The Search for the Best Boxed Wine Week 9

The Back Story:

The boxed wine we’re covering this week, Seven by Bodegas Osbourne, is a fascinating study in terroir and structure. We’re familiar with that famous French / Aussie blend, GSM, comprised of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre, and the qualities that each component brings to the table. Syrah is the big, meaty, aggressive wine, contributing massive tannins and dark fruits to the wine. Mourvèdre, with its delayed ripening, brings a higher acidity and more nuanced structure to the mix. Grenache, a lighter, sweeter, and soft wine, craves the structure and tannins the other two provide. It’s an example of a basic, well-reasoned and -tested formula for a successful blend.

If GSM is an algebra equation, Seven is calculus integration. Though not nearly as staggering as the Big House Red’s array of varietals, this wine still has an extensive list of varietals to sift through. It consists of 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 18% Shiraz, 8% Tempranillo, 8% Garnacha (Grenache), 8% Petit Verdot, and 8% Graciano.

The wine begins with the potent structure of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz, and the dry, red fruit profile these grapes bring to the table are tempered by the earthiness and softness of Spanish stalwarts Tempranillo, Garnacha, and Graciano. These grapes all take on the terroir of Spain incredibly well, and the combination of aggressive tannins in the big reds, softer, gentler profile of the Grenache and Tempranillo, and high acidity of the Petit Verdot and Graciano should make for an interesting experience.

The Results:

Seven wine boxThe appearance of the wine is a deep red with a slight ruby tint and a pure translucency. It appears to have an average viscosity.

The nose of the wine is a bit hot, featuring mainly red-fruit and spice with a distinct milk chocolate scent and a note of leather. Smells rather like a cordial cherry.

The mouth feel of the wine is fairly medium-bodied, very smooth. The tannins are palpable but not very prominent. The alcohol is very detectable here, lending the wine its light and airy smoothness.

The flavor of the wine is, like the nose, a simple red-fruit and spice affair. There are simple, broad flavors of cherry and cinnamon. It’s slightly earthy, leathery, with a metallic tinge, and there is a detectable oak. The finish is medium, a bit shorter than expected, accompanied by chocolate. There’s a bit of sweetness offsetting a surprisingly tame tannic profile. It has a very good balance, though the alcohol comes through quite a bit, especially on the finish.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a nice, tame, simple red wine with a very agreeable flavor profile. Not too big, not too tannic, not too sweet, this is a crowd-pleaser. The chocolate and cherry flavors will suit most palates, and the lack of “chewy” tannins should make this at least acceptable to white wine drinkers. It’s a bit tame, so keep it away from overly spicy meals, especially tomato-based soups and sauces. Most red meat, though, is fair game.

The Conclusion:

The massive varietal blend equals out to a relatively simple fruit- and chocolate-centric wine. For a red wine, especially boxed, this is pretty good. 6/10

Current Line-up:

Bodegas Osbourne Seven NV

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – Red-fruit, spicy, slightly earthy. Bit imbalance in the alcohol. Very smooth and well-rounded.

Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc 2009

  • Week 0 – 6/10 – Tropical, citrus, herbal flavors and nose. Slightly imbalanced acidity and alcohol.
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Very similar to last week. Possibly

Double Dog Dare Chardonnay, California NV

  • Week 0 – 3/10 – Very off-putting nose, dull, listless color, rough mouth feel, apple and oak flavor, imbalanced acidity.
  • Week 1 – 2/10 – Flavor and balance have taken a dive. The chemical from the nose is noticeable on the flavor
  • Week 2 – 2/10 – Consistent from the last week. Weak flavor and nose, imbalance.

Big House Red, California 2008

  • Week 0 – 7/10 – Lean, light texture, floral and red-fruit flavors, good balance, slightly hot nose, medium finish
  • Week 1 – 6/10 – Flavor has deteriorated a bit, and there’s a harshness that I possibly didn’t detect before
  • Week 2 – 5/10 – Harshness has intensified. The flavors are still good, just slowly fading.
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Alcohol is detectable in the mouthfeel, finish, and nose. Flavor is a bit rougher.

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.
  • Week 2 – 3/10 – Nose is a little bit off, but the flavor is still the same as before.
  • Week 3 – 3/10 – Same flavor, just a bit weaker. Odd buttered popcorn scent on the nose now.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Alcohol is becoming prominent on the nose and flavor. Other than that, it’s holding up well

Retired 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.
  • 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.
  • Week 5 – 4/10 – Nose is a bit more harsh. Cherry flavor is strangely more prominent.
  • Average score: 4.5/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. I would completely recommend this wine as a stalwart backup for any occasion as well as a decent sipper on its on right.

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
  • Week 3 – 4/10 – Odd caramel scent on the nose. Flavor has deteriorated and the balance is still off.
  • Week 4 – 3/10 – Flavor has deteriorated further. Alcohol flavor is starting to take a prominent feature.
  • Week 5 – 3/10 – Held steady for the final week. Still drinkable, and the flavor’s still partially there.
  • Average score: 4.2/10. Length of stay = 5 weeks. Final score is 5/10. Though it didn’t finish strongly, this boxed wine is good for a few weeks of very tasty drinking.

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.

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.
  • Week 4 – 0/10 – Nose consists entirely of alcohol now. Flavor is unrecognizable. This guy is retired.
  • Average score: 2.2/10. Length of stay = 4 weeks. Final score is 1/10. Started poorly, and the wine was essentially undrinkable after 3 weeks. Not a good trait in a boxed wine.

Bitten by the Barossa Bug

The Back Story:

I picked up the Thorn-Clarke Winery’s 2007 Terra Barossa Shiraz for no other reason than I was walking past the Australian section in Total Wine on my way to the Austrian and German whites section. I saw the massive variety of Shiraz, took note of the many, many that I hadn’t tried before, and thought “Why the hell not?”

As I’ve alluded to occasionally on Twitter, I’m a fan of the Barossa region in Australia. It’s such a fantastic case study for how the delicate balance of a climate can make or break established vineyards and wineries. To be honest, I don’t know much about the valley aside from its climate and the wine produced, but considering it’s on the other side of the world, I’m pretty sure I can get by for now. If there’s anything I’d ever need to know about the area, there’s a nice, humble website sponsored by the Barossa Grape & Wine Association dedicated to promoting “Australia’s most famous wine region.”

Barossa’s climate is especially suited to growing big, fruity reds. The warmth and dryness keeps the acidity in the grapes low, allowing heavy tannins and ripe fruit flavors to fully develop. This also leads to a risk of developing fruit bombs, wines so stuffed with fruit that they overwhelm the acid and break the structure of the wine. Winemakers have their work cut out for them when working with such potent fruits, lest they release yet another wine that tastes like the run-off from an old jar of strawberry jelly.

There might be a dearth of Barossa wines available in the United States for the next few years. Production is currently down, with 67,000 tons of Barossa Valley grapes crushed in 2008 and barely topping 51,000 tons in 2009. Estimates project a return to the golden years of 80,000 tons produced back in 2005 and 2006, though this probably won’t happen till after 2012. These projections, assuming the return to normal growing conditions, sound like good news to me. For now, 2009 and 2010 vintages might not show up in large quantities (if at all) in your local shop.

Barossa’s output is still largely reds and overwhelmingly Shiraz. Of the 51,000 tons crushed in 2009, almost 14,000 tons were white wine grapes, but over 22,000 tons were Shiraz grapes alone! Shiraz also accounted for almost 59% of total profits from bulk grape sales. Climate-wise, that makes sense, but it’s also a bit monotonous:

“I bought an Australian wine yesterday!”

“Is it from Barossa?”

“Yeah… um… how’d you…”

“Was it a Shiraz?”

“Oh… yeah.”

“Good for you.”

The Results:

The appearance of the wine was a pure, dark red. It was rather translucent for a big red, and the swirl alluded to it having a very silky, full texture.

The nose of the wine was very fruity, an assuredly winter scent with rich plum accented in spice. I also detected notes of black currant and a touch of menthol.

The mouth feel of the wine was enjoyable, but not as full as I was expecting. It still coated the mouth very nicely and smoothly, with a dryness that was chalky but not overwhelmingly puckering.

The flavor of the wine was, thankfully, not a fruit bomb. It had a ripe plum attack and a spicy mid-palate with black pepper and nutmeg on the finish. The alcohol was well balanced, not at all hot for 15%, and it complemented the spicy flavors very nicely. The acidity, I thought, was a little too sharp, but it didn’t disrupt the harmony of the wine too much. The wine itself was fruity without being sweet. I greatly enjoyed the flavor. It paired very well with a selection of buttery, lighter cheeses like Havarti and Brie, becoming a little softer and smoother and giving the cheese a more creamy flavor.

For the Casual Drinker:

There really isn’t much to say about this wine. It’s a good, hearty red, not too overwhelming in its alcohol or tannins, and it’s fruity enough to suit a pickier palate. Its flavor would suit a red-meat or spicy meal, so long as it wasn’t too spicy or hefty. It’s a big red, but it’s softer than the average Shiraz. At $13, it’s a very affordable option and well worth giving a try.

The Conclusion:

This is a great example of a standard Shiraz from the Barossa Valley. It’s a drink now kind of affair, and it’s a little too simple to be considered a stand-out, but if you’re looking for a wine you don’t need to age, I’d recommend giving this guy a shot. Anything under $15 would be well worth it for this wine. 6/10

If you’re interested in a taste of the higher end offerings of the Barossa Valley, check out Steve Paulo’s Notes from the Cellar. He reviews three wines from Yalumba, the oldest winery in Barossa. I’ve got my eye out for all three of them as I visit wine shops now.

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!

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