig, this full-bodied and syrupy wine bursts from its box to fill the glass with heavy tropical fruit flavors of pineapple and mango. A rather hot finish.

Black Box Wines, Chardonnay (California) 2004 $22 Pale color and a rather delicate aroma characterize this crisp, clean Chardonnay with just a subtle suggestion of oak. It has a sweetscent of honeysuckle and sun-warmed fruit with nicely balanced splashes of golden apple and pear.

DTOUR, Chardonnay (France) 2004 $37 We tried to stick with wines available nationwide but this one was so good we had to break the rules; it’s only in New Jersey, New York and Maryland stores to date, but distribution will be expanded across the U.S. in the next year. This light, crisp wine has green apple, mild vanilla and light yeasty flavors.

Top Reds

Delicato, Merlot (California) 2004 $16 Redolent with berry and dark plum, this deep-colored wine smells like a bowl of fruit, rounded out with light oaky notes.

Carmenet, Merlot (California) 2002 $17 The rich garnet color foreshadows its deep fruit tones of raisin, black cherry and blackberry with hints of roasted coffee, clove and cedar. Fruit and spice play off one another so surprisingly well, you’ll want to pour another glass.

Voyage by Origin, Cabernet Sauvignon (California) 2004 $20 Dry, but not dry enough to strip your mouth, this sophisticated wine has bright black-cherry flavors and a whiff of sea air.

Washington Hills, Rainier Red (Washington) NV $20 A red blend full of flavorful fruit balanced by powerful tannins and just the lightest hint of sweetness on the tip of the tongue.

Black Box Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon (California) 2003 $22 A robust-colored red with tastes of cherries and a touch of smokiness. This full-bodied wine has a pleasant lingering finish.

Black Box Wines, Merlot (California) 2003 $22 Bakery-aroma wine that entices you to enjoy it with crusty pizza or grilled vegetables. Surprisingly complex with a nice balance of berries and a touch of fresh herbs and green pepper.

Thinking Inside the Box - Eating Well

And what about 5 liter plonk? It was not excluded, and the result does not surprise me. Almaden actually produces the best wines in 5L box. The Almaden Cab is a fine choice for a big outdoor picnic, and is good for cooking.

To be fair, we did include some of the value wines in our tasting. (We were pleasantly surprised by the Almaden Cabernet Sauvignon in the 5-liter box, though it didn’t make our Top 12 ranking.)

Thinking Inside the Box - Eating Well

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