The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 6

The Backstory:

I’m noticing a trend in my higher-scoring boxed wines, and it’s something that I set out to prove with this experiment. Artisanal wineries are beginning to use the boxed wine packaging to great benefit. Now that I’ve had my third offering from them, I can safely say now without feeling like a shill that Octavin Home Wine Bar is leading the charge of bringing boxed wine out of the supermarket territory and into the, well, the wine bar territory. I’ve paid for one of theirs (the Pinot Evil) and received two samples so far, and those three are my top scoring boxed wines thus far. See my review of the Monthaven Chardonnay for a description of their business model.

The 2008 Big House Red is a California blend of thirteen different varietals. It might sound like a lot, but the 2006 blend actually had twenty grapes that went into the mix. The winemaker, Georgetta Dane, essentially sets out every year to create a dynamic blend out of a vast palette of varietals. This year, the winning varietals were as follows: Syrah, Petite Sirah, Grenache, Montepuliciano, Mourvedre, Sangiovese, Algianico, Tannat, Nero D’Avola, Sargentino, Touriga, Barbera, and Petit Verdot. I can’t even begin to crunch the individual characteristics each varietal brings to the blend, but as far as the overall wine is concerned, I’ve got you covered.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a very deep reddish violet, a pure translucency with a bright violet tint at the edge. The swirl suggests a somewhat thin texture and viscosity.

The nose of the wine is rather hot with notes of black cherry and redcurrant. There’s a certain baking spice smell to it, leather, and and a perfume-y floral scent that’s heavy in violets.

The mouth feel of the wine is medium-bodied with a somewhat lean and dusty texture. It’s a far cry from the “big red” feel that the varietals in the blend would suggest. That’s not a knock against it, it’s just a bit unusual.

The flavor of the wine is an interesting profile of an atypical “fruit bomb.” It’s jammy, I definitely get that, but there’s a distinct absence of the typical sweeter red and black vine and tree fruits. The fruit I’m getting on the attack is cranberry, matched very well by a very light, powdery dryness. It has a surprisingly meek flavor considering the varietals involved and the alcohol level of 13.5%. It’s almost harmonious; the acidity is a bit low but palpable. The alcohol, however, integrates very well into the flavor. The tannins are softer than you would expect, but with the nuanced flavor, it’s a good balance. There are also hints of plum, allspice, and vanilla on the mid-palate. I’m getting oak, but it’s not overwhelming. There’s a medium finish of rhubarb, which is actually a pleasant flavor to fade out on.

For the Casual Drinker:

This wine has the potential to be a big, hearty fruit bomb, but the enormous blend softens it out and tones down the fruit flavors with some vegetable and floral qualities. It’s not sweet, not too potent, not overly alcoholic… it’s an all-around smooth and nuanced wine. It’s bigger than a Pinot Noir, meeker than a Syrah, and leaner than a Cabernet Sauvignon. This limits its pairing options: it’s more suited to a cheese or pork dish, something that doesn’t contain an overwhelming amount of spice, pepper, and tomato. I tried it with a tamer creole-chicken-based pasta dish, and the wine was just mellow enough to match.

The Conclusion:

This is the first boxed wine I’ve experienced so far that I would absolutely recommend to someone. It certainly surpasses the quality of most bottled wines in its price range (at $21.99 for 3 liters, it would retail at approximately $5.50 per bottle). I’d rank it well above the Pinot Evil, which was my front-runner for the best boxed wine thus far. 7/10

Also good to see the discriminating drinker over at Drink Hacker giving this a try. Check out the glowing review of this wine as well as the not-quite-as-glowing review of the Monthaven Chardonnay

Note: this wine was provided by the distributor as a sample.

I missed this yesterday, but for a second opinion on this wine, check out Brian Wing’s Norcal Wingman for his review posted May 10.

Current Line-up:

Big House Red, California 2008

  • Week 0 – 7/10 – lean, light texture, floral and red-fruit flavors, good balance, slightly hot nose, medium finish

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.

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

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.

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.

Retired Line-up:

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.

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