The Search for the Best Boxed Wine: Week 3

The Back Story:

My first wine love

For this week’s search for the best boxed wine, I’m returning to the roots of my wine snobbery. As I was growing up, I always had the impression of wine as that inky stuff my parents would drink that smelled like Easter egg dye and cost as much as a fifth of bourbon or a case of beer. In other words, it wasn’t an investment that was high on my list. That all changed when, as I moved into yet another college apartment, my parents sent, along with a truckload of pack-rat resultant clutter, a few bottles of Washington Hills Late Harvest Riesling. As a sort of celebration for my hard work in hanging a few tattered posters, I popped the cork on one of the bottles. I couldn’t believe the sensations! So this is what wine tastes like when you’re all grown up and avoiding Sutter Home!

Ever since then, I’ve looked at wine not as a weak sauce, expensive option when you’re drinking to get drunk but as the journey that it should be. It changed my perceptions of what consuming alcohol should be. I know, I know, it’s a sub-$10, rather simple Riesling, but damn if it didn’t taste like heaven to a college scamp weaned on bargain schlock. With this experience in mind, when I saw that Washington Hills was now selling wine in a cask, I absolutely had to add it to my queue.

I want to make note of a difference between the cask Merlot and the bottled variety: They’re two completely different wines. The bottled Merlot has a vintage (the recent ’06 non-reserve for a fairer comparison), breaks down 76% Merlot, 14% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Cabernet Franc, and has a higher acidity with a pH at 3.32. The cask wine is non-vintage, breaks down 75% Merlot, 20% Sangiovese, and 5% Cab Franc, and has a pH of 3.68. If you’ve had either that ’06 non-reserve or the ’07 Reserve, which is 100% Merlot, be aware that you’re getting a different wine.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a deep cherry red, just a hint of violet, translucent, and has a medium viscosity.

The nose of the wine is a combination of blueberry, oak, vanilla, and cherry. It smells an awful lot like blueberry yogurt, to be perfectly frank. For 13.5% alcohol, the nose isn’t too terribly hot, but it’s carrying the aroma very well.

The mouth feel of the wine is rather thin for a Merlot, though it’s a little tangy, and there’s enough substance there to keep it from being flat-out flabby.

The flavor of the wine is utterly unimpressive. It’s just all-around weak with a red-fruit base. Very oaky, a little spicy, with a slightly short finish of blueberry. The finish is the only part where the flavor truly stands out. The alcohol comes through too much, very hot. The wine is off-dry with a palatable sweetness that comes through more because of the lower acidity.

For the Casual Drinker:

It’s pretty much a cheap, drinkable red wine. I can’t say that it’ll knock anyone’s socks off, and I definitely would recommend putting off serving this wine until after a good, hearty red has, shall we say, dulled the senses of those involved. It’s a back-up wine through and through. The flavors certainly won’t overwhelm anyone, and the alcohol flavor is muted enough to keep it from offending sensitive palates. The acidity is relatively low as well, keeping it from reaching heartburn-inducing levels.

The Conclusion:

I should have researched this wine before I purchased it. If I’d known it wasn’t the same Merlot that Washington Hills has been bottling, I probably would have tried a different box. For $20, it’s a solid 3/10, if you can call that solid.

Current Line-up:

Washington Hills Merlot NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – imbalanced (high) alcohol, decent acidity, red fruit, blueberry, oaky flavors and nose, short finish.

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.

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.

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 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit – Part 2: The Great Tasting

Looking for part 1 of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit? You can find the Dawn of Cooperation here on Vinotology.

Chairman: Welcome to the second session of the 2010 Texas – Virginia Wine Summit. Our participants are Joshua Sweeney, Virginia born-and-bred and host of today’s venue, Wine(Explored), and Ben Simons, native son of Texas and the man behind Vinotology. In our first session, we laid the groundwork evidence for Virginia’s and Texas’s credentials as major wine-producing regions. Today, we will accept one wine from each state as physical evidence. Virginia, please present your wine to the chamber for review.

Chairman of the wine summit

Josh: As evidence of Virginia’s worth as a major wine-producing region, I submit for review the 2008 West Wind Farm Rosé. I have selected this wine because it showcases both the abilities of Virginia wine growers as well as the creativity inherent in Virginia wine culture. When you think of a Rosé, what wine characteristics come to mind? What would you consider to be the typical Rosé? *pause for dramatic effect*

Close behind the argument of red wine drinkers versus white wine drinkers is red AND white wine drinkers versus Rosé. Bastard child of the red wine, white wine wearing the makeup of an incorrigible trollop, a blush wine for people who can’t handle their tannins, Rosés have suffered many slights in the minds of drinkers with a wine superiority complex. In actuality, a pink wine is an art unto itself, a beautiful, shape-shifting creature that can embody the crispness and sweet nature of a white or the aggressive acidity and tannic bite of a mature red. The trick is, as with any wine, in the respect and dedication of the wine maker.

When I first tasted this wine, I had no idea what I was getting into. The color was rich but light for a Rosé, a pure pink that betrayed only the slightest hint of red. The nose was dry and pungent, fruit-forward but rather tame. I was ready for the standard pink experience. Fool me once… The thing is, Merlot grapes aren’t the standard grape for a Rosé, and if I had bothered to read the tasting notes, I would have known the wine, 100% Merlot, was allowed a little under a day’s worth of skin contact to get that deep pink color.

Putting that first sip on my tongue was like dropping a bomb of dryness on my palate. After I figured out that no, I hadn’t utterly lost my mind, I was absolutely in awe of the characteristics of that wine. So crisp, so dry, balanced so well, and with a beautiful red fruit flavor that faded to a ripe strawberry finish, I was duly impressed. Unusual innovation like that is one of the benefits of living in an “up and coming” wine region, as there are no traditions to buck or expectations to meet. An additional benefit of the lesser-known region is the lower price point on these wines. The Rosé sells directly from the winery for $14.

I’ll now yield the floor to my colleague from Texas before I encroach upon his rebuttal. Your thoughts on this wine, Mr. Simons?

West Wind Farm emblem

Ben: Josh, I have to say that I admire the courage of choosing something unconventional like a Rosé.  I admit that I was intrigued when I heard that you would be presenting this wine.  As a resident of a state that is making some interesting wines from some unusual varieties, I can appreciate the creativity shown with this wine.

I really like the color of this wine, most definitely somewhat lighter than you generally see, but an interesting pinkish hue. * sniff- Hmm, the dryness of this wine is surprisingly evident even on the nose.  I do smell a bit of red fruit, but I wouldn’t say that the nose is overly fruity.  I also wouldn’t call the nose overly friendly or inviting, but it is interesting.

*sip – Wow, very interesting flavors. Surprisingly dry, and surprisingly big on the palate. The flavors of crisp cherry and citrus stand out. This wine feels like a walking contradiction. I’m getting citrus, but not a ton of acidity. I get something that seems slightly like cherry candy, but the wine is by no means sweet. The lingering flavor of strawberries and a touch of apple finish are like a nice hug goodbye.

Chairman: Thank you, Texas. The chamber now calls on you to present your wine for review.

Ben: Mr. Chairman, as evidence for the quality of Texas as a wine region, I submit the 2006 Pheasant Ridge Pinot Noir. I selected this wine for a number of reasons, but one of the primary reasons is that Pinot Noir is a grape that most people would assume cannot be grown successfully in Texas. In fact, I have even been told by a Texas winemaker that Pinot Noir can’t be grown here. This wine shows the amazing versatility of Texas viticulture.

This wine was produced in the High Plains of Texas, in my hometown of Lubbock. The winery operates under a philosophy of minimal intervention, trying to do their best to let the grapes speak for themselves. The High Plains is probably the only place in the state where Pinot Noir could be grown, as the nights get cool enough to support these thin skinned grapes. Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult grape to grown, and an even more difficult one to do well, but I think this winery has done an excellent job.  There were only 70 cases of this wine produced.

The color of this wine is what you want a Pinot Noir to be, not dark and inky, but a somewhat light shade of garnet red. There is no doubt that this is a true Pinot Noir. The nose has beautiful red fruit notes of strawberry and cherry, with just a touch of earthiness. When I sip on this wine, I love the acidity that leaps out, with tangy fruits like sour cherry and cranberries standing out. This wine practically screams for a pork tenderloin to pair with it, which we just happen to have to serve the Chairman and each of the panelists after the evidence presentation is complete.  One final note, this wine costs only $15, which is a remarkably low price for a Pinot Noir, especially one made from a small production winery.

I now yield to the gentleman from the state of Virginia, Mr. Sweeney…

Pheasant Ridge logo

Josh: Thank you, Ben. Like that misinformed winemaker, I had never considered that Pinot Noir could be grown in a state so far south as Texas. Consider me enlightened. It would seem that Texas, like Virginia, has an interesting array of growing areas. I had known about how Texas was well suited for Mediterranean varietals such as Tempranillo and Sangiovese, but Pinot Noir? It will be very interesting to see how this pans out.

I can see what you mean about the color of this wine. That is a very rich red, though still light enough for a quality Pinot Noir. *sniff – Those red fruits really jump out at you. The cherry smell dominates for me, but I still get that undertone of earthiness that seems to me an appropriate expression of the terroir. It’s a little bit spicy and floral, but just enough to accent the red fruit, nothing overpowering. Its aroma is powerful, too. I can smell it from across the table.

*sip – Oh my. That is an incredibly harmonious wine. Fantastic acidity, and it’s well-balanced, off-dry. A very easy drinker. Again, massive red-fruits on the palate, raspberry, cherry, and, yes, cranberry. The mouth feel is velvety with a pleasant bite. I’m even getting something a little like cinnamon and pepper on the mid-palate, which transitions nicely to a long, dry, cherry finish. I probably would not have placed this as a New World wine in a blind tasting. It’s only 15 dollars, you say? I would have pegged this wine for at least $20. Chairman?

Chairman: We will now take a recess. I would like to thank our participants, Mr. Ben Simons representing Texas and Mr. Joshua Sweeney representing Virginia. We will pass preliminary deliberations onto you, the panelists. Pass the pork tenderloin, please.

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