- 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.