The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 1

The Back Story:

My first full week into the experiment involved a brand I had never heard of before: Bota Box. Produced by Delicato Family Vineyards out in California, the Bota Box is an attempt by a long-entrenched member of the Californian wine industry to break into the boxed wine market, though, oddly enough, there is no connection between the Delicato website and the Bota Box website. Maybe they’re letting the brand stand on its own merits? I can say with certainty that their target demographic will not be disappointed.

The packaging is pretty straight-forward when it comes to discerning that demographic: casual, environmentally-conscious wine drinkers. The minimalist, informative packaging eschews the normal, self-congratulatory flash and embellishment of boxed wines, though the copy does refer to the wine as “premium” a little too often. We’re not going to know anything about the wine by focusing on the box, however, so let’s rip this guy open and see what it tastes like.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is very dark, inky all the way to the edge. It’s barely translucent with a purplish-red color. Good legs, moderate viscosity. Swirl suggests a thin texture.

The nose of the wine is rather unimpressive. It’s slightly plummy, slightly skunky, with a suggestion of black cherry. There’s really very little else that I can detect. To be honest, it  has the standard cheap red wine nose. There’s a moderate amount alcohol coming through.

The mouth feel of the wine is, well, also rather unimpressive. It’s smoother than most boxed wines, but still doesn’t stack up to a true premium wine.

The flavor of the wine  is better than the nose would suggest. It has a fairly high acidity, though it overwhelms the flavor. The flavor also loses some of its punch due to an inordinate amount of alcohol taste as well (alc is 13%). It’s fairly tannic, though not as much as a Shiraz should be, and not as dry as I would expect. I’m getting maybe some black fruit, a little bit of spice. It has a finish of a surprisingly robust blueberry, not as short as I would have expected, but still fairly short.

For the Casual Drinker:

It’s coming from a box, so your expectations will be met. If you pair this wine with an outdoor barbecue, you probably can’t go wrong. As long as the focus is on having fun and eating greasy, spicy food, this wine should go over just fine. If you’re sitting down for a more intimate wine-drinking session, or are pairing with a gourmet meal, it would be best to leave this guy on the shelf. The imbalance in the wine isn’t wince-inducing, and its overall tameness makes it a fairly easy drinker, so don’t expect a typical Shiraz experience.

The Conclusion:

This wine’s not going to take the gold in my experiment, but it wasn’t a complete disappointment either. You get what you pay for, and at 23.99 for a box, roughly 6 dollars a bottle, it’s exactly what you’d expect for a domestic bargain red, which is to say it holds its own against the bottled bargain variety. 3/10

Current Line-up:

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006:

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008:

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – lost nothing on the nose, lost some flavor, still very imbalanced acidity, similar mouth feel, texture, increased sourness.

Retired Line-up: None so far!

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 2: The Great Tasting

Looking for part 1 of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit? You can find the Dawn of Cooperation here on Vinotology.

Chairman: Welcome to the second session of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit. Our participants are Joshua Sweeney, Virginia born-and-bred and host of today’s venue, Wine(Explored), and Ben Simons, native son of Texas and the man behind Vinotology. In our first session, we laid the groundwork evidence for Virginia’s and Texas’s credentials as major wine-producing regions. Today, we will accept one wine from each state as physical evidence. Virginia, please present your wine to the chamber for review.

Chairman of the wine summit

Josh: As evidence of Virginia’s worth as a major wine-producing region, I submit for review the 2008 West Wind Farm Rosé. I have selected this wine because it showcases both the abilities of Virginia wine growers as well as the creativity inherent in Virginia wine culture. When you think of a Rosé, what wine characteristics come to mind? What would you consider to be the typical Rosé? *pause for dramatic effect*

Close behind the argument of red wine drinkers versus white wine drinkers is red AND white wine drinkers versus Rosé. Bastard child of the red wine, white wine wearing the makeup of an incorrigible trollop, a blush wine for people who can’t handle their tannins, Rosés have suffered many slights in the minds of drinkers with a wine superiority complex. In actuality, a pink wine is an art unto itself, a beautiful, shape-shifting creature that can embody the crispness and sweet nature of a white or the aggressive acidity and tannic bite of a mature red. The trick is, as with any wine, in the respect and dedication of the wine maker.

When I first tasted this wine, I had no idea what I was getting into. The color was rich but light for a Rosé, a pure pink that betrayed only the slightest hint of red. The nose was dry and pungent, fruit-forward but rather tame. I was ready for the standard pink experience. Fool me once… The thing is, Merlot grapes aren’t the standard grape for a Rosé, and if I had bothered to read the tasting notes, I would have known the wine, 100% Merlot, was allowed a little under a day’s worth of skin contact to get that deep pink color.

Putting that first sip on my tongue was like dropping a bomb of dryness on my palate. After I figured out that no, I hadn’t utterly lost my mind, I was absolutely in awe of the characteristics of that wine. So crisp, so dry, balanced so well, and with a beautiful red fruit flavor that faded to a ripe strawberry finish, I was duly impressed. Unusual innovation like that is one of the benefits of living in an “up and coming” wine region, as there are no traditions to buck or expectations to meet. An additional benefit of the lesser-known region is the lower price point on these wines. The Rosé sells directly from the winery for $14.

I’ll now yield the floor to my colleague from Texas before I encroach upon his rebuttal. Your thoughts on this wine, Mr. Simons?

West Wind Farm emblem

Ben: Josh, I have to say that I admire the courage of choosing something unconventional like a Rosé.  I admit that I was intrigued when I heard that you would be presenting this wine.  As a resident of a state that is making some interesting wines from some unusual varieties, I can appreciate the creativity shown with this wine.

I really like the color of this wine, most definitely somewhat lighter than you generally see, but an interesting pinkish hue. * sniff- Hmm, the dryness of this wine is surprisingly evident even on the nose.  I do smell a bit of red fruit, but I wouldn’t say that the nose is overly fruity.  I also wouldn’t call the nose overly friendly or inviting, but it is interesting.

*sip – Wow, very interesting flavors. Surprisingly dry, and surprisingly big on the palate. The flavors of crisp cherry and citrus stand out. This wine feels like a walking contradiction. I’m getting citrus, but not a ton of acidity. I get something that seems slightly like cherry candy, but the wine is by no means sweet. The lingering flavor of strawberries and a touch of apple finish are like a nice hug goodbye.

Chairman: Thank you, Texas. The chamber now calls on you to present your wine for review.

Ben: Mr. Chairman, as evidence for the quality of Texas as a wine region, I submit the 2006 Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir. I selected this wine for a number of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that Pinot Noir is a grape that most people would assume cannot be grown successfully in Texas. In fact, I have even been told by a Texas winemaker that Pinot Noir can’t be grown here. This wine shows the amazing versatility of Texas viticulture.

This wine was produced in the High Plains of Texas, in my hometown of Lubbock. The winery operates under a philosophy of minimal intervention, trying to do their best to let the grapes speak for themselves. The High Plains is probably the only place in the state where Pinot Noir could be grown, as the nights get cool enough to support these thin skinned grapes. Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grown, and an even more difficult one to do well, but I think this winery has done an excellent job.  There were only 70 cases of this wine produced.

The color of this wine is what you want a Pinot Noir to be, not dark and inky, but a somewhat light shade of garnet red. There is no doubt that this is a true Pinot Noir. The nose has beautiful red fruit notes of strawberry and cherry, with just a touch of earthiness. When I sip on this wine, I love the acidity that leaps out, with tangy fruits like sour cherry and cranberries standing out. This wine practically screams for a pork tenderloin to pair with it, which we just happen to have to serve the Chairman and each of the panelists after the evidence presentation is complete.  One final note, this wine costs only $15, which is a remarkably low price for a Pinot Noir, especially one made from a small production winery.

I now yield to the gentleman from the state of Virginia, Mr. Sweeney…

Pheasant Ridge logo

Josh: Thank you, Ben. Like that misinformed winemaker, I had never considered that Pinot Noir could be grown in a state so far south as Texas. Consider me enlightened. It would seem that Texas, like Virginia, has an interesting array of growing areas. I had known about how Texas was well suited for Mediterranean varietals such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese, but Pinot Noir? It will be very interesting to see how this pans out.

I can see what you mean about the color of this wine. That is a very rich red, though still light enough for a quality Pinot Noir. *sniff – Those red fruits really jump out at you. The cherry smell dominates for me, but I still get that undertone of earthiness that seems to me an appropriate expression of the terroir. It’s a little bit spicy and floral, but just enough to accent the red fruit, nothing overpowering. Its aroma is powerful, too. I can smell it from across the table.

*sip – Oh my. That is an incredibly harmonious wine. Fantastic acidity, and it’s well-balanced, off-dry. A very easy drinker. Again, massive red-fruits on the palate, raspberry, cherry, and, yes, cranberry. The mouth feel is velvety with a pleasant bite. I’m even getting something a little like cinnamon and pepper on the mid-palate, which transitions nicely to a long, dry, cherry finish. I probably would not have placed this as a New World wine in a blind tasting. It’s only 15 dollars, you say? I would have pegged this wine for at least $20. Chairman?

Chairman: We will now take a recess. I would like to thank our participants, Mr. Ben Simons representing Texas and Mr. Joshua Sweeney representing Virginia. We will pass preliminary deliberations onto you, the panelists. Pass the pork tenderloin, please.

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

Check out this collaboration between me and Ben Simons of Vinotology on his blog. We present the cases for Virginia vs. Texas wine as taking the next step towards becoming major North American wine regions. Part 2 will be up tomorrow morning right here on Wine(Explored)!

The 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 1

A Toast to the Future Spirit of Wine Blogging

I had been planning this post for awhile, but the past couple of days have been eye opening to this newbie wine blogger, and I figure now’s as good a time as any to write. I had finally settled into my role in the blogosphere after meeting and learning from several milestones a wine blogger could face:

  • Posting your first review and waiting to be sniped at by more knowledgeable writers
  • Posting your first review of a bad wine and enduring the fallout
  • Starting a weekly feature, then failing to continue it (though I’ll hopefully be reviving the Irreverent Weekend Reader)
  • Realizing how traffic arrives to your blog and strengthening those avenues
  • Botching a review and all the shame and guilt that accompanies it

Though I know I have a lot more to learn, which is like saying there’s a lot more of the ocean I have left to swim in, I was fairly certain I had at least found a groove. A couple sites have, in fact, reaffirmed a decision I made last week to change the direction of my blog. In an article at Palate Press, Tom Johnson says, quite plainly, that wine blogs are too personal, too uncontroversial to warrant a consistent audience. In a rather minute controversy, wine critic Stephen Tanzer took a swipe at wine bloggers in his new website, Winophilia, essentially calling us amateurs in the lowest sense of the word, then tempering it with a self-contradicting nod to “extremely well-done” but “sporadic… hobbyist” wine blogs. Ouch, especially if he doesn’t consider your blog of the “well-done” variety. Consider the riposte from Steve Paulo at Notes from the Cellar: “Stephen Tanzer is a Jackass.”

The feces can fly both ways, Mr. Tanzer. As of this morning, Stephen Tanzer has removed the offending words from his website, opting instead to leave the wine-blogging community completely out of his pitch. Very quick response to a PR issue, and a welcome nod towards our position.

I realized early on that my wit, enthusiasm and formal training in writing will not make up for a lack of knowledge and experience. I simply don’t have the time, resources, or palate training to consistently crank out reviews of wines five times a week. Even if I did, how would that distinguish me from every other wine blogger jousting for an admittedly tiny online segment of wine drinkers? It wouldn’t, obviously. What I need to find, and what I plan on searching for, is my niche. What have I got going for me that no one else does, or that very few others would? I think I have a few ideas…

But the change of direction doesn’t stop there. I’ve been sequestered on my site since the beginning, as have most bloggers. We write our reviews, and we read each other’s reviews, we occasionally comment, and that’s basically it. Some bloggers reach out to others, but largely the posts are simply output. We chastise people on Twitter who shout shout shout and never engage. Why don’t we try to interact more in blogs? How many times have your posts induced honest discussion in the comments? How difficult is it to link to another blog post that might be related, or to respond to another blog post with a post of your own? It’s a little bit of effort that has benefits beyond simple traffic increases. It builds relationships.

Just as a side note, Google loves those interlinked sites in its search engine. They make crawling and indexing real easy, and that impacts search ranking.

I’ve been working with Ben Simons at Vinotology on a Virginia-Texas Wine Summit, and it’s been incredibly fun and productive. It’s made me learn a lot about Virginia wine, and Ben’s side will teach me quite a bit on Texas wine. Best of all, the fruits of our labor will go to you, our readers, once it goes live. It doesn’t end there, either. What’s to stop, say, Michigan By the Bottle and Suburban Wino from holding a Michigan-Georgia Wine Summit? Maybe a California wine enthusiast wants to go in a different direction and make a case for the “Big Four” actually being the “Big One.” I read a blog comment yesterday that referred to Cali wine as “fruit syrup.” That’s gotta ignite a fire in someone, right? Anyone want to make some dialogue out of that?

As an example of an experiment that got recognition and views, Josh at Drink Nectar and Randy at The Wine Whore organized a video review and finished it with a 2500-mile-apart guitar and drum jam. Why not intersperse the daily reviews with a partnering with another blogger? What’s a crazy idea you’ve had to spice up your reviews? I talked once jokingly about a hip-hop wine review. I’ve got years of creative writing experience just going to waste right now, so why not, right?

We still need to review. We still get traffic from them, and they still prompt discussion, purchases, and occasionally controversy. I’m a fan of print wine publications, but why should they get all the fun and the final say? And what’s the harm in posting a review that *gulp* agrees with Stephen Tanzer? Why not quote another review within your own? I’m positive someone out there reading this has disagreed with one of my reviews. Why not call me out on it and discuss it? Lord knows wine makers have.

I linked to 8 blogs in this post, and I barely broke a sweat. I plan on doing this (and much more) in the future, and I hope you, my fellow wine bloggers, will join me in giving it a shot.

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Spin the Wheel: Indie Music Wine Pairings

The cool thing about wine is that the experience pairs well with not only food, but with any number of activities. You can sip a fine, complex wine while listening to an orchestral serenade, a light, fruit-forward dessert wine during a comedy, or a jug of Two-Buck Chuck during a tailgate (though I hope you at least use a glass). One guy I know likes to pair Chardonnay with his hunting trips. Whatever you’re into, I’m positive there’s a wine out there that’s perfectly suited to it. Because one of my passions is music, specifically independent music, I put a lot of thought into pairing different wines with music. I figured today I would share a couple of my musings on the subject with the randomizer on my music player as an inspiration.

Hercules & Love Affair – Blind

Hercules & Love Affair is a remarkable band that has taken musical anachronism in a different direction. While most independent bands that look to the past for their inspiration usually settle on emulating the new wave style of music pioneered by Devo, Duran Duran, The Cure, and all the other awesome bands that get mocked in pop culture nowadays, Hercules & Love Affair look to ignite a disco revival. Their music wraps European-style modern electronica and male/female vocals around the four-on-the-floor funk beats of classic disco, making them one of the few bands left that can call themselves “unique” and not sound like they’re in denial.

To match this unusual band, I’m looking for an unusual wine that might not be characteristic of its varietal. To match the flamboyance of an electronic disco artist without going with a traditionally sweet or exotic varietal, I think I’d have to go with a Vouvray. Made from Chenin Blanc, which usually produces drier, very aggressive and fruity white wines in its traditional environments, produces incredibly complex and harmonious wines when allowed to fully ripen in warm seasons in cooler climates. When Vouvray has a good growing season (which is happening more and more often due to global warming), the wines develop additional notes, a floral, honeyed character and a crisp sweetness that, well, is a reason why these wines are becoming a quick favorite of mine. The wine ages very well, too, which reflects the classic music influences of Hercules & Love Affair. Let’s face it, Vouvray is a very active wine, both in its high acidity and complex flavors, and like disco, it just makes you wanna dance, whether you want to admit it or not!

Bishop Allen – Calendar

A carefree band that revels in its minimal instrumentation, Bishop Allen has long been one of my favorite bands. I discovered them while I lived in Lynchburg, VA, not knowing that they were at the same time stationed in Lynchburg as a temporary reprieve from life in New York City. They have an honest affection for folk music, surprising complexity in their instrumentation, and a positive outlook that tempers even the most somber of subject matter. Justin Rice, the lead singer and guitarist, is a perpetually awkward 20-something, and in fact plays the lead as a perpetually awkward 20-something in Mutual Appreciation, one of my favorite movies. He chronicles this attitude, though, with maturity and a good sense of humor.

What to pair with Bishop Allen? I want a young wine that’s fresh and fruity, fairly light-bodied, but with a mature enough structure to be taken seriously. I’m leaning towards a New World Sangiovese. These tend to be brighter, less bitter, and more floral than the traditional Italian style, yet still retaining the red wine’s inherent acidity and tannic character. After the initial burst of playful red fruits, there’s potential for darker fruits, spices, even tobacco, the hallmarks of richer red wines. Once you get past the youthful enthusiasm of Bishop Allen, you’ll realize that, in their upbeat way, they like to tackle some pretty heavy topics.

Any music enthusiasts out there? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. This was a lot of fun, and I definitely plan on doing this again. I might even make it a weekly feature.

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