Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunset's Boxed Wine Picks

This excellent article about boxed wine was published in the May 2006 issue of Sunset Magazine. Ten of the Sunset staff (including the wine and food editors) tasted 25 boxed wines and picked the top five: Black Box Chard 2005; Delicato Merlot 2004; Stonehaven Chard 2005; Wine Cube Pinot Grigio 2004; and Wine Cube Shiraz 2004.

Wine in a box?
Premium wines can come in surprising packages. Read about the trend and see our top picks.
by Kate Chynoweth

When winery owner Jill Beaven hosts a dinner party, she fills two carafes — one for each end of the table — from a cardboard box of her own Cabernet Sauvignon that she keeps on the countertop. “It looks pretty, and pouring the Cabernet in advance lets it breathe a little bit and open up,” she says.

You know things have changed in the world of wine when you have to let boxed wine breathe.

Jill and her husband, Andrew, source their vines from a producer on South Australia’s Limestone Coast, an area comparable to California’s Central Valley. Last fall, the bicontinental couple, who split their time between Seattle and Adelaide, launched Tindindi Cellars in the Northwest, selling their 2001 Cab and 2004 Chardonnay all over Washington, Idaho, and Oregon, building on the hottest trend these days in the once-snobby wine world: premium boxed wines.

Aussies have actually been drinking decent wine out of a box for years — more than 50 percent of all wine sold Down Under is square. (Ironically, they call it “cask wine,” even though the boxes look like anything but casks.) The States, on the other hand, have traditionally snubbed anything but the cork.

Technological advances in the last five years or so, though, have made boxed wines much better than the cheapo jug-style schlock of the past. And Americans are drinking up these newer options — as illustrated by the more than 75 percent increase in sales of premium 3-liter boxed wines last year.

“People are starting to realize that the box is just a package,” Jill says. “It’s what’s on the inside that matters. And in Seattle especially, you get a very wine-savvy audience — Northwesterners aren’t afraid to try something new.”

Info: Tindindi Cellars’ wines ($20; are available in the Northwest at QFC as well as some grocery stores and specialty wine shops.

Five reasons to buy boxed wine:

1. You get more bang for your buck. Premium wines come in 3-liter boxes (the equivalent of about four bottles) and sell anywhere from $15 to $25 a pop. Do the math — you’re getting a good deal on a good wine.

2. There’s no pressure to polish it off in one night. Unlike a bottle, which goes bad within a day or two of uncorking, boxed wine lasts about four to six weeks.

3. You can drink it now. Forget about the whole let-it-age thing — boxed wines are meant to be drunk within a year of being made.

4. It’s transportable. Because it won’t shatter, boxed wine is perfect for picnics, the beach, and tailgates. Take the oxygen-tight bag out of the box and bring it backcountry camping.

5. You have a reason to use that carafe. A pretty decanter filled with red wine looks so good on your table.

When shopping, look for:

3-liter boxes. These hold the good stuff. Avoid the old-school 5-liter cartons.

The vintage date and the varietal printed on the box. You want more information than simply “delicious red wine.” More recent vintages are generally better — boxed wine is not meant for the cellar.

The region. Check for familiar winemaking regions such as southeastern Australia or the Napa Valley.

Sunset staff picks

Reviews on Tindindi’s Cabernet Sauvignon were mixed, but the Chardonnay was deemed passable, especially by those who like a big, oaky style. Of the 25 boxed wines tasted by 10 of our staff, including wine editor Sara Schneider and our food editors, five rose to the top. Most of these are available at Beverages & More, except for Wine Cube, which is manufactured by Target and available only at Target stores.

Black Box Chardonnay 2005 (Monterey County, CA; $18). Creamy, buttery nose (with hints of Golden Delicious apple) meets zippy citrus flavors on the palate.

Delicato Merlot Bota Box 2004 (California; $18). Earthy nose with dried cherries. Smooth tannins and a long finish make it pleasant.

Stonehaven Chardonnay 2005 (Southeastern Australia; $18). Minerals and acid keep it from being flabby, despite its buttery nose.

Wine Cube Pinot Grigio 2004 (California; $16). Who knew you could get good wine at Target? Crisp citrus with melon and stone fruit. Great food wine.

Wine Cube Shiraz 2004 (South Australia; $16). Bacony, leathery, earthy, with dark plums and berries.

Wine in a box?
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FishEye Plans a TV Ad Campaign

Fisheye Wines rolled out their Pinot Grigio and Shiraz wines in 3-liter boxes last year. Now the winery plans to bring boxed wine to TV advertising.

Prime Time for Premium ''Boxed'' Wine TV Campaign Launches Fisheye Premium Wine Casks

Fisheye Wines, the innovative California premium winery offering award-winning Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Shiraz in 3-liter cask packaging, will roll out a $4.5 million national Television advertising campaign that premieres Oscar Week.

The hip 30-second spots, targeting influential 25-40 year old wine drinkers, will run on E! Channel's Live from the 2007 Academy Awards Red Carpet shows. Channel surfers may also catch the spot on prime-time ABC during first-run episodes of Desperate Housewives, Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Brothers and Sisters and Boston Legal throughout the first half of 2007.

The ads will reinforce the growing popularity of both Fisheye Wines and Premium Cask packaging. AC Nielsen data shows that Premium Cask is the fastest growing segment of the wine business, up 44 percent for the past 12 months, compared to just 3 percent increase in the total table wine category.

To convey the quality of Fisheye's award-winning wines, San Francisco integrated marketing agency B.A.R.C. Communications links the "new" casks to traditional ones used for centuries to store fine wines. One spot opens on a masterly painting in the William Hogarth tradition, depicting 18th century revelers tapping into a cask of wine. Through the magic of stop-motion animation, the old-world characters come alive and move into a modern-day pop art gathering.

Classic cell and computer-generated animation tells the rest of the story, including how each Fisheye cask stores the equivalent of four bottles of premium wine in a compact package that fits nicely in the fridge.

"Winemaking is an art, and so, increasingly, is its packaging," said B.A.R.C. Creative Director Alan Blavins. "As screw caps replace corks, wine aficionados are increasingly looking for alternative ways to keep wine fresh longer. Smarter-designed casks can maintain optimal taste for as long as six weeks. This campaign helps convey both the quality inside the cask and the quality of the cask itself."

"It's all about offering choices, but once premium wine consumers discover that ah-ha moment and that the exact same vintage-dated, bottled quality wine is available in both packages, there may be no turning back," says Fisheye spokeswoman, Laurie Lewis Jones. "It's simply a better way to enjoy a glass of fine wine a day."

Fisheye 2005 Pinot Grigio in the 3L cask was recently awarded a Gold Medal at the prestigious 2007 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Fisheye Wines offer five premium vintage dated varietals--Shiraz, Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc in addition to the award-winning Pinot Grigio--sold in Premium Wine sections nationwide.

Happy Hours: Press Release

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