Thursday, May 31, 2007

Summertime is Boxed Wine Time

There was an excellent article in yesterday's Southwest Florida News-Press. Rose O'Dell, a wine judge and trained sommelier, along with 40 others, sampled three red wines and three boxed wines in a blind tasking. The recommendations:
  • Best red, Banrock Station Merlot.
  • Best white, a tie between Wine Cube Sauvigon Blanc (Target), and Delicato Pinot Grigio.

Box wine perfect outdoors
By Rose O'Dell King
special to
Originally posted on May 30, 2007

People may not be able to agree on whether we should revise the nation’s immigration laws or what intrinsic qualities our next president should possess, but one thing is as clear as the blue water off Useppa Island: Everybody knows a good wine when they taste it.

So it went during a boxed-wine tasting held in conjunction with The News-Press Campfire Cook-off in a little riverside park. Columnist Byron Stout asked me if I’d come out and help pick the winning concoction and bring along wines to pair with the three finalists’ dishes.

Since several people had already e-mailed me and asked me if I’d review box wines, this seemed the perfect opportunity. Box wines and outdoor activities go together like marshmallows and grahams over an open fire. They’re portable, there’s no corkscrew to forget and the inner liners are so strong that Internet camping blogs tout their reusability as “sun showers” filled with water for bathing. When blown up, they can act as pillows that ease back strain on a kayak trip.

We started with six boxes of wine — three reds and three whites — and lined them up on a picnic table under the shade of a tall mango tree. We wrapped them in black plastic garbage bags and labeled them with a letter to maintain the integrity of the “blind tasting.” We added a bag of ice over the top of the whites to keep them chilled, then gave each person a piece of paper and some tiny bathroom cups and asked them to taste and vote.

I also asked everyone to mark on their ballot if they would buy a box wine in the future. There were a few “no’s” and one “maybe” but just about everybody said they would buy a box wine. One man handed me his ballot and said he would buy a box wine only if he was camping, since everything always tastes better in the great outdoors.

One other thing is certain about box wines — they just keep on giving. Since most box wines contain the equivalent content of four regular bottles, we had plenty left over for an impromptu tasting the next night at our home.

In total, more than 40 people voted. These are the results:

• For outstanding red wine, garnering just about everybody’s vote for No. 1 status, was the Banrock Station Merlot. A number of people wrote that it was “complex.” It definitely had a nice, toasty oak and ripe plummy thing going on. It was surprisingly tasty, and I’d buy it again for a party, camping, boating or tailgating.

• While the reds had a clear favorite, white votes were evenly split between Target’s Sauvignon Blanc Wine Cube and the Delicato Pinot Grigio. Both were as easy and friendly as a puppy and tasted pretty darn good during a Saturday afternoon campfire cook-off, sipping with new-found friends.

— Rose O’Dell King of Fort Myers is a wine judge and trained sommelier who holds a degree from the French Culinary Institute.

The News-Press: Dining

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon 1.5 Liter Box

Another California Cab addition to our list of bag-in-box wines:

Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine Block Winery (Kendall Jackson)
Santa Rosa, California
1.5 liter box, vintage dated
About $10

"dark and earthy cabernet is brightened by juniper, raspberry and chocolate flavors - hins of licorice and cherry cola are balanced nicely by well-integrated oak" -- Lise Skaanild, Winemaker. 75% cabernet sauvignon, 20% syrah, 5% cabernet franc. Alcohol, 13.7%.

Wine Block 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon

Reviews in the Press

Steve Heimoff, December, 2005 Wine Enthusiast
86 points - Best Buy
"At the equivalent of five bucks a bottle, this is a super value in Cabernet. You'll find real richness in the ripe black currant, chocolate and sweet oak flavors, and in the smooth texture. It's also wonderfully dry and balanced."

Jon Bonne, April 7, 2006, MSNBC
Again, Wine Block showed well with both its 2002 California Cabernet sauvignon and its 2002 California merlot (both $10/1.5 litres). They’re competent varietal examples that will get plastic cups clicking. The Cab is built around plum, black cherry and cocoa flavors. It’s a bit too sweet, but well-defined and it finishes well.

For July 4, wine in a box could be a winner - Today: Wine -

Elizabeth Downer, June 22, 2006, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Wine Block is a product of Kendall-Jackson winery. They make 75,000 cases of each variety annually. The price is $11.99 for 1.5 liters. This means the bottom line is $6 per 750 milliliter bottle. ..... PLCB # 06930: 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon; black cherries and cocoa nose with good structure and nice finish.

Tastings: New box wines provide quality and convenience at low cost

Cindy Kibbe, Aug 18, 2006, New Hampshire Business Review
Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon (Santa Rosa, Calif., 1.5L, $9.99): With such an unassuming name, I was very skeptical of this wine, but was soon pleasantly surprised. Deep red with berry flavors, the Wine Block Cab had nice tannins and a good earthy character with a touch of spice. Some oakiness gave way to a long finish. The winemaker’s flavor profile revealed it was 96 percent Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from central and north coast regions — and it shows. Was it the best Cab I’ve ever had? No, but it was the best boxed red I’ve ever had.

New Hampshire Business Review

Holly Howell, May 22, 2007, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. This was the biggest surprise of all, and probably the biggest mindset to overcome. Carefully crafted by the same family that produces Kendall-Jackson wines, this rich red is produced from 100 percent California grapes using state-of-the-art barrel fermentation. It comes in a magenta red box that will really light up your kitchen counter. C'mon. Just try it at $9.99 per 1.5-liter box.

Democrat & Chronicle: Holly Howell

Norman Mark, September 2005, Desert Magazine
89 points. Recommended
"Smooth, easy, it's like meeting some else's dog that you find likable but not loveable. "

Alton Long (syn), July 2005, South Coast Insider, RI

Neil Taflinger, May 2006, Indianapolis Star, IN
"There's nothing like a fine, boxed wine to complement a picnic lunch. The equivalent of two 750ml bottles of wine packed in one darling cube. Wine Block is part of the vast Kendall-Jackson empire, and this varietal, a fruitier cab according to Brian Brown, was rated a Best Buy by Wine Enthusiast magazine."

W.E. Moranville, March 2006, Des Moines Register
"In the past months, I've had the opportunity to taste quite a few boxed wines, and I've come up with a go-to list of respectable choices for serving a roomful of nice people. Heartier Reds: Wine Block Cabernet of the boxed wine options that I've come across."

Bob Johnson , January 2006, Victor Valley Daily Press, CA
"You'll never confuse this wine with a Napa Valley or Alexander Valley Cab, but it delivers plenty of flavor - raspberry, cola, chocolate and terroir - for the price. $9.99 per 1.5-liter box (the equivalent of two bottles)."

Bob Hosmon , August 2005, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, FL Wine of the Week
"Impressive cabernet for the equivalent of $5 a bottle. Its cube shape makes it very compact for travel, and the bag-in-box format renders it immune to cork taint and quick spoilage. The wine is medium-to full-bodied, with an admirable smoothness. Black-currant and black cherry flavors. This wine competes well with its bottled counterparts in the $10 to $15 range."

John Breitlow , August 2005, Midwest Wine Connection
***1/2 corks
"Medium-bodied, and just an easy wine to drink. Works by itself or with food."

Susan Reigler, July 2005, Louisville Courier - Journal, KY, Recommended

Michael Dresser , July 2005, Baltimore Sun, MD, Recommended
"This uniquely packaged item from California just happens to be an impressive cabernet for the equivalent of $5 a bottle. Its cubed shape makes it very compact for travel, and the bag-in-a-box format renders it immune to cork taint and quick spoilage. The wine itself is medium-to full bodied, with admirable smoothness. Black-currant and black-cherry flavors."

July 05, Nick Tomassi, Kitsap Sun, WA, Recommended

Mary Ross Arlington , July 2005, Heights Daily Herald, IL, Highly Recommended
"The fun, functional package is only half the story; equivalent to two standard bottles, sealed in a neon-colored bag-in-a-box that keeps wine fresh for weeks after opening. But it's the well-made wine inside that separates Wine Block from other good-value gimmicks. The bright fruit and delicate spicy accents more than make up for lack of sophistication (how sophisticated do you need to be swinging in a hammock?) As the temperature rises, serve slightly chilled."

Leslie Sbrocco, June 2005, San Francisco Chronicle, CA, Great Value/Recommended
" pick for parties and picnics."

Roger Morris , June 2005, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Recommended
"I did try the Wine Block cabernet over a period of several days and found it had, and maintained, very good dark raspberry flavors with hints of brambles and good acidity--much more to my preference than those fruit-forward bombs that clog the throat."

Reviews Online

Roger, Box Wine Guy, March 29, 2006, Box Wines blog
Our Rating: 9 out of 10
. . .
One’s next impression (after pouring a glass) is that this is amazingly good wine. Its fruity, spicy aroma practically bursts from the glass. The wine is full-bodied and fruit-forward, with blackberry and cherry flavors mixed with light tannins, spice, and oak for pleasing complexity.
. . .
Wine Block is a product of Kendall Jackson with its own website. They call their products “blockbuster wines”, and in the case of the cab, they aren’t exaggerating.

Wines » Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

November 2006, Recommended
"From the Jackson Wine Estates comes this dark and earthy Cabernet Sauvignon that is brightened by juniper, raspberry and chocolate flavours with hints of licorice and cherry cola are balanced nicely by well-integrated oak."

Frederic Koeppel . August 2005, Koeppel on Wine, Very Good
"The producers of Wine Block boast that the wines will keep without harm for up to six weeks after the spigot is opened. So we opened this cabernet, tasted it, went to Italy for two weeks, came home, messed about for another week or so and finally got around to trying it again. And guess what? It was fine. It's deep, dark and spicy,with fresh, vivid black currant and black cherry flavors and just enough oak and tannin to lend firmness to the fruit and a bit of structure. Again, this holds the equivalent of two regular bottles of wine."

Stores and Newsletters

Dan Berger , June 2005, Dan Berger's Vintage Experiences, Recommended
"a cute, 4 5/8-inch cube box holding 1.5 liters; good varietal character and nice fruit."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Get Over It

In today's Democrat and Chronicle, of Rochester, NY, wine writer Holly Howell finally overcomes her reluctance to give boxed wine a chance. The result is a great article and some nice wine reviews. An exerpt
Time to get over stigma of box wine

Holly Howell

(May 22, 2007) — Now, I have never considered myself to be a wine snob. I am a wine enjoyer, and I believe in giving every fermented grape a chance to prove itself. However, I have been asked by many readers to do a column on box wines. I thought, "Oh no, do I have to?" Ughh. What fun.

I have put this column off for about six months now. Well, shame on me. My research has proved to be more than enlightening. As a matter of fact, I would call it more like revolutionary, at least for my own palate. I have been outside the box for way too long. I've realized that it is time to come back inside. It's time to re-classify the category "formerly known as rinse."

Honestly, the term "box wine" is one that should never have been invented. We don't call everything else "bottle wine." It is so unfair to separate the quality of wine by the container in which it is sold. Some of the best wines I have ever tasted were in big uncorked jugs, made in the cellars of the most incredible winemakers in the world. OK. Enough said.

The wine in a box is aseptically sealed in a bag within the box so that oxygen cannot come into contact with the wine. This is very important in wine packaging, because the contact with fresh air can spoil a wine. A box wine is as safe (storage-wise) as a corked bottle. A box wine is also as safe as a screw-capped bottle. Boxes and screw caps get along pretty well these despite the fact that they are totally misunderstood by the wine drinking public.

When it really comes down to it, a "box" wine has little chance of experiencing the faults that can be found in bottled wines. Faults like oxidation (wine exposed to oxygen), tri-chloro-anisole (also called TCA or "corked," which happens in wines exposed to bad corks) or even maderization (wines exposed to heat and sunlight through the clearness of bottles). Could it be that box wine is even more reliable in quality than bottle wine? I don't know for sure, but it is definitely more practical. ...

Especially this time of year. And by that, I mean a (hopefully) warm and sunny Memorial Day weekend will get you to an outdoor party or picnic where fancy bottles and elite etiquette aren't always the perfect fit. I mean, let's face it. You've got the picnic lunch all packed, the good friends gathered, and either your back yard is ready or the boat is at the dock. All you need is a festive beverage that won't cramp your style or your budget.

Announcing: the new star of the summer wine world. Yes, you heard it here. Good box wines do exist, and I am officially recommending a few for your upcoming summer festivities. (Whew, that wasn't so hard). And look, they even have vintages.

Bandit Pinot Grigio 2006. Somebody slap me. I can't believe that this refreshing, crisp, clean, white wine comes from, you know, a cardboard fixture. I put this into a plain, unmarked bottle and spent a week sampling it to wine aficionados, and the results were unbelievable. I couldn't bring myself to tell people it was boxed. I preferred to let them believe, "I am what I am." (OK, so I watched The Ten Commandments that week. I can guarantee that Charlton Heston would love this, too). Only $7.99 for a 1-liter box, and labeled as "Wine Snob approved."

Hardy's Chardonnay 2006. I have yet to see Australia do something horribly wrong. This white wine is wrapped in tetra-pak inside a yellow box, but it is also wrapped inside a lovely cloak of oak, with a beautiful tropical fruit palate and the perfect acidity to balance. This wine beat out four other box Chardonnays that were blind tasted to dozens of folks. Grab a 3-liter box (equivalent of 4 bottles) for only $16.

Wine Block Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. This was the biggest surprise of all, and probably the biggest mindset to overcome. Carefully crafted by the same family that produces Kendall-Jackson wines, this rich red is produced from 100 percent California grapes using state-of-the-art barrel fermentation. It comes in a magenta red box that will really light up your kitchen counter. C'mon. Just try it at $9.99 per 1.5-liter box.

Note: These wines do not need cellar aging. Plan on emptying your easy-to-recycle box by September.

Democrat & Chronicle: Holly Howell

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Start Getting Used to the Idea of Box Wine

In today's FDL Reporter of Fond due Lac, Wisconsin, the Wine Lady says Fewer wineries putting a cork in it. The article mostly looks at corks and screw caps, and their changing trends in wine packaging. She wraps up the article with a mention of boxed wine.
Of course, box wine is a whole another story, but in Australia and New Zealand cask (box) wine out sells bottles. They are better for the environment, weigh less, cost less and retain freshness longer. In fact, box wine will last six to eight weeks if it has a vacuum bag in it, versus two to four days for an open bottle.

So, consumers, embrace the idea of screw caps, and then start getting used to the idea of box wine.

Fond du Lac Reporter - Wine Lady: Fewer wineries putting a cork in it

The Wine Lady is Sara Cujak, of Cujak's Wine Market in Fond du Lac.

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Is It Wine?

There's apparently still a battle going on between the Washington State Liquor Control Board and Washington's wine industry over Franzia's labeling. An article on Seattlest on May 16 quotes Syd Abrams, former lobbyist for the California Wine Institute, now a partner in a large Washington vineyard: "It's not wine. It's not right."
Looking out for his private interests now, Abrams finds it curious that Washington State's notoriously slack Liquor Board was letting one particular California producer get away with the enological equivalent of murder. Boxed "wine" from Franzia, specifically. Turns out, it's not even affront to legitimate producers, and a violation of the Liquor Board's own injunction against labeling that misleads consumers.

The phrase in question is "Table Wine With Natural Flavorings." In fact, says Abrams, the contents of the Franzia box should be called "Flavored Wine Product," which would require Franzia to list the ingredients (including whatever distilled products are used to provide the alcohol content; Abrams doubts that it's actually wine) and taxed as such. Franzia does provide a nutrition chart that skirts the question.

Seattlest: It's Not Wine

Actually, the "wines" in question represent one third of Franzia's lineup. Five of their fifteen boxed wines are the highly questionable "table wines with natural flavors." These are the five wines offered in the "House Wine Favorites" group.

Another five of Franzia's wines are the "Old World Classics." These are "American wines" and laws state that this description allows them to contain up to 25% imported product. Wine industry sources state the import is usually bulk wine from Australia. These wines are not labeled "table wine with natural flavors," and they are apparently unadulterated wine.

The last five wines are the "Vintner Select" group. These are labled "California" wines. To comply with California law, any wine labled "California wine" must contain California wine, and ONLY California wine. No "natural flavors," no Australian bulk wine. To be sure, there is clearly a lot of blending going on to produce a consistently inoffensive product, but again, it is all unadulterated wine.

Personally, I find Franzia's "House Wine Favorites" to be quite undrinkable. Kool-Aid with alcohol. A pounding headache in a box. I would run away screaming if someone offered me a glass of Franzia "Chillable Red."

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Beverage World Looks at Image of Box Wines

Yesterday on Beverage World, a look at the changing image of boxed wine.
Image of Box Wines is Improving

May 11, 2007

. . .

With better wine varieties now available in boxes, wineries are attempting to give the category a new identity far from the rowdy boating trips and fraternity parties that gave boxed vino its cheap, low-quality image.

The effort seems to be slowly paying off.

Box wine is now the fastest growing wine category.

. . .

Beverage World

Take a look at the article on Beverage World to read the views of a number of individuals in the wine industry, including: Jeff Jenkins, wine manager of Total Wine & More in Chestrfield Co, VA; Terry Creaturo, wine coordinater for Kroger's mid-Atlantic region; Matt Reilly, Morningstar analyst; Ryan Sproule, Black Box Wines founder; Steph Waller, composer-turned-writer; and Leslie Jospeh, VP of Consumer Research, Constellation Brands.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wine Enthusiast Magazine Looks at Alternative Packaging

There's a great article about alternative wine packaging in this month's Wine Enthusiast. In Beyond The Bottle, Paul Gregutt looks at bag-in-box, Tetra Pak, aluminum cans, and plastic bottles. Here's and exerpt covering bag-in-box wines:
Bag-in-a-box or “cask” wines are going mainstream. Although five-liter boxes of nondescript, generic wines initially gave boxes a bad rep, the arrival of upscale, vintage-dated varietal wines in three-liter packages has dramatically changed the playing field.

ACNielsen scan data identifies the three-liter boxed wines as the fastest-growing premium wine packaging segment. Volume sales have roughly doubled over the most recent three-year period, as has market share.

A standard three-liter package is the equivalent of four glass bottles. Unlike bottles, boxes are disposable, unbreakable, easy to stack, store and carry and they require no corkscrew to open (at least until the sommeliers figure something out). Once chilled, boxes 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 (usually on the bottom of the box) for opening, and there is nothing cheap or cheesy about the functionality of the airtight bag or 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.

The bag-in-a-box format is especially popular in Scandinavia (ACNielsen reports that almost two-thirds of the wine purchased in Sweden is box wine), but on the production side the trend first took hold in Australia. Hardy’s Stamp and Banrock Station are brands that offer excellent value; unsurprisingly, the Chardonnay and Shiraz are best in show.
These days, you’ll find wines from Italy, France and other formerly tradition-bound countries trying the box format. A South African brand, Rain Dance, is offering Chardonnay and Shiraz in three-liter cartons, emphasizing that the product stays fresh for weeks after opening.

In California, Black Box has introduced vintage-dated varieties such as Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley Chardonnay. Black Box is part of the Pacific Wine Partners (Constellation Wines U.S.) portfolio, and talks up the value aspect of boxed wine: “The more you know about wine, the less you have to pay.”

Another California winery, Delicato, has succeeded with well-made, vintage-dated Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet in their three-liter Bota Box. And now The Wine Group’s Fish Eye brand is launching an ambitious network television advertising campaign that promises to do for the box what Aldo Cella did for the jug several decades ago.

Washington wineries have also begun to jump on the trend. The three-liter line of Washington Hills “is on fire as a brand,” according to its Seattle distributor. A project dubbed Revelry takes the bag-in-box idea, sizes it down to 1.5 liters, and offers Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in a hip and colorful package. Same bag, but papa’s got a brand new box.

Beyond The Bottle | Articles | Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Gregutt closes with a very good point, the observation that the wines offered in these alternative packages are "drink now" wines, not intended for cellaring. And since the "drink now" category covers the lion's share of what's on the market these days, we'll likely see more and more of it offered in these packages in the next 5 to 10 years.

Boxed Wine Is No Secret

The "secret allure" of boxed wines? This is no secret. Here's a TV news story from Fox News St. Louis. Elliot Weiler interviews Bill Kniep of Pinnacle Imports. Kniep loves the Jean Marc Brocard white table wine from Burgundy. He believes that in seven years or so there will be wide acceptance of boxed wines in the marketplace. Click on the image to go to the video on the Fox St Louis website.
(KTVI - -- Think fine wine and you probably think about pouring from a bottle. But how about tapping a glass of award-winning wine from a box? Contact 2's Elliot Weiler uncorks the secret allure of higher-end boxed wines.

MyFox St. Louis | Contact 2: Boxed Wine vs. Bottled Wine