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 Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 0

The Back Story:

I kicked off the beginning of The Search for the Best Boxed Wine (that’s right, I’m officially designating this experiment with capital letters) with one of the bigger names in boxed wine fare: Black Box.  I had a choice between the Chardonnay and Merlot. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find their Riesling, which I hear is the most consistent and palatable. I decided, with whatever reasoning I managed to cobble together at that point, that it would be more difficult to mess up a white wine than a red wine, so I opted for the Chardonnay Monterey 2008. Was it a worthy kick-off to this experiment? The answer is a resounding… maybe.

(from the Black Box website)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a pale straw color with a tinge of gold. The wine has good legs, and the swirl suggested a somewhat thick texture.

The nose of the wine was rather weak and floral with hints of banana, apple, and honey. The good news is the alcohol, at 13.5%, doesn’t really come through, suggesting it will be at least drinkable.

The mouth feel of the wine was surprisingly thin, with a briny acidity. It felt weak in the mouth, but it caused a thick feeling in the back of the throat and caused a rather immediate sensation of heartburn. This suggests a lack of balance as the acidity is just over 7 g/l.

The flavor of the wine was also fairly weak, slightly sour with unripe apple and citrus, rather dry with sugar exactly at 4 g/l. There was just a hint of alcohol flavor in the palate, but it was fairly cool and didn’t disturb the flavor too much. Despite the balance in the alcohol, I would still describe the wine as backward; it was hard to focus on the subtle flavors through the acidity. The wine also benefited minimally from aeration, meaning it’s about as good as it gets right out of the box. Frankly, I think the grapes were just harvested too early, a problem I imagine is pretty common for mass-produced wines.

For the Casual Drinker:

Despite the high acidity and lack of balance, it was still fairly drinkable. It was just sweet enough to keep the acidity from simply overwhelming the wine, and there was just enough flavor to keep the wine from being a complete disappointment. That said, to be blunt, I wouldn’t lead off a night or a party with this wine. This would be best to break out after the senses have been slightly dulled by a first, more balanced bottle of wine. It’s very drinkable, just rather unimpressive. The acidity is also good for a dose of heartburn if you’re not expecting it.

The Conclusion:

A rather inauspicious beginning to my experiment. Actually, that’s a little harsh. It retails at $25 for 3 liters, averaging just over $6 dollars per 750ml “bottle,” which makes it a win as long as it’s drinkable. I’ve seen it as low as $16 before, meaning it can be a fantastic bargain table or party wine if you luck out. It could have gone a lot worse, I know, and as far as expectations for boxed wine goes, this one surpassed it, but the point here is to find something even experienced wine drinkers can get into. 4/10

Current Line-up:

Black Box Chardonnay Monterey 2008:

  • Week 0 – 4/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, briny, weak texture, slightly sour, fruit-forward, weak nose

Retired Line-up:

None so far!

Official Rules for the Search for the Best Boxed Wine

After much deliberation, I’ve settled on the format for my boxed wine experiment. In my search for the best boxed wine, I need to be as empirical and objective as possible, as there are several variables at play that I am trying to record.

I want to have an organized method for tasting the wines in a timely manner while figuring out the shelf life of each one. Therefore, I’ve devised this testing method:

1) I will open a new boxed wine each Saturday, giving it an official tasting as I would any other wine (appearance, nose, texture, flavor, the whole range).

2) I will taste every other boxed wine from youngest to oldest, testing for any declines due to oxidation or age. Once a wine is declared undrinkable, it will be removed from consideration.  I figure by going from younger to older, I’ll be more likely to detect the subtle changes in wine due to aging if the fresher wines are tasted first.

3) After 5 weeks, the wine will be removed from consideration. If it makes it more than a month and is still drinkable, I will consider it to be a successful boxed wine.

4) Wines removed from consideration will receive an adjusted score based on their initial rating, longevity, and sustained quality.

5) A write-up detailing all current and former wines will reach the light of day each Monday, after a Saturday of testing and a Sunday of scribbling.

The excitement begins this weekend! Who’s stoked? I know you are… If you have any tips for boxed wines to try, by all means, leave me a comment. I’ve gotten some good feedback about artisanal wines that are going the bag-in-box route, so I know there’s got to be more out there.

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine

Judging from the traffic that’s been coming to my blog lately, there is a growing segment of the population that is interested in finding drinkable boxed wine. Now, I’ve already reviewed a wine that I’ve called “The Best Boxed Wine You’ll Ever Buy,” but I cheated in the definition: Yellow + Blue Torrontes is a carton, not a bag-in-a-box. I’ve decided, then, to pursue an on-going search for the best boxed wine that money can buy.

Some of you more hardcore winos out there might be laughing at this search, that it’s most likely frivolous, a waste of my time. We shall see, but I’m willing to bet there are a few respectable wine makers out there that were willing to eschew the traditions of old-world wine for a more environmentally-friendly and economical packaging. In fact, my company is currently looking into boxed wine accessories to add to our product collection soon after our launch. We want to cater to consumers of all wines, not just those dedicated to the bottle.

A benefit of boxed wine, aside from the environmental considerations and cost,  is the fact that it just lasts longer in the bag… weeks longer. The nature of the bag keeps the wine from being exposed to air until it’s poured. The oxidation process is drastically slowed, and you don’t run the risk of the wine being corked or tainted; the only issues affecting the wine would be introduced during the wine making process itself.

There are two specific benefits to the search that make it worth my while: boxed wine usually runs much cheaper than bottled wine, meaning I’ll actually be saving money compared to my usual reviews, and I have plenty of family and friends nearby who have absolutely no qualms about quaffing wine that has never touched a glass bottle before, in the offhand chance that I’m just not up to finishing off multiple liters of the stuff.

This search will be interspersed with my normal wine-drinking. I’ve got a long queue of wines to open, and I don’t want this blog to become too monotone. Check back periodically to see how the search is going. I’m creating a category link on the sidebar to make my experiences easier to reach.

Until then, stalwart drinkers.

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