The Search for the Best Boxed Wine Week 9

The Back Story:

The boxed wine we’re covering this week, Seven by Bodegas Osbourne, is a fascinating study in terroir and structure. We’re familiar with that famous French / Aussie blend, GSM, comprised of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, and the qualities that each component brings to the table. Syrah is the big, meaty, aggressive wine, contributing massive tannins and dark fruits to the wine. Mourvèdre, with its delayed ripening, brings a higher acidity and more nuanced structure to the mix. Grenache, a lighter, sweeter, and soft wine, craves the structure and tannins the other two provide. It’s an example of a basic, well-reasoned and -tested formula for a successful blend.

If GSM is an algebra equation, Seven is calculus integration. Though not nearly as staggering as the Big House Red’s array of varietals, this wine still has an extensive list of varietals to sift through. It consists of 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 18% Shiraz, 8% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha (Grenache), 8% Petit Verdot, and 8% Graciano.

The wine begins with the potent structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, and the dry, red fruit profile these grapes bring to the table are tempered by the earthiness and softness of Spanish stalwarts Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano. These grapes all take on the terroir of Spain incredibly well, and the combination of aggressive tannins in the big reds, softer, gentler profile of the Grenache and Tempranillo, and high acidity of the Petit Verdot and Graciano should make for an interesting experience.

The Results:

Seven wine boxThe appearance of the wine is a deep red with a slight ruby tint and a pure translucency. It appears to have an average viscosity.

The nose of the wine is a bit hot, featuring mainly red-fruit and spice with a distinct milk chocolate scent and a note of leather. Smells rather like a cordial cherry.

The mouth feel of the wine is fairly medium-bodied, very smooth. The tannins are palpable but not very prominent. The alcohol is very detectable here, lending the wine its light and airy smoothness.

The flavor of the wine is, like the nose, a simple red-fruit and spice affair. There are simple, broad flavors of cherry and cinnamon. It’s slightly earthy, leathery, with a metallic tinge, and there is a detectable oak. The finish is medium, a bit shorter than expected, accompanied by chocolate. There’s a bit of sweetness offsetting a surprisingly tame tannic profile. It has a very good balance, though the alcohol comes through quite a bit, especially on the finish.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a nice, tame, simple red wine with a very agreeable flavor profile. Not too big, not too tannic, not too sweet, this is a crowd-pleaser. The chocolate and cherry flavors will suit most palates, and the lack of “chewy” tannins should make this at least acceptable to white wine drinkers. It’s a bit tame, so keep it away from overly spicy meals, especially tomato-based soups and sauces. Most red meat, though, is fair game.

The Conclusion:

The massive varietal blend equals out to a relatively simple fruit- and chocolate-centric wine. For a red wine, especially boxed, this is pretty good. 6/10

Current Line-up:

Bodegas Osbourne Seven NV

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – Red-fruit, spicy, slightly earthy. Bit imbalance in the alcohol. Very smooth and well-rounded.

Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc 2009

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – Tropical, citrus, herbal flavors and nose. Slightly imbalanced acidity and alcohol.
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Very similar to last week. Possibly

Double Dog Dare Chardonnay, California NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Very off-putting nose, dull, listless color, rough mouth feel, apple and oak flavor, imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 1 – 2/10 – Flavor and balance have taken a dive. The chemical from the nose is noticeable on the flavor
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Consistent from the last week. Weak flavor and nose, imbalance.

Big House Red, California 2008

  • Week 0 – 7/10 – Lean, light texture, floral and red-fruit flavors, good balance, slightly hot nose, medium finish
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Flavor has deteriorated a bit, and there’s a harshness that I possibly didn’t detect before
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Harshness has intensified. The flavors are still good, just slowly fading.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Alcohol is detectable in the mouthfeel, finish, and nose. Flavor is a bit rougher.

Wine Cube California Vintner’s Red Blend 2008

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Weak structure, heavy oak nose, red-fruit profile, heavy vanilla oak flavor, light-bodied, very short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Exactly the same as before. Somehow, and I don’t know how, this sweet vanilla red wine manages to be drinkable.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose is a little bit off, but the flavor is still the same as before.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – Same flavor, just a bit weaker. Odd buttered popcorn scent on the nose now.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Alcohol is becoming prominent on the nose and flavor. Other than that, it’s holding up well

Retired Line-up:

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – Slightly imbalanced acidity, balanced alcohol, earthy nose, red fruit flavor, short finish, slight metallic undertaste.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Still as fresh as when it was opened. Similar earthiness, red fruits, short finish, slightly imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Still tasting pretty fresh. Still balanced. Flavor tastes on par with previous tastings.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Flavor is beginning to diminish, causing the alcohol flavor and metallic taste to come through more.
  • Week 4 – 4/10 – Holding steady from last week. Still a slightly off flavor, but it hasn’t diminished since.
  • Week 5 – 4/10 – Nose is a bit more harsh. Cherry flavor is strangely more prominent.
  • Average score: 4.5/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. I would completely recommend this wine as a stalwart backup for any occasion as well as a decent sipper on its on right.

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium-bodied, way too bitter finish.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Similar balance in acidity and alcohol, similar flavors and nose, similar bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Starting to taste a bit more imbalanced, flavors and nose have faded slightly, finish is less bitter
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Odd caramel scent on the nose. Flavor has deteriorated and the balance is still off.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Flavor has deteriorated further. Alcohol flavor is starting to take a prominent feature.
  • Week 5 – 3/10 – Held steady for the final week. Still drinkable, and the flavor’s still partially there.
  • Average score: 4.2/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. Though it didn’t finish strongly, this boxed wine is good for a few weeks of very tasty drinking.

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Imbalanced acidity and alcohol, smooth texture, no loss in flavor, hot nose, maybe a bit more bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Still imbalanced, same texture, flavor, and nose. Holding its meager flavor well.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – There’s something a little off on the flavor, but it’s not enough to drop the score. Still mostly the same.
  • Week 4 – 2/10 – Tastes very soft now, like the structure is beginning to deteriorate. Weak flavor, alcohol is strangely no longer prominent in the flavor
  • Week 5 – 2/10 – The flavor profile is very different. Very soft, very meek, hardly representative of the big fruit that preceded it.
  • Average score: 2.6/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 3/10. Had a pretty decent stay, though it came from humble beginnings. If nothing else, you’ve got over a month to drink it.

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
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Nose and flavor are starting to get musty, still overly acidic, beginning to taste flat, metallic, alcohol flavor still balanced
  • Week 3 – 1/10 – Nose and flavor lost distinguishing characteristics. Taste mostly of acid and alcohol. Flavor is officially wince-inducing. Consider this guy retired.
  • Average score: 2.5/10. Length of stay = 3 weeks. Final score is 2/10. Started off all right, but deteriorated too quickly to make it a contender for the best boxed wine.

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Still hot on the tongue, balanced acidity, flavors are all holding true. Nose hasn’t changed.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose and flavor are still the same, mediocre but not any worse.
  • Week 3 – 2/10 – A slightly unusual, chemical flavor is starting to come forward. It’s really affecting the flavor.
  • Week 4 – 0/10 – Nose consists entirely of alcohol now. Flavor is unrecognizable. This guy is retired.
  • Average score: 2.2/10. Length of stay = 4 weeks. Final score is 1/10. Started poorly, and the wine was essentially undrinkable after 3 weeks. Not a good trait in a boxed wine.

Wailua Wheat Ale: A Sign of Summer

The Back Story:

Everyone has their own triggers to make them officially recognize when winter ends and spring begins. Maybe it’s the first Sweet William planted in April, gambling against the chance of a late-season frost. Maybe it’s the first time you look outside before work and trade in your khakis for a pair of shorts, even if it’s not quite casual Friday.

Maybe it’s simply the first time you break a sweat while walking around outside and have those first pinings for sand and surf.

Regardless, as seasons change, so do tastes. We spend less time in front of fires, whether real or simulated, with our GSM blends and Chardonnays, and migrate to the porches, pouring Pinot Noirs and Gewurztraminers. Whatever habits we happily indulge in during the winter months are slowly replaced by equally enjoyable and possibly ill-advised vices inspired by the warmer months.

For me, my wine drinking habits are the first to change. I always go through a period of three to four weeks where I just have no compulsion to put red wine to my lips. It literally takes several bottles of even the most disappointing white wine before I want to see a Carignan or Merlot placed before me. All the meanwhile, I’ll happily toss back the most opaque, dark-as-night black ales and mocha stouts. At some point, probably the first time I attempt to engage in an athletic activity while sipping on said beers, I’ll have a change of heart (and stomach) for some lighter fare.

Enter Wailua Wheat. Brewed and bottled in the heart of Hawai’i Island’s Kailua by the Kona Brewing Company, this beer pulls off a feat that few alcoholic beverages achieve. Let’s face it: if you made a Venn Diagram of delicious beers versus refreshing beers, it would look something like this:

Venn diagram of beer

If you’re looking for a beer that strikes a nice balance between being drinkable and being drinkable when you’re actually thirsty, your options are fairly limited. Do I think Wailua Wheat fits the bill? You already know the answer to that question.

The Results:

Wailua Wheat Ale PourThe appearance of the beer is rather pale and golden, similar to a Belgian-style ale, but with a very strong orange cloudiness that becomes apparent as light refracts through. Head retention is fairly minimal, especially for a wheat beer.

The nose of the beer is a sweet and very ripe citrus, reminiscent of its passion fruit along with a note of sours and a malted, nutty scent consistent with American lagers.

The mouth feel of the beer is extremely dry and crisp, not at all full, and it doesn’t coat the mouth like a more substantial beer. Its carbonation is fairly light but still active. It hits the tongue with a very active, citrusy acidity.

The flavor of the wine is not nearly as fruity as you’d expect. There’s a distinct passion fruit, but it doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of the beer. It conveys the flavor and sweetness without being syrupy. The beer itself has a flavor of almonds and puffed wheat cereal (think Super Golden Crisp). The taste is rather understated, almost powdery, very delicate. It’s on the cusp of being too thin. As soon as it starts warming up, the flavors dissipate, and it starts tasting more like a typical wheat ale. This beer is best by far at around 40 degrees.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a very friendly beer to approach, especially if you’re used to the typical American lager. It’s got a simple flavor, not at all overwhelming, and the passion fruit flavor comes through just enough to give you a taste of complexity. To me, this beer just seems like it would be at home with beads of condensation running down it. Hot and humid would only make this beer taste better. Drink it cold, and don’t dilly-dally!

The Conclusion:

For 8 bucks a six-pack, you’re not priced out of enjoying a delicious and refreshing summer ale. 6/10

Cinco De Mayo Wine Pairings

A recent example of wine pairings that went well together is my company’s Cinco de Mayo party this past Wednesday. I’ve reviewed both of these wines before, so I won’t repeat myself in those regards, but I will link to those reviews in case you missed them.

2009 ranga.ranga Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand

2009 ranga.ranga Sauvignon Blanc bottleWe celebrated the victory in battle of the Mexicans over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 by hucking an inflated rubber ball at a metal hoop. Appropriate, I know. We played next to a freshly cut lawn, the sweet, pungent scent of clipped grass still very prominent on a soft spring breeze. The temperature, just over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, with a light humidity, was enough to work up a quick sweat without being sweltering or oppressive. I mentioned in my review of the ranga.ranga that it “just smells and tastes like a summer party after a hard day of gardening and yardwork.” In this case, we got the experience without actually putting in the effort, which was doubly enjoyable.

The herbal, citrus-y, and grassy flavors in the Sauvignon Blanc matched perfectly. I’d take time away from the game to have a quick sip, and the brisk acidity and tart flavors were both cooling and refreshing. Though the complexity of the wine was lost, as I didn’t exactly have the focus or time to enjoy the finish, the flavors still functioned very well as a thirst-quencher.

It was almost too easy to just gulp it down instead of having a mere sip, and I might have had to refill my glass once or twice more than I otherwise should have. The high alcohol content also made me a lot more confident in my abilities, which hadn’t been adequately exercised since last April, and I found myself jacking up three-pointers that would even make “Zach Randolph, Point Guard” blush.

2008 Yellow + Blue Torrontes, Cafayate Valley, Salta, Argentina

The other wine that we had for our Cinco De Mayo party was a pairing for the food, which was an old-fashioned shrimp boil. We had yellow and blue torrontes cartontwo pots going on, one with a garlic-seasoned brew and the other with a classic creole-style boil. The scents mingled together immaculately in the air around the picnic area, “forming up like Voltron,” to borrow a phrase from Rick Bakas.

On the review for this wine, I raved about the seafood pairing, creole flounder stuffed with shrimp, crab, and peppers. Obviously, this experience had a lot to do with why I brought this wine for the shrimp boil. The floral notes of the wine accented the spicy scents of the shrimp boil very well. Aside from the food, the Torrontes was still crisp and very cool, well suited to an outdoor spring party. The floral scents worked for the season as well.

While I spent a lot more time with the ranga.ranga than with the Yellow + Blue Torrontes that day, probably because I spent 2/3 of my time at the party playing basketball, I found both to be perfect for the conditions. If you plan on having an outdoor party before it gets too warm, especially one that will involve any kind of athletic activity, you can’t go wrong with a dry Marlborough-style Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re doing any kind of spicy cookout with a seafood or poultry theme, a South-American-style Torrontes will hit the spot.

Guest Post on Drink Nectar: A Guide to Wine Accessories

I got the distinct honor of guest-posting on Josh Wade’s Drink Nectar. Check out my quick consumer’s guide, Wine Accessories: Tools for the Journey Ahead, as well as the many other awesome posts on his blog. Few people work harder than Mr. Wade when it comes to spreading the good word of wine.

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 8

The Back Story:

This weekend was the first weekend in a long time where I had absolutely no obligations. I got to watch baseball and basketball, get caught up on some work, and, perhaps most importantly, enjoy a glass of wine on the porch without interruption. At 1PM, the temperature was in the mid-80s, the sun was bright without a cloud in the sky. My friends, this was a day that called for a Sauvignon Blanc.

Coincidentally, on Thursday, I got two more boxed wine industry samples, a red and a white. While I’m certainly not one to judge someone’s drinking preferences, I was in absolutely no mood to have a red wine on such a gorgeous, warm day. To kill two birds with one stone, I decided to go ahead and get my boxed wine tasting done early so that, in case the boxed wine was in fact a good one, I’d have a near limitless supply of buzz for my lazy Saturday. I can tell you for a fact I got a nice little sunburn that afternoon. What about the wine? Well… the wine I opened that day was the Silver Birch 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. It’s from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, so if you know what that means, you pretty much already know what to expect from this wine.

The Results:

Silver Birch Sauvignon BlancThe appearance of the wine is a very pale straw, and it appears to have an average viscosity.

The nose of the wine is primarily tropical and citrus, with a slight heat coming from the alcohol. There are distinct notes of mango and lime, and I’m getting a hint of herbs as well. It actually smells like a dry Viognier.

The mouthfeel of the wine is lighter and active, as Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough are wont to be, and it packs a punch in its compact frame, as Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough are wont to do.

The flavor of the wine is very dry, very crisp, with an attack of tart orange and lemon flavors with a hint of sage. There’s a bit of cut grass, and a medium finish of watermelon candy. The flavor holds up fairly well to the acidity and alcohol (at 13%), which are both more prominent than they should be but don’t get in the way of the flavor too badly.

For the Casual Drinker:

As with pretty much any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, you’re getting a dry, highly acidic wine. Heartburn? Check. The flavors are fairly typical for a Sauvignon Blanc, so you’re getting mainly citrus with some subtle tropical and herbaceous notes. The standard Sauvignon Blanc pairings apply here: veggie dishes, lighter seafood fare, chicken with a lighter spice or pepper rub, and sushi. It’s very crisp and refreshing, a perfect wine for being out in the hot sun.

The Conclusion:

This wine is as good as any sub-$10 Sauv Blanc I’ve tasted, and at $22, or $5.50 per bottle, it’s a fantastic bargain. The only issue I have with it is a minor imbalance, and it’s easy enough to overlook and enjoy. 6/10

Note: This boxed wine was provided by the distributor as an industry sample.

Current Line-up:

Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc 2009

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – tropical, citrus, herbal flavors and nose. Slightly imbalanced acidity and alcohol.

Double Dog Dare Chardonnay, California NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Very off-putting nose, dull, listless color, rough mouth feel, apple and oak flavor, imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 1 – 2/10 – Flavor and balance have taken a dive. The chemical from the nose is noticeable on the flavor

Big House Red, California 2008

  • Week 0 – 7/10 – Lean, light texture, floral and red-fruit flavors, good balance, slightly hot nose, medium finish
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Flavor has deteriorated a bit, and there’s a harshness that I possibly didn’t detect before
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Harshness has intensified. The flavors are still good, just slowly fading.

Wine Cube California Vintner’s Red Blend 2008

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Weak structure, heavy oak nose, red-fruit profile, heavy vanilla oak flavor, light-bodied, very short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Exactly the same as before. Somehow, and I don’t know how, this sweet vanilla red wine manages to be drinkable.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose is a little bit off, but the flavor is still the same as before.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – Same flavor, just a bit weaker. Odd buttered popcorn scent on the nose now.

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium-bodied, way too bitter finish.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Similar balance in acidity and alcohol, similar flavors and nose, similar bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Starting to taste a bit more imbalanced, flavors and nose have faded slightly, finish is less bitter
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Odd caramel scent on the nose. Flavor has deteriorated and the balance is still off.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Flavor has deteriorated further. Alcohol flavor is starting to take a prominent feature.

Retired Line-up:

Pinot Evil Pinot Noir NV

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – Slightly imbalanced acidity, balanced alcohol, earthy nose, red fruit flavor, short finish, slight metallic undertaste.
  • Week 1 – 5/10 – Still as fresh as when it was opened. Similar earthiness, red fruits, short finish, slightly imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Still tasting pretty fresh. Still balanced. Flavor tastes on par with previous tastings.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Flavor is beginning to diminish, causing the alcohol flavor and metallic taste to come through more.
  • Week 4 – 4/10 – Holding steady from last week. Still a slightly off flavor, but it hasn’t diminished since.
  • Week 5 – 4/10 – Nose is a bit more harsh. Cherry flavor is strangely more prominent.
  • Average score: 4.5/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. I would completely recommend this wine as a stalwart backup for any occasion as well as a decent sipper on its on right.

Bota Box Shiraz California 2006

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Imbalanced (high) acidity, imbalanced (high) alcohol, smooth texture, black fruits, very hot nose
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Imbalanced acidity and alcohol, smooth texture, no loss in flavor, hot nose, maybe a bit more bitter finish
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Still imbalanced, same texture, flavor, and nose. Holding its meager flavor well.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – There’s something a little off on the flavor, but it’s not enough to drop the score. Still mostly the same.
  • Week 4 – 2/10 – Tastes very soft now, like the structure is beginning to deteriorate. Weak flavor, alcohol is strangely no longer prominent in the flavor
  • Week 5 – 2/10 – The flavor profile is very different. Very soft, very meek, hardly representative of the big fruit that preceded it.
  • Average score: 2.6/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 3/10. Had a pretty decent stay, though it came from humble beginnings. If nothing else, you’ve got over a month to drink it.

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
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Nose and flavor are starting to get musty, still overly acidic, beginning to taste flat, metallic, alcohol flavor still balanced
  • Week 3 – 1/10 – Nose and flavor lost distinguishing characteristics. Taste mostly of acid and alcohol. Flavor is officially wince-inducing. Consider this guy retired.
  • Average score: 2.5/10. Length of stay = 3 weeks. Final score is 2/10. Started off all right, but deteriorated too quickly to make it a contender for the best boxed wine.

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.
  • Week 1 – 3/10 – Still hot on the tongue, balanced acidity, flavors are all holding true. Nose hasn’t changed.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose and flavor are still the same, mediocre but not any worse.
  • Week 3 – 2/10 – A slightly unusual, chemical flavor is starting to come forward. It’s really affecting the flavor.
  • Week 4 – 0/10 – Nose consists entirely of alcohol now. Flavor is unrecognizable. This guy is retired.
  • Average score: 2.2/10. Length of stay = 4 weeks. Final score is 1/10. Started poorly, and the wine was essentially undrinkable after 3 weeks. Not a good trait in a boxed wine.
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