The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 2

The Back Story:

Pinot Evil labelPinot Evil’s Pinot Noir is one of those shapeshifters in the wine world. Because they don’t have a dedicated vineyard, they’re free to chase the best grapes they can find for their wine. The drawback is there’s really no guarantee of quality from cask to cask, and this is reflected in the fact that the wine is non-vintage. Pinot Evil eschews the entire traditional wine-making process, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certain to offend old-school wine sensibilities.

Pinot Evil used to use a variety of what is referred to as “vin de pays” Pinot Noir grapes from France, meaning the wine produced was regulated and tested but not necessarily reaching Appellation d’origine contrôlée standards. I haven’t had any of the French production, but from what I’ve read and heard it was less than impressive, and that’s being kind. See Drinkhacker for an extreme and Fermented Reviews for a more moderate take on it.

The new Pinot Evil only recently began production, meaning it’s just now getting worked out in the consumer market. They’re now currently harvesting their grapes and making the wine all in Hungary, then shipping it off to be packaged in Pinot Evil Cellars in California. From an environmental standpoint, this is ideal. You get both the authentic Hungarian winemaking elements and the cost- and energy-saving benefits of shipping in bulk. Packaging in bag-in-box also helps to save shipping space and weight cross-country.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a deep, pure red translucency, though it has a rather thin texture. There’s no inkiness or opacities tainting its lighter color.

The nose of the wine is very hot, especially at 12.7% alcohol. I’m getting primarily cherries, though there are some interesting earthy undertones with mushrooms and cinnamon making an appearance.

The mouth feel of the wine is a little bit silky and surprisingly aggressive. I was expecting it to be flabby, but there’s a pleasant tanginess that suggests a good balance between the acid, tannins, and alcohol.

The flavor of the wine is primarily sour redfruits, a strong cherry and cranberry attack. I’m getting a weak chocolate flavor on the mid-palate, but beyond that it’s fairly simple and fruity, with a disappointingly short finish and an odd metallic tinge after the initial flavors subside. The acidity is a little high, but not too bad given the relatively meager tannins. It’s initially off-dry (residual sugar at 6.5 g/l), and you’ll get a nice, light burst of sweetness with the attack, but as the wine approaches the finish it creates a powdery dryness.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is the first boxed wine I’ve had that truly offered a sense of balance. The acidity is low but just high enough to provide structure to a lighter-bodied wine with low tannins. The nose is rather alcoholic, but as long as you keep your nose out of the glass when you smell, you’ll be able to experience an interesting, earthy bouquet. The flavor of sour berries will definitely please your tastebuds, even though the finish is far too short. I would be more than comfortable serving this to a big party. The flavor is so delicate, though, you’d need to pair it with a meal that’s not too spicy or otherwise aggressively flavorful, maybe a dish from one of the various meats you can get from a pig.

The Conclusion:

For the price, $18.99 retail for a 3 liter cask, averaging to $4.75 per bottle, this is a fantastic bargain that would do well for a dinner party, at least so long as the wine snobs aren’t allowed to see the box or the non-vintage designation. Bottles normally retail at $5.99, so if you go boxed, you’re getting 20% off the price. Translated another way, that means around 20% of what you’re paying on that bottle is for the fancy glass packaging. Even if you’re not a green kind of person, knocking that much off the price is well worth slumming it with a bag-in-box. I could definitely see myself buying this guy again, if only to have a backup red wine to share. 5/10

Note:: This review applies to the regular box packaging of Pinot Evil, which is no longer available in stores. I have not tried the Octavin release of this wine to see how it compares.

Current 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.

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

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

Retired Line-up: None so far!

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!

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.

The Best Boxed Wine You’ll Ever Buy (No, Seriously!)

The Back Story:

The first time I’d ever heard of Yellow + Blue Wines was at an organic wine tasting at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough. I usually taste the wines first, then ask about the ones that intrigue me rather than learning about the wines’ varietals, regions, producers, etc. first. I like to think that somehow makes me impartial. Of course, not having encyclopedic knowledge of wine varietals and regions also makes me impartial through ignorance, but I digress. In this case, I was intrigued before I even put the plastic sipper full of wine to my lips because the stalwart bartender was pouring this wine from a carton.

yellow and blue torrontes carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes Carton (from http://www.thedailygreen.com)

For all the talk about organic this and green that, most (I would estimate 98% of) wineries still ship their wine in bulky, heavy, decidedly non-environmentally-friendly glass bottles. Not only does creating these bottles use many more resources than necessary, but the added weight increases the fuel consumption required to ship the wine. Those extra few pounds per case add up on a cross-country or cross-ocean excursion for a container full of inefficient bottles. Some wineries are experimenting with lighter, thinner-walled glass, which is a fantastic and applaudable step in the right direction, but most wineries are too rooted in tradition to consider alternative packaging.

Come to think of it, all those boxed-wine companies might be on to something… hmm…

Regardless, the philosophy at Yellow + Blue is based entirely on good will. They truly respect the earth and, recognizing that embracing new, greener technology is actually cost-effective, are passing the benefits on to their consumers. Each carton of wine holds one full liter, one-third more than the standard wine bottle, and they still charge a very reasonable price for their wines ($12.99 for all the varietals at Weaver Street). They currently offer four wines: two from Argentina and one each from Chile and Spain. They keep the grapes for each varietal from a single vineyard, preserving the integrity of the wine while sampling as much of the world as possible. Their only allegiance is to the consumer and the environment.

I’m getting sidetracked again… back to the wine.

The Yellow + Blue Torrontes comes from the Cafayate valley in the Salta province of northern Argentina. The high elevation (around 5,500 feet) leads to a lack of humidity and precipitation and extreme day-to-night temperature swings, two oddly desirable climate traits that prevent mold or other parasites and preserve acidity. All this means adhering to organic practices is remarkably simple, resulting in one of the purest wines available on the market.

yellow and blue torrontes glass and carton

Yellow and Blue Torrontes in a glass (from http://www.astorwines.com)

The Results:

The appearance of the wine suggested a good wine character: the wine had a deep yellow hue, with a slight green tint, and the swirl suggested a very pleasant, creamy texture.

The nose of the wine was immediately floral, though not overwhelming, with a pleasant, not-too-heavy rose scent. Green apple also presented itself along with a honeyed bouquet that lended the wine a much sweeter nose than the taste would warrant.

The mouthfeel of the wine was magnificent, with a good, thick texture and a tart bite. The two words that best describe it are smooth and pleasant.

The flavor of the wine was rather dry, crisp and very suggestive of apple. Despite the dominance of this flavor, the taste was surprisingly complex: a hint of citrus, sort of a hybrid of lemon and lime, came forward, and there was a fantastic mineral finish, combining with the long apple and citrus to leave a few seconds of very sweet tonic water on the palate. As the wine warmed in my glass, it began to release a fantastic floral taste, coming forward even over the apple. This was a very multi-faceted wine. At 13%, the wine suggested not a single hint of alcohol flavor, even when it warmed.

I paired the Torrontes with creole flounder stuffed with crab, shrimp, and peppers, and the combination was immaculate. Even with the wine fully chilled right out of the bottle — er — carton, the fish brought out the floral characteristics and pushed the apple back to the finish, and the dryness and texture countered and cooled the spicyness perfectly. I was thoroughly impressed with the synergy.

An interesting note, as I sampled the wine, All in the Family came on TV. An apparently sweet-smelling wine disguising an aggressive and complex flavor was an interesting counter to Archie Bunker, an aggressive and complex character who hides his sweet side. At least, I thought so anyway.

For the Casual Drinker:

If you’re looking for an easy-drinking wine, this is definitely it. It goes down smooth with a fairly tame acidity, meaning you’re not risking heartburn. Despite how it smells, it’s not going to be a sweet wine, so be prepared. Expect a drier, fruity wine, but not too fruity. I would call it crisp and refreshing. If you’re going to serve it with a meal, try it with lighter meals and avoid pairing it with red meats or tomato-based soups and pastas. The compact carton makes storage simple, and you’re getting one-third more than a normal bottle of wine that fits less overall space.

Even if you’re not into the complexities of wine-tasting, I still think you would enjoy this wine.

The Conclusion:

Considering everything I liked about this wine, the absolute lack of complaints I had about it, the environmentally-friendly nature, and the bang for your buck, I’m tempted to give this wine my highest rating so far, and I will. The 2008 Yellow + Blue Torrontes Cafayate gets a 9/10.

One last note, you can follow Yellow + Blue wines on Twitter @ybwines. He’s one of the growing number of winemakers who actively engage their followers, and he’s a very friendly guy besides. You can also learn more about their wines at www.ybwines.com.

This post was written entirely to Jakon Dylan’s Seeing Things album. Good, chill blog-writing music.

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