Monday, April 14, 2008

Global shortage of bottles

Overproduction, market saturation, factory closures, and now ... a shortage of sand in France??? From The Scotsman, Edinburgh:

Wine-lovers lose their bottle
By Lindsay McIntosh and Max Orbach
April 12, 2008

THEY are the final resort of partygoers who should have left the barbecue some hours before – the cheap boxes of wine with their last dregs of plonk.
But these boxes with their limp bags of booze could soon be the centrepiece of the most affluent tables as the wine in-dustry struggles to cope with a global shortage of bottles.

An over-production in Europe in recent years brought the market to saturation, forcing the closure of factories, and now, though there is a shortage, they have not reopened.

At the same time, there has been a massive increase in wine production and consumption – meaning manufacturers are struggling to find receptacles for their products.

Jean-Michel Gauffre, the owner of La Garrigue restaurant in Edinburgh's Jeffrey Street, said there was "a severe shortage of bottles".

He said: "In the last couple of years, there's been a shortage of sand in France for bottles and apparently they have to import a huge amount of glass.

"Even though they can't get the glass, all the factories which closed down didn't reopen so there's a shortage of bottles. The production is too slow and can't keep up with the demand due to the rapid globalisation of wine- making."

Alex Hunt, a London-based wine importer who deals with Scottish firms, said the factory closures had stiffened the price of wine, which had gone up by 10 per cent across Europe in the last year.

He said: "Even if bottles are more expensive, this is only one part of the cost, but it has meant that every supplier in Europe is now under significantly more pressure."

Mr Gauffre said the "big new thing" was "the bag in a box with the tap". It was going to be the "short-term solution – and maybe the future – for the vast majority of people".

He said most Europeans were now buying wine from the supermarket rather than manufacturers – even in France – and buying in bigger quantities because it is cheaper by the box. In the US, litre juice cartons are also being used by vintners, a concept likely to be exported to the UK soon.

Philippe Larue, the managing director of Edinburgh wine merchants l'Art du Vin, revealed that a popular wine called Yellow Jersey was being marketed in Canada in plastic bottles, with great success.

He added: "In France, bag-in-a-box wine packaging is very popular. People will go out to a small vineyard and buy anything up to five litres of wine.

"It's very good if you plan to drink the wine in the next few days, although obviously it will not keep very well because too much air gets into it. By the end of the week, you will pretty much be left with vinegar."

Mr Gauffre said: "The important thing for the wine-makers is simply to sell the wine. So if at the end of the day the customer is happy to buy the wine in a bag-in-a-box or a juice carton, then so be it.

"The most important thing is to sell the product. I think for a person who drinks wine every day – which I hope everyone does – the boxes are best."

It's an open secret – glass has more class

DRINKING wine that comes from a bottle is important because of the sheer sense of anticipation that goes with opening it.

The ceremony of uncorking, or even unscrewing, a bottle should be savoured; it's like the difference between going to a restaurant and eating food out of a can.

There is a lot to be said for taking life more ponderously, as they do in France and Italy, and I think slowly savouring a bottle of wine is part of a more enjoyable lifestyle.

Of course, anyone fortunate enough to have a wine cellar will realise that you certainly can't keep a box down there for very long.

The best wines need to be kept in a bottle because they need time to breathe.

Although a lot of wines are now produced to be quaffed in the first couple of years, even Australian wines really benefit from being stored in a cool place for a while.

And, of course, there is nothing quite so good as that moment when you find a bottle of wine which you have been storing in a cold, dark corner for a few years.

Wine bottles, like so many good things, were developed by the Romans. Before that, wine was carted around in clay amphorae, which – though sturdy – were exceedingly heavy.

Bottles were, of course, much more convenient and
have remained the container of choice right up to the present day.

Another wonderful aspect of the wine bottle is that it comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Italian wine producers are particularly good at designing them and shape is very important when your wine is struggling for position on the shelf.

Recently, a lot of wine bottles have got much taller because – as well as looking very fine and slim – this also gives the psychological appearance of the bottle containing more wine.

Another art that would be lost with the death of the wine bottle is label design.

Whereas traditionally the Europeans tended to produce rather dull, white labels, the New World producers ratcheted up the competition by creating vividly coloured labels which really leapt out from the shelf.

• Michael Romer is a partner in Edinburgh independent wine seller Peter Green & Company

Wine-lovers lose their bottle - News

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cheaper by the box

From the El Paso Times:

Quality wine is cheaper by the box

El Paso Times Staff
February 12, 2008

Regretfully, since neither our laws nor our customs support the concept of driving up to the pump to fill up our demijohns with wine as they do in Europe, the Wine in a Box concept is a good alternative to having wine available as an everyday staple at your table. Wine is slowly but surely becoming part of American life, and the need to have more accessible and affordable everyday wine is driving the need for alternative packaging.

After seeing select wine in a box available at arguably well respected establishments such as the Greenery Market in El Paso and Spiagga in Chicago, I thought it was time to explore the subject.

The bag in box system was created by the Scholle Corp. of Northlake, Ill., for sulfuric acid battery disposal. In Australia, this concept was converted to wine packaging about 30 years ago, and now 50 percent of all wine consumption is from wine in a box. Sweden's consumption of box wine exceeds 60 percent, and other European nations and Canada are catching up quickly. In all of my travels, in the U.S. and Mexico, I have seen a much lower demand for wine in a box, though industry statistics show rapid growth in this area.

There are several reasons why wine in a box is a good option for an everyday house wine. Packaging costs are reduced up to 80 percent, which makes the eventual cost of wine in a box much more affordable. The inner bag (inside the box) collapses as it empties, so with proper storage that wine can last up to a month after opening.

Still, there is still a stigma that wine in a box is of lesser quality. To some extent, this remains true, although more and more wine producers are willing to place good-quality wine in a box. This is all contingent on the American consumer's willingness to increase consumption of wine placed in a box.

I am still very cautious when I approach wines in a box, although I am more daring if the wine in a box is at a fine wine shop or on the wine list of a first-class restaurant such as Spiagga's in Chicago. I certainly do not propose the wholesale consumption of wine in a box for everyday use unless the wine in the box is of good quality.

As a wine importer, I am fortunate to be able to affect the quality of wine in a box that comes to the El Paso market. Last year, I was at a wine-in-a-box tasting of wines from all over Italy. I found about 75 percent of them of very good quality. Plans are in the works to introduce the varietals of Sangiovese, Nero d'Avola and Primitivo in a box to El Paso.

I have informed all of my suppliers and all of my sources of wines that I am interested in engaging in relationships with wineries that have good-quality wine in a standard bottle but who can also bottle that same wine in a box. This allows me to select quality wines that are normally sold in a standard bottle and simply alter the packaging, keeping the same quality in a more consumer-friendly, less-expensive alternative packaging.

Don't be surprised if a 2008 year-end wine dinner from Italian Imports features only wines in a box.

Italian Imports owner Riccardo Barraza writes a regular wine column for the El Paso Times.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Blue Nun and the medial orbitofrontal cortex

From the New York Times, an anti-economy bias is confronted with an old classic in a new economical package:
Basic Instincts
My Cortex Made Me Buy It
Published: February 9, 2008

WHEN I invited a friend to dinner one day last summer, she mentioned that she would bring some Blue Nun white wine, in a box.

If you’re not accustomed to hearing the words “box” and “wine” in the same sentence, the idea might sound unappealing. Perhaps even déclassé. Not that I wanted to admit these thoughts to my friend, but my exclamation — “Blue Nun? In a box?” — did make my skepticism rather clear.

Fortunately she just laughed at my snobbery, and said that boxed wine today was far from the old Chablis with a spigot, which some of us may recall from college bars and family picnics. She even used the word “tasty” — which although not top of the oenophile vocabulary, sounded promising.

And she was right. Blue Nun in a box was surprisingly tasty, all things considered, and the embarrassing experience of having my cheap wine prejudice exposed has forced me to examine how far this financial bias goes.

I feared that the wine incident was evidence that somehow I actually believed that paying more for things means they’re better, even though I know it isn’t true. There is research suggesting that the bias toward higher-priced goods may have something to do with the way the brain links price with pleasure — and thus leads people to make assumptions about quality.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month, researchers from the California Institute of Technology and Stanford University asked 20 volunteers to taste and evaluate five wine samples, which were labeled according to price: $5, $10, $35, $45 and $90 a bottle. All of the volunteers identified themselves as moderate wine drinkers and not experts.

They said they liked the more expensive wines best. And brain scans taken as the volunteers sipped and rated the wines showed that the higher-priced wines generated more activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain that responds to certain pleasurable experiences.

But there was a catch: although subjects were told that they were tasting five different wines, in fact they sampled only three. The $90 wine was presented twice, once at its real price and once as a $10 wine; the $5 wine was also presented as a $45 wine. When the wines were offered at the higher price, participants preferred them — and their brains registered greater pleasure.

When they sampled the wines with lower prices, however, the subjects not only liked them less, their brains registered less pleasure from the experience. It seems that what these subjects really liked was the price tag, not the product.

APPARENTLY my brain had a similar reaction at the thought of drinking Blue Nun from a box, which costs about $20 for a container that packs the equivalent of four 750-milliliter bottles of wine. But why? Does the brain fire up at the sight of a higher price tag in any context?

The study’s authors examined responses only to different wines, not to cars or clothes, said Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech and one of the authors of the paper. He hesitated to extrapolate too much, but he said that there were reasons to suspect that the price tag bias occurs in many contexts.

Given the human love affair with high-priced luxury goods, and their association with status and power, it’s possible that we’ve come to experience a cerebral shiver of delight in response to things that promise that cachet. It is as if consuming high-end goods might lead to a personal transformation that bargain-hunting can’t buy.

Professor Rangel said that the pleasure we take from something “seems to depend on our beliefs about our experience of that thing.” It’s interesting that the study also suggests we aren’t always aware of these beliefs — even though we end up paying for them.

As a result of my adventures in boxed wine, my husband and I have had some success exploring the realm of drinkable plonk. I think my medial orbitofrontal cortex is struggling with this new development, but it is balanced by the financial lobe’s pleasure in saving money.

My Cortex Made Me Buy It - New York Times

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

A gold medal for a box

Results of the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition for 2008 are in, and a boxed wine made it into a fine list of gold medal winning budget wines:

7 gold-medal winning wines for $12 or less
02:16 PM CDT on Thursday, April 10, 2008
By REBECCA MURPHY / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Wines in The Dallas Morning News Wine Competition are judged by grape variety and, in some large categories, by vintage. That's all the judges know when they are tasting the wines. So a $5 bottle or box of wine may be judged beside a $100 bottle.

No disrespect intended to those $100 bottles, which can be quite complex and in need of more time to come together in the bottle. The real finds each year, though, are the budget wines that are worthy of gold medals. These are wines meant to be poured today, so they are delicious today, and they get the attention of the judges. They deserve your attention, too. All the wines on these pages are available in the Dallas market for $12 or less.

. . .

Corbett Canyon, California, Chardonnay NV

If you have resisted buying wine in a box, get over it. Boxed wines have been winning medals in this and other competitions for several years, which means the quality is there. And, packaged in a box, the quality lasts longer than it will in a bottle, because the wine is protected from oxygen. This wine is light-bodied with chardonnay's crisp apple, citrus and pear flavors. Enjoy it with light pasta dishes. You can always serve it from a carafe so your guests will never know it came from a box. Available at Beverage City and Sigel's, $10.99 per 3-liter box.

. . .

7 gold-medal winning wines for $12 or less | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Wine and Spirits | Food | Dallas Morning News

Box wine has been getting better for a while

Although this article is from way back in 2003, it had lots of good tasting notes by Carol Emert:

Box wine is getting better all the time
Carol Emert, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, December 4, 2003

In the American collective conscience, wine sold in a box isn't actually wine, it's a separate category referred to as "box wine."

"Box wine" comes in a box, as distinct from "wine," which is something you'd actually want to drink and which comes in just one kind of container -- a "bottle."

It doesn't have to be that way. The holiday season is the perfect time to throw out old prejudices and give box wine a try. That's particularly true now, as several producers have, as predicted by The Chronicle ("Inside the box, " May 15), recently released dry premium wines -- standard varietals, no funny colors -- in a box.

Box wines are popular in Australia and Europe, where premium wine has long been available in cardboard. The Australian brand Hardys, for example, has been sold in the United States for many years, but just last year the company introduced boxes under the name Hardys Stamp of Australia. In its native country, half of Hardys' wine is sold in a box, or cask, as they call it Down Under.

In several cases, including Hardys Stamp, the boxes hold exactly the same juice as bottles sitting nearby on the supermarket shelf. But there are two key differences: The box wines cost less because the packaging is cheaper. And boxes, which are lined with a plastic vacuum-sealed bag, stay fresh much longer after opening -- about a month, compared to just a day or so for many bottles.

The new premium boxes hold 3 liters of wine, the equivalent of four bottles, while traditional box wines hold 5 liters. Several of the newbies come in cool, monochromatic packaging to look nice for your party. They retail for $10 to $36, the equivalent of $2.50 to $9 per bottle.

I tasted 31 box wines for this column, mostly the new premium varietal wines, but for comparison I threw in five old-style box wines by Franzia, Almaden and Peter Vella ($6 to $10) that happened to be in The Chronicle cellar.

Only two of the box wines, both the old-fashioned types, were awful. Nine were good enough that I would serve them to guests.

Most of the others weren't horrible, just middling -- a trait found in many bottled wines at this price point. Two recurring problems were sour fruit, as if the grapes had been harvested prematurely, and a thin texture that took all the fun away from a couple of nicely flavored wines. I didn't detect any plastic flavors from the packaging.

Good enough for Turkey

I liked the box wines so well that I served one of my favorites for Thanksgiving dinner (in a decanter -- nobody guessed that a box was involved) and took others on a recent weekend trip with friends. One fellow accused me of being tacky when he saw the boxes, but I suppose (sniff) that's the hazard of being a trendsetter.

One big advantage: Packing and transporting the boxes was much easier than dealing with glass bottles, with no concern about leaks or breakage.

Sales of premium box wines remain low -- in the hundreds of thousands per year -- but are growing fast and getting good distribution in independent stores and chains like Beverages & more, Safeway, Albertsons, Whole Foods and Longs Drugs. The Wine Cube is sold only at Target. Le Cask Zinfandel is in limited distribution in the Bay Area currently, but can be mail ordered (, see Uncorked this page.)

As with bottled wines, a higher price tag and classy demeanor don't necessarily equate to quality.

The most expensive brand, Blackburn, by Sonoma Hill Winery, sports a snazzy gold box, a Sonoma County appellation and a retail price of $36. But the 2002 Chardonnay was just plain sour. The 2001 Merlot and 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon both displayed promising noses, but were disappointingly thin on the palate.

Target's Wine Cube ($16) was another disappointment. The Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Merlot, made by Trinchero Winery, all fell short in the fruit department.

A favorite

My favorite white wine from the tasting was the 2003 Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Chardonnay ($16), which is full of green apple, lemon and pear, rounded out with a good dose of butter and a hint of nutmeg. The deep-gold-colored 2002 Black Box Napa Valley Chardonnay will please lovers of very oaky Chardonnay. It smells of wood and butter and tastes like a carameled Golden Delicious apple.

The only Zinfandel offered by the box is Lodi's spicy Le Cask Old Vine California Zinfandel ($24 retail, $22 mail order). It's a medium-bodied Zin with a nose of dried cherries, stewed fruit and vanilla. Le Cask's even tannins and 14.5 percent alcohol do a good job balancing its bright cherry/berry fruit.

Zin is a favorite holiday wine for me; this one would go well with the melange of sweet and savory flavors typical of most holiday spreads.

Two spicy Syrahs also promise to stand up to le holiday buffet. The 2002 Banrock Station South Eastern Australia Shiraz ($16) is a fun wine with lots happening: a nose of black licorice, dark fruit, spice and earth, accompanying candylike flavors of raspberry, cassis and cherry-vanilla soda-pop.

The 2002 Delicato California Shiraz ($18) is full on the palate and busy, with wide-ranging aromas of toast, cherry, mushroom and black olive. Flavorwise, it's a winning combination of cherry and raspberry, cinnamon and a hint of bittersweet chocolate. It's a well-made wine with an extended finish.

Merlot is not a varietal that I typically go out of my way to drink, but nearly half of the box wines I liked were Merlots. They were surprisingly rich and balanced, with enough tannin to serve with meat and other rich foods. All displayed good varietal character.

The 2003 Hardys South Eastern Australia Merlot ($16) has a strong, earthy, green bell-pepper nose with a hint of white pepper and coffee. The finish is dry, with strong flavors of coffee and caramel.

The 2001 Corbett Canyon California Merlot ($10) is exceptionally good for the price. It displays a cherry-and-cigar nose along with tasty cherry, plum and cranberry on the palate. The long finish combines bright plum with caramel.

The 2000 Black Box Sonoma County Merlot ($25) is a rich and interesting wine with aromas of roasted green pepper and black pepper. Flavors include thyme, oregano, roasted red pepper and leather. It is consistently flavorful and full throughout.

The 2001 Delicato California Merlot ($18) sports a light nose of toasted marshmallow, banana, leather and berry. Mouth-filling cranberry and dried cherry flavors are balanced nicely by dry tannins.

The traditional, 5-liter box wines ranged from surprisingly good to shockingly bad. I was most impressed with Almaden's Cabernet Sauvignon ($10), which tasted and smelled like Cab, although it was very, very light.

The worst was Peter Vella's white Grenache, a wine that I will not taste again without hazard pay. My tasting notes say it best: "Ick. Skunky odor with port underneath. Cat food and gasoline. Cloying flavors. Oooooh, icky cat food finish. I MUST BRUSH."

Box wine is getting better all the time

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Le Cask is back

Le Cask old vine zinfandel got some good reviews, and then disappeared from the market. Now it's back! From the Stockton Record:

Raising the bar for the box
Lodi vintner puts premium wine in Le Cask

By Reed Fujii
Record Staff Writer
February 12, 2008 6:00 AM

LODI - Call it Le Cask deux.

More than four years after launching a premium wine in a 3-liter, bag-in-box package only to have a business dispute derail the effort, a father and son are reintroducing their brand of old vine zinfandel, and soon-to-come cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay wines to the California market.

The zinfandel is already available in supermarkets, said Leon Pierce, co-owner of Siqueira Wine Co., which is producing Le Cask.

"We're pretty excited about it," he said Monday.

Pierce acknowledged he's facing major competition. Wines packaged in airtight plastic, which helps preserve their freshness and flavor, inside cardboard boxes have been produced for years. However, the packaging was for low-cost jug wines until recently.

When Pierce rolled out Le Cask in 2003, it was among the first premium wines in a box. But he was not alone. Black Box wine was offered by a Bay Area company about the same time. Delicato Family Vineyards in Manteca also began offering a premium boxed wine.

Black Box has since been acquired by Constellation Brands, internationally the world's leading wine producer, and another industry giant, The Wine Group, produces premium boxed wines under such labels as Killer Juice and Corbett Canyon.

While Le Cask was derailed, the other brands made major inroads among U.S. consumers, and since 2005, 3-liter boxed wine has been the fastest-growing package segment in the industry, according to The Nielsen Co.

That growth means there's still room for Le Cask, Pierce said.

The wine is in a number of regional grocery chains and is being well-received.

It's a strong seller at Podesto's in Stockton, said Bernie Morgenstern, supermarket president.

"It's a really good value, because it is an old vine zin and it comes in a 3-liter box," he said Monday. "It's reasonable, and it's convenient. ... It's a wine you can drink every day for dinner or with guests."

Many of his customers seek old vine zinfandel in particular, Morgenstern said. As a result, Le Cask is outselling other brands of boxed wines he carries.

"I'm surprised a larger company didn't come up with that," he said.

Le Cask grew out of a college senior project by Ryan Pierce, Leon Pierce's son and business partner.

They originally partnered with Rodney Schatz, a Lodi grape grower and owner of Mokelumne Rim Vineyards, who provided production facilities and the fruit. But disagreements arose over the direction and control of the partnership, and a resulting lawsuit was not resolved until late 2006, when Leon Pierce gained exclusive rights to the Le Cask brand.

"They really liked the idea," Pierce said.

Schatz said Monday that he does like the idea of premium wine in a box, although he is no longer involved in Le Cask.

"Bag in the box, I think, if the consumer ever buys into it or understands it, is where we're going to go," he said.

Le Cask, with a suggested price of $25, contains the equivalent of four 750-milliliter bottles. Pierce said the wine inside is comparable to bottled goods costing twice as much.

"I believe we can differentiate (ourselves) with better quality bag-in-box or cask wine," he said. "Our only hope is to be really high quality with everything we do."

Boxed wine sellers note the packaging is lighter and stores more easily than the equivalent glass bottles. Because the internal bag collapses as the wine is dispensed, the perishable stuff is not exposed to air and can keep for several weeks after opening.

Typically, bottled wine loses its flavor within a few days of opening.

Also, the packaging is touted as more Earth-friendly than glass bottles, which consume more energy in their creation and in transportation.

And Pierce is aiming for a regional market.

"I don't want to become as large as Delicato or Black Box, but I do think we can achieve good representation in California." Raising the bar for the box

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Innovations: Beyond BiB in Southern France

How to improve on BiB??? How about get rid of the cardboard? Check this out:

Other innovations include the Kube, a clear plastic box with a bag of wine inside -- one up on the plastic pouch plus cardboard surround bag-in-box type structure. It is better, say producers, because it is more easily recyclable, being all plastic, rather than a plastic paper mix, and you can also, if desired, stick it in the snow or a river.

From AFP:

New world wines of southern France
Feb 19, 2008

MONTPELLIER, France (AFP) — Southern France is one of the world's oldest, toughest wine-making regions, and now is seen as both the most innovative and biggest regional exporter.

A pleasant turnaround say exhibitors at this years 8th Mediterranean wine trade fair, Vinisud, given that this part of France only five or six years ago was one of the hardest hit by competition from so called "New World" producers -- Australia, America, Chile, Argentina, to name a few.

In the last two or three years it has earned itself the title of most innovative and is now volume the leading regional exporter of French wines with seven million hectolitres shipped abroad in 2007.

"Last year 1.3 million bottles of Arrogant Frog were exported to Australia, a 20 percent increase on 2006," said Jean Claude Mas, the wines Languedoc-based producer. Mas says those figures make it the most imported French wine in Australia.

Asked why, he points to the label showing a jaunty frog in a red jacket and beret, swinging a walking stick. "It is constructive self derision. We have always been told we are second rate, by Bordeaux, by Burgundy, so we have to go at things another route."

The producing region of southern France broadly includes Languedoc-Roussillon, Rhone, Provence, Midi-Pyrenees and Corsica -- but the Languedoc and the Rhone are probably the best known outside of France.

Eye-catching names such as Arrogant Frog, Fat Bastard, the Rhoning Stones and Bois-Moi (Drink Me), are certainly part of the story, as is the willingness to try ever newer, ever slicker packaging.

"As far as I know this is the first ever wine in a full size aluminium bottle," said Stephane Oudar, export director of Boisset, a producer already famous for putting its Languedoc wines, red, white and rose, in a tetra pack and calling it French Rabbit.

Next year, or sooner, Boisset will launch its new range of Organic French Rabbit in a tetra pack. To date both the tetra pack and the aluminium bottle, to be launched in the US in two months, are aimed mainly at export markets rather than "traditional" -- meaning French and other European consumers -- ones.

Other innovations include the Kube, a clear plastic box with a bag of wine inside -- one up on the plastic pouch plus cardboard surround bag-in-box type structure. It is better, say producers, because it is more easily recyclable, being all plastic, rather than a plastic paper mix, and you can also, if desired, stick it in the snow or a river.

Apart from the names and the packaging however, there is the wine itself, which tastes better than many mid-range wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

"We dont bother with Vinexpo (the major Bordeaux wine trade fair held in alternate odd numbered years), the value is here," said Peter Ward, a buyer from Ireland.

The reasons for this, say both local and outside producers, are the ideal weather and soil conditions for wine growing.

There is also a far wider range of wine-making techniques for those who choose to make wines in the lesser ranking, but more innovative, Vins de Pays dOc category.

"It is a more liberal system here, with the vin de pays appellation," said Ruth Simpson, producer of Le Coq DOc wine. Simpson, who owns Domaine Sainte Rose with her husband, moved to the region to produce wine five and a half years ago and says they chose the region for that reason.

"You can use wood chips, wood planks, you can irrigate, you can plant different, more commercially useful grape varieties. It is a microcosm of the new world," Simpson said.

For the organisers of this years Vinisud, which started in 1994 and is held in every even numbered year, that is precisely the point.

Everywhere around the show posters proclaim "The New French Style" and both buyers and exhibitors are happy to claim comparisons to the new world, that might be an insult elsewhere in the country.

Indicating further progress in the region, Vinisud 2008 is also boasting increased exhibitor figures of 1,600 stands, increased visitor numbers, expected to reach 35,000 people and a 200 percent increase in foreign buyers.

"This area is now competing with New World," said James Nicholson, a buyer for the UK and Ireland. "In Bordeaux, the top 30 chateaux can just sell what they make. Here everyone has to be innovative."

Even apart from trade show figures, however, Simpson points out another telling sign of success. The shadowy militant group -- the Comite Regional d'Action Viticole (CRAV) -- known for its emptying of wine vats in the middle of the night, sabotaging of railway lines, and sweeping of foreign wines off supermarket shelves, has not been in the news recently.

"CRAV has certainly calmed down since prices went up," she said simply.


AFP: New world wines of southern France

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Pinot Evil got a thumbs up from SF Chronicle

Pinot Evil has certainly had a mixed response, but W. Blake Gray of the San Francisco Chronicle liked it when he tasted it last July. Click on the link to go to the Chronicle Podcast site and listen.
Wine: NV Pinot Evil Vin de Pays de l'Ile de Beaute Pinot Noir

Imagine our surprise when Chronicle wine reporter W. Blake Gray recommended a red wine that's only five bucks -- and it's Pinot Noir! That's right, a good Pinot Noir for FIVE BUCKS. For a whole bottle!

Not only that, says Mr. Gray, but you can even get the nonvintage Pinot Evil Vin de Pays de l'Ile de Beaute Pinot Noir in a three-liter bag-in-a-box for just $15.

Now that's downright evil!

Chronicle Podcasts : NV Pinot Evil Vin de Pays de l'Ile de Beaute Pinot Noir

Fifty Boxed Wines

Fifty boxed wines in a blind tasting (with a few bottles slipped in).

Sipping From the Spigot
The time has come for the great boxed-wine challenge
August 10, 2007

A quick show of hands: How many of you open a $20-plus bottle of wine each night? How many carefully age their wines for measured maturity? When you pop the cork, do you finish the whole bottle? If not, do you notice how it just doesn't taste right the next day?

The truth is most people drink their wine on the same day they buy it. Most people prefer good-quality, inexpensive wines and stay loyal to the brands they like. And most people have variable rates of wine consumption: maybe a glass tonight, maybe three tomorrow. Plus, since a half-empty bottle of wine goes stale after just one day, they end up drinking subpar wine.

The Australians and Europeans solved all of these problems years ago with one elegant solution. They take a good-quality wine; put it in an inert, vacuum-sealed bag; drop the bag in a box; and place a spigot on the side. In Australia, for instance, 54% of wines sold are box wines.

Imagine dining in a nice European trattoria or brasserie and ordering a carafe of the house wine. It would be a simple, unpretentious wine made for casual consumption. That's what you'll find in the best box wines. They are always priced popularly, with 3-liter boxes (equivalent to four bottles of wine) normally running $10-20. Best of all, you can take as much as you want and not worry about the wine oxidizing by the next day. It will keep in the box for months.

Early on, box wines had a cheesy reputation in the U.S. As Evan Goldstein, a master sommelier and author of Perfect Pairings (University of California Press, $29.95), told me: "You're lucky you weren't doing the box-wine challenge 10 years ago. The wines tasted like plastic." I'd go a step further and say they tasted like you were sucking them through a $2 garden hose.

When fellow Food writer Mick Vann recently asked me which box wines I would recommend, it got me thinking. I've tasted a couple of box wines that really caught my attention. Both FishEye's Pinot Grigio ($14) and the Target stores' California Chardonnay taste like the grapes they are made from, unhampered by oak, and they are young, fruity, and crisp. But I wondered what other, if any, box wines a crew of knowledgeable wine tasters would pick. Are any box wines worthy of a place in America's refrigerators? I decided to put it to the test.

The Process

We asked the biggest wine distributors to send us every box wine they carried. The complications started when we used the word "box."Things have gotten more convoluted since Three Thieves came out with the Tetra Pak, which is like the juice cartons kids use. Adult juice, indeed. Anyway, the industry term for what I was looking for is "bag in a box." We ended up with (gulp!) 50 wines.

Next up was picking the experts. I wanted some parity among disciplines, and I knew that I wanted to start with the three Austinites who had won the Texas Best Sommelier awards (see "Austinites Sweep Texas Sommelier Competition," Sept. 8, 2006): Devon Broglie of Whole Foods, Craig Collins of Prestige Wine Cellars, and Scott Cameron of Avante Beverages. I also wanted some experienced winemakers. Jim Johnson of Alamosa Wine Cellars not only makes great Texas wine; he has worked at some high-end California wineries like Heitz and St. Francis. Mark Penna is making stellar wine for Damian Mandola but also has the experience of actually making this style of wine from when he was the winemaker at Ste. Genevieve. Two retailers from Twin Liquors: our budding TV star Ross Outon (soon to be seen on the PBS reality series The Winemakers) and Martin Aechternacht. I invited two consumers. Steve Tipton is on the board of the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and owner of one of the top wine cellars in the city. The other consumer was my brother-in-law, Stephen Aechternacht (Martin's father), because he actually regularly drinks boxed wines. The last two slots were chef spots: one for a current chef, Charles Mayes of Cafe Josie, and another for a retired chef, the Chronicle's Vann.

(Let me jump in here with an important oversight. When our Food editor makes a mistake, she calls it the "off-with-my-head department." Well, get your guillotines sharpened. I didn't notice until we were posing for our picture that I had completely forgotten to give this group a gender option. I left out female wine professionals and consumers. So sorry. Be careful with that axe, Eugenia.)

Broglie was kind enough to get us a place for the box-off at the Whole Foods Market Culinary Center. It was a first visit there for most of us, and we were all bowled over at how beautiful and functional the place is. Not only did they treat us kindly and let us dirty a hundred or so of their wine glasses, but they were considerate and helpful, even though they had a private cooking class going on at the same time!

We tasted the wines in varietal groups: Pinot Grigios, Chardonnays, other whites, Merlots, Cabernets, Shirazes, and other reds. Instead of using a 100-point scale, we decided to use the system that most wine competitions would use. A wine could receive any of four rankings. We defined gold as a wine that we would happily buy and keep around the house for personal consumption. Silver meant we'd buy it for parties, cooking, and infrequent drinking. Bronze meant we would happily drink it for free at someone else's party. No medal meant we wouldn't even swallow the stuff; we'd spit it out.

The competition was conducted double blind. Here's how that works: Four volunteers poured the wines in another room and brought them in pitchers so no one, myself included, knew which wines we were drinking. Then, to keep us all honest, for each varietal, we slipped in real glass-bottle wines in the $15-20 range to see if the experts could tell the difference.

The good news is that out of 50 wines, only eight averaged "no medal." The vast majority rated bronze, which is a definite step up from the original box wines. The bad news is that, with the exception of three categories, our judges picked the bottle wines as the top in their varietal. Remember, none of us knew what he was tasting, which just goes to show that you still mostly get what you pay for. However, there are some exceptions.

And the Winners Are ...

Our goal was to find any box wine that could stand up against its glass brethren, and we found three that were absolute knockouts. They were the winning Cabernet, Merlot, and other white.

Our final step was to bring the Top 3 wines in for a face-off. Still, none of us knew what he was tasting, other than a Cab, a Merlot, and an other white. We were aiming for Best Red, Best White, and Best of Show. For the red, all but one judge chose the Cabernet, so all that remained was to choose between the Cabernet and other white for the Best of Show.

This was the crowning moment of our run through 50 wines, so excitement was in the air. Our first three judges voted Cab, signaling a trend. But then the next three picked the other white. Things teeter-tottered through the rest of the judges, and the final vote was ... a tie. We decided to award a Best of Show to both wines.

That's when we finally got to see what we had picked.

1) Seeberger Riesling ($16 for 3 liters) is made in Germany and full of crisp, appley Riesling flavors. The fact that it's a low 10% alcohol makes it a perfect Texas summer wine. Ross Outon summed up his reasons for picking the Seeberger: "The only note I wrote down as I tried the winning white wine was, 'Riesling ... best white.'That says it all.It was varietally correct enough for me to pull out blind, and it was also balanced and well-structured ... and I'd drink another glass." Devon Broglie was equally ecstatic: "I felt like it had a crisp, clean finish. This is a wonderful summer white and the definition of summer quaffing wine! I am going to start keeping a box in the fridge just on principle!" Seeberger is available at most HEB stores, although based on Devon's opinion, I bet we'll be seeing it at Whole Foods in the near future.

2) Powers 2003 Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20 for 3 liters) is made by Badger Mountain Vineyard in Kennewick, Wash. Their main operation is organic, but for this less expensive wine, they must rely on nonorganic fruit. This wine easily could be mistaken for a $15-20-a-bottle Cabernet. It is 100% Cabernet that has seen time in real barrels, something you hardly ever find in wines less than $15 a bottle. That's positively amazing for a wine that works out to the equivalent of $5 a bottle. Winemaker Jim Johnson commented that it is "the perfect box wine, appropriate color, nice nose. It finishes dry, and the fruit is bright, forward, and squeaky clean. Very well-made." I agree. The Powers was my favorite wine of the entire contest. It is available at Grape Vine, Spec's, Whole Foods, and Whip In.

The other top wine was Hardys Stamp Merlot ($16 for 3 liters). Hardy Wine Co. is a huge Australian company with more than a dozen brands. For the Stamp line, winemaker Peter Dawson blends his wines using fruit from all over Australia, then puts the same wines in his bottles as in his boxes. The box wines come at a discount because making and shipping the wine costs so much less than using glass and corks. Their Merlot is velvety with just a touch of green-pepper aroma and quite rich for the price. Vann loved it. "This red is sippable or can go with just about any food," he said. "For an out-of-a-box wine, this is just what the doctor ordered for that glass-a-night before bedtime or ideal for the feast for friends." Hardys Stamp Merlot is only available at Spec's.

News You Can Use Next Time You Go to the Store

Another trend that we noticed was that a few brands showed well in almost every varietal. This is convenient because once you get the image of the label fixed in your mind, you can rest assured that you have a good chance of finding decent wines no matter the grape.

For instance, the highest ranked brand was Wine Cube, a brand sold only at Target stores. They placed in the top tier for their Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Shiraz and in the third tier for their Cabernet. These wines are line priced at $16, making them the equivalent of $4 for a regular 750-milliliter bottle.

I was surprised at the strong showing for Delicato, which placed in Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. Delicato has been advertising all the awards they've been winning, but I've never been convinced. Well, they've obviously invested the time and money in really raising the quality of their wines. That goes to prove why critical tastings should always be double blind.

Other labels showed well. Box Star is an Australian brand that placed in Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, and Shiraz. Black Box wines also did well in the box-off, placing with their Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. And Rain Dance placed in the top tier for both their Chardonnay and Shiraz.

So Should I Sell My Collection of First Growth Bordeaux and Buy Boxes?

First and foremost, wine is food, and just like most of us can't and don't eat lobster and caviar every night, we'll also never be in the $100-a-night wine club. Although the idea is appealing, after a while you'd be lusting after $500 bottles. Instead, relax, and know that a good wine at a bargain price is a thing of beauty, one that we all should be excited to find.

Does it matter if it's in a box? Of course it does. On the plus side, you can pour as much as you want and know that the rest will stay nice and fresh, just awaiting your next pour. You'll also save some money by avoiding the price penalty for bottles and corks.

The minus side is that you might feel embarrassed in the checkout line. What will they think if they see me with a box wine?

Just smile, take comfort in your intelligence, and tell them you read it here: Good wines do come in boxes.

Results of Top-Placing Wines
Grape Brand Rank


Box Star: 1

Rain Dance: 1

Wine Cube: 1

Black Box: 2

Delicato: 2

FishEye: 2

Hardys: 2

Killer Juice: 3
Pinot Grigio

Wine Cube: 1

Delicato: 2

FishEye: 3
Other White

Seeberger Riesling: 1

Franzia Chablis: 2

Hardys: 1

Black Box: 2

Delicato: 2

Box Star: 3

Powers: 1

Black Box: 2

Box Star: 3

Delicato: 3

Wine Cube: 3
Other Red

Pinot Evil: 1

Le Faux Frog Pinot: 2

Badger Mountain Red (Organic): 3

Rain Dance: 1

Wine Cube: 1

Banrock Station: 2

Box Star: 2

Black Box: 3

FishEye: 3

Hardys Shiraz: 3

The Austin Chronicle: Food: Sipping From the Spigot: The time has come for the great boxed-wine challenge