Chardonnay as a (sort of) Cold Medicine

The Backstory:

This week has been an absolute hell of being not healthy for me. I overworked my body playing in the sun all weekend and developed a stomach bug in the process. Combining an exhausted me with an aggressive microbe leads to decidedly unfortunate consequences. I finally recovered enough last night to uncork and really enjoy a wine again. Since my experience with tasting food and drink was like drinking stale milk and chewing paper for 3 straight days, I needed something with enough oomph to knock my palate around and bring me back to life. Unfortunately, after that one glorious night of getting a taste of wine, I’m back under the weather with yet another ailment. This one’s got the nose and throat on lockdown, so it looks like last night’s affair will have to get me through the week.

What’s the 2009 Gouguenheim Valle Escondido Chardonnay got for me in regards to helping me get back on the wine-tasting horse? It comes from the Mendoza Valley, specifically the colder area that rests above 1000 m.a.s.l. (meters above sea level). This area is particularly kind to the noble grapes and Malbec, leading to a rapid growth of wineries in the area. The propensity for high acidity in this region combined with the proven quality of the plantings here means you can expect a fuller, better developed white wine. Is it enough to suit my convalescent palate? You bet your stemless Bordeaux glass, it is.

The Results:

2009 Gouguenheim Chardonnay bottleThe appearance of the wine is a light gold color with a noticeable depth. It appears to have a medium texture, not syrupy but substantial.

The nose of the wine is rather rustic; it has a very orchard-y smell, consisting primarily of ripe apples, pear cider, and peach for the fruit combined with a light floral scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is actually fairly delicate. It’s medium-bodied, but its texture feels lighter and more airy as it moves about the mouth.

The flavor of the wine is what stands out the most. It is very dry, but it has a very full fruit flavor. The attack is heavy ripe apples and pineapple, and you can easily detect the decent alcohol (13%) and high acidity. The acidity is prominently featured in the flavor, and it would simply overwhelm the wine if the flavors weren’t so expressive and it didn’t have that touch of sweetness. There’s a distinct hint of honeysuckle and buttery cheese, a pleasant diversion from the usual orchard fruits I was expecting, and a medium peach finish. As it stands, the only knock I have against this wine is it’s just a little imbalanced… too much alcohol heat and acidity for the flavor. If it weren’t so robust, it would utterly fall apart.

The Conclusion:

Coming out of a sickness that impacted my ability to taste, this was a fantastic wine to bring be back from the brink. With a lively acidity, full, robust flavor, and enough sweetness to match the aggressiveness, it makes for a great under-$10 white wine. 6/10

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

Bonus wine-pairing:

Coma Therapy by Strata. A normally hard-rock-styled band with a vocalist who has some serious pipes tones it down just enough to make an edgy, ominous ballad. A wine with a serious kick and acidity tempers the aggressiveness with some sweetness and cool flavors. Enjoy!

The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 4

The Back Story:

We’re well into our experiment now. We’ve officially opened 15 liters of the boxed stuff and spent a little over $100 to do it. Has it been worth it so far? Well… no. Not at all. But there IS hope on the horizon.

This week, I received in the mail an industry sample from Octavin Home Wine Bar, a new boxed wine distributor. They seek out up-and-coming wine-makers who would be willing to offer their wines in a more environmentally-friendly packaging. They will begin releasing their wines in May beginning with the 2008 Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay. Coincidentally, they will also begin distributing the Pinot Evil that I reviewed two weeks ago.

To be honest, I like the direction this company has taken. They only release their wines in these distinctive packages, and they’re staking their reputation on making boxed wines that are a step above the rest. I’ve already had the Pinot Evil, and assuming the quality persists, it’s a good addition to their line-up. How does the Monthaven Chardonnay fare, though? At the very least, it exceeded my expectations.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is light gold with a greenish tinge. It appears to be fairly viscous.

The nose of the wine is predominately green apple, with oak, slight floral and tropical notes. It’s not terribly aromatic. Cool alcohol scent coming through the aroma.

The mouth feel of the wine is very full and tangy, with a moderately creamy texture.

The flavor of the wine is rather full-bodied. I’m getting apple first and foremost, as in the nose, but with a distinct oaky, buttery undertone. A hint of overripe bananas combined with floral characteristics round out the finish, which becomes a trifle bitter as it lingers. It’s off-dry, with a high acidity balancing with a considerable sweetness. I’m actually rather impressed with the flavor, though the acidity is a little high. The alcohol, at 13.5%, fits right in with this wine.

For the Casual Drinker:

I would wholly recommend this wine… if it weren’t for that bitterness. There’s just something off on the finish. As it stands, it’s still a heck of a bargain, and aside from the finish, it’s got a great flavor. It’s not over-oaked like many cheap Chardonnays from the West Coast, but it aged just long enough in American oak to pick up an extra dimension to its flavor. For the price, you can’t go wrong, especially if you’re looking for a more aggressively-flavored white wine to pair with a spicier meal.

The Conclusion:

Like the Pinot Evil, there’s just something slightly off on the flavor that ruins what could be a home run of a boxed wine. In the end, it suffers the fate of other boxed wines, and that’s being cursed to only reach the level of averageness. It retails at $23.99, averaging to $6 per bottle. If it weren’t for the lack of balance and the extreme bitterness on the finish, I would call this far and away the frontrunner for the best boxed wine. 5/10

Disclaimer: this box was provided by the distributor as a sample.

Current Line-up:

Monthaven Central Coast Chardonnay 2008

  • Week 0 – 5/10 – imbalanced (high) acidity, balanced alcohol, apple, tropical, oaky flavors and nose, medium, way too bitter finish.

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.

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.

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.

Retired 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
  • 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.

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!

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