Thursday, June 14, 2007

Boxed Reds, Six Recommendations

Sunday's New York Daily News lifestyle section featured an article on boxed red wines. A blind tasting of 14 wines resulted in thumbs up for six wines including Powers 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Banrock Station 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, Black Box 2005 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, Delicato 2005 Merlot, and Black Box 2004 Merlot.

Six boxed reds deserve to fly off the shelf
Sunday, June 10th 2007, 3:28 PM

If you're planning to eat outdoors or load up the car for a vacation, you might be thinking about buying a box of wine because of its low cost and convenience. But choose carefully. Even though many boxed wines are vintage-dated varietals, the wine is not always adequate.

In a blind tasting of 14 boxed reds, all were big, high-alcohol wines with dark flavors of baked fruit rather than medium-weight wines with fresh, lively flavors. Although they were generally soft (not very tannic), and many people will find them easy to drink, their heaviness reduces their refreshment factor, especially in warm weather.

Compared with boxed whites I bought - mainly Chardonnays, except for a couple of Pinot Grigios and a lone Riesling - the reds offered more variety in terms of their grapes. They included Pinot Noirs, Shirazes, Merlots, Cabernets and even a Grenache-based blend from southwestern France. But the best were the Cabernets, which stands to reason, because Cabernet Sauvignon makes sturdy wines that tend to be less affected by adverse conditions, such as the short shelf life boxed wines seem to have.

Of the 14 I tasted, I can recommend six.

Powers Winery 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley ($24 for 3 liters): This is my highest-scoring red because it is an authentic Washington Cabernet. That is, a full-bodied, well-made wine with ripe fruit flavors that isn't trying to please a mass-market consumer who wants a bit more sweetness. Also available in bottles, this is a wine to drink yourself but not necessarily to serve at a party with novice wine drinkers.

Banrock Station 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia ($19 for 3 liters): This is a crowd-pleaser, soft, ample, round and flavorful - think dark plums and black cherries. It's not light on its feet, but it has lots of ripe, dark fruit flavor. A good guzzle.

Three Thieves 2003 "Bandit" Cabernet Sauvignon ($11 for 1 liter): A classic Cabernet, lean, dry, with clean, concentrated flavors of black currants - and it's well-made. Considering it's a 2003, it's very fresh, which suggests reliability. Available as a 1-liter brick or four mini-bricks of 250 ml each.

Black Box 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, Paso Robles ($18 for 3 liters): This wine is full-bodied with soft tannins, making it easy to like. But connoisseurs will realize the winemaker is relying on a bit of sweetness to pull off its taste. It's a great value for a party or large outdoor family feast.

Delicato 2005 Merlot, California ($17 for 3 liters): This wine is dry, full bodied and soft, with substantial texture. It has lots of flavor, suggesting ripe black fruits with herbal and minty notes. Very well-made and very solid.

Black Box 2004 Merlot, California ($18 for 3 liters): This wine is more flavorful than the Black Box Cabernet and could be even more of a crowd-pleaser, with its soft style and ripe, black fruit flavors. But its alcohol is a bit too obvious, in my opinion.

Six boxed reds deserve to fly off the shelf

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