WBW #31 – Tasting Roundup

Wine Blogging WednesdayWe’ve had a lot of really neat entries for Wine Blogging Wednesday #31, with the theme, “Box Wines & Non-Traditional Packaging.” This was an interesting challenge – some found it easy, while others had difficulty finding a wine that met the criteria but wasn’t the low-end plonk that has traditionally been the mainstay of boxed wine in the U.S. So, without further ado, we’ll start the summary – entries are listed in approximate order of arrival. (If I somehow missed your entry or have mangled your name or comments, please accept my apology and drop me an email at boxwineguy -at – boxwines -dot- org.)

Sofia Blanc de BlancsSnekse at the Gastronomic Fight Club couldn’t find an appealing box wine, so instead chose champage in a can: Sofia Blanc de Blancs, from Francis Coppola. To complete the non-traditional approach, snekse even drank it through a straw. He commented, “Not a top of the line wine, but if I could find it for $3 a can again, I’d consider buying it. It would be a fun summer wine in a perfect container for picnics.” Snekse rated it an 87.

Barokes CansEdward at the Wino Sapien also went the can route, tasting two: Barokes Bin 241 Chardonnay Semillon NV, and Barokes ‘Bubbly wine’ Bin 171 Cabernet Shiraz Merlot NV. Edward found both of these to be just fair, rating them 83 and 82, respectively. Edward thinks it will be a while before wine in cans is accepted by wine drinkers, who have yet to fully embrace screw cap closures on conventional bottles.

Kathy at the Boxed Wine Spot tried in vain to locate some interesting and different boxed wines, so instead she planned an impromptu tasting event with eight friends. They tried five different Pinot Grigios: Corbett Canyon 2006 Pinot Grigio, Delicato 2005 Pinot Grigio, FishEye 2005 Pinot Grigio, Trove 2005 Pinot Grigio, and Wine Cube 2005 Pinot Grigio. Not surprisingly, the tasters all had different opinions. The biggest winner of the night was the FishEye – it elicited five votes for “top pick”, including the guest Kathy considered her expert. The very inexpensive Corbett Canyon scored about as well as the FishEye with the group at large, though the expert didn’t much like it. This was so much fun that Kathy’s ready to try it again, perhaps with Shiraz.

Bulk wine pouringLisa at Vinorati took quite a different approach, opting to sample some bulk wines. Once common in Europe, the practice of filling a customer’s container directly or furnishing a plastic bottle is gradually being phased out, according to Lisa, with some of that volume going to the more convenient bag-in-box product – read the post for a historical perspective on bulk wine distributon. The wines she tried were all red table wines: Saint-Emilion Cave Cooperative, Bordeaux Superieure, and Vin de Table (Montagne Saint-Emilion) . Lisa liked the Saint-Emilion Cave Cooperative the best, considering it a decent party wine, while the phrase “cherry cough syrup” figured in the notes for the last wine.

Wine for NewbiesBill of Podcast: Wine for Newbies made an excursion to Sam’s Wine & Spirits to hunt down some different boxed wine. He found Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 and Cuvee de Peña 2004. The Killer Juice cab earned a mere 75 points from Bill. The Cuvee de Peña, a blend of various Rhône varietals, fared better. Bill liked the color and balance of the wine, rating it an 82.

Seppelt Cream SherryHaalo, who hails from the Cook (almost) Anything… at least once blog, a kind of wine we haven’t seen in a box before: a fortified wine, specifically Seppelt Cream Sherry. Once Haalo got past the fear of being seen exiting the store with a two-liter cask of sherry, things improved. Haalo liked to color and nose of this sherry, and commented, “Not overly sweet, it’s rich but not cloying – well-balanced with just the right about of acid to make it refreshing. Serve chilled it’s perfect for pre- and post- dinner sipping.” Haalo also reminds us that, for better or worse, Australia was the origin of the bag-in-box package.

RainDance ShirazMichelle, of My Wine Education, apparently took the assignment as a real educational opportunity – she tasted four wines in three packaging styles: 2003 Aussie Sweet White (can), Sofia Mini(can), French Rabbit Cabernet Sauvignon (TetraPrism), and Rain Dance South African Shiraz (box). Michelle liked the Sofia (though she did decide to pour it in a glass rather than sipping through the straw or chugging it directly from the can). She also enjoyed the Rain Dance Shiraz, finding it to be easy-drinking and straight-forward.

Three Thieves Pinot GrigioDr. Debs of Good Wine Under $20 found the assignment the hardest WBW yet, but found 2005 Three Thieves “Bandit” Pinot Grigio in a 4-pack of TetraPaks. He recommends pouring the wine into a glass to gauge the aroma, which he notes is difficult to do through a straw. Dr. D says, “This was certainly not the worst pinot grigio I’ve ever had, and at $2.75 per juice box, or under $8 for the equivalent of a 750ml bottle, it represented good QPR.”

Hardys ShirazFarley of Wine Outlook contributes comments on Sofia Mini Blanc de Blancs (can) and 2004 Hardy’s Shiraz (box). Clearly, WBW participants have a thing for the Sofia cans, and Farley liked the sparkling wine a lot. The Hardy’s, unfortunately, didn’t fare quite as well. “Very thin, rather bitter, with very little fruit or any other flavors” summed up the flavors Farley found.

Tesco Sicilian Red WineAndrew at Spittoon may have found it necessary to use the receptacle from which his blog takes its name when he tried Tesco Sicilian Red Wine. We haven’t seen that brand before, and we won’t look for it now. Andrew found it to be quite awful: “God its terrible. Sweet fruit initially, simple, then a hollow centre, a whack of tannins and the overwhelming feeling of disappointment. Acidic. Rough. Unbalanced.” Sorry to inflict that on you, old chap!

Delicato ShirazSonadora of The Wannabe Wino fared better than Andrew (thank goodness) by trying a 2005 Delicato Shiraz. At the outset, the thought of boxed wines brought only Franzia to Sonadora’s mind, but she was surprised to find the Delicato Shiraz quite drinkable. She judged to to be the equivalent of a $7 – $8 bottled Shiraz.

Russ of Winehiker Witiculture hiked over to Albertson’s to find a 2004 French Rabbit Pinot Noir, a one-liter TetraPak carton. Despite its promising French origin, this is one rabbit that wouldn’t run, or even hop, for Russ. The color and aroma were promising, but this Pinot Noir was a big disappointment on the palate for Russ. He awarded it 9 points… that sounds quite good, until you realize it’s on a scale of 20.

Seb of The Table took a highly unorthodox approach to tasting 2004 Killer Juice Cabernet Sauvignon. Forget the fancy Riedel stemware, the starched tablecloths, and other elements of fine dining. Seb instead chose to taste it in the middle of the night, in a bus parked in the woods, with candles as the sole light source… poured in a mug to accompany cold pizza, the Killer Juice cab served its purpose, even if it didn’t prove to be a great wine.

Trove CabernetLenn of Lenndevours (originator of Wine Blogging Wednesday) was a bit worried about the whole box wine idea… he’d never had one that was even gulpable. Fortunately, Lenn picked up a box of Trove 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, and found it to be better than expected. Lenn found, “lots of red berries, especially cherries, throughout, fruity but not Australian or overdone. Very little oak and rather juicy, medium body.”

Three Thieves Pinot GrigioCatherine of Purple Liquid tried two different wines: 2004 Three Thieves Bandit Pinot Grigio (Tetra Pak) and 2005 Hardy’s Stamp of Australia Cabernet Sauvignon (3 liter box). Catherine liked the Pinot Grigio, and suggests pouring it into a bottle to serve to guests! The Cab proved to be an adequate everyday drinking wine, but the 3 liter quantity was a bit intimidating; some of it may end up in a stew!

Casa La Joya Cabernet-Carmenere Tim of Winecast also found the topic to be the most daunting WBW yet. Tim was up to the challenge, though, scoring a 3 liter cask of Casa La Joya Cabernet-Carmenere NV from the Colchagua Valley, Chile. This is one of the more unique wines in this WBW, and is exactly the kind of wine we were hoping some entrants would discover to share with the rest of us. Tim described the wine as, “Purple-black in color with aromas of dark fruit, black pepper and mint. Full bodied on the palate with flavors of blackberry, bell pepper and gunmetal finishing with moderate tannins.” He found it to be a nice everyday wine and a good value at under $5 per bottle-equivalent.

Huevos con Vino was another entrant who tried Sofia Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine. Read the post for an interesting discussion of the marketing origins of this Sofia wine – it’s a product targeted at a young market looking for convenience and a readily accessible flavor. Though the product may not appeal to serious wine drinkers, it may serve as a gateway to introduce a new generation of consumers to the pleasures of wine.

Virgin VinesErin and Michelle write the Grape Juice blog, and decided not to stray very far from traditional packaging: they found Virgin Vines in little plastic bottles. Trying Virgin Vines Shiraz, Erin and Michelle weren’t impressed, summing it up as “Typical poopy bottom of the barrel Californian.” They think it’s a marketing-driven wine that doesn’t have much to offer. They both rate it, “I wouldn’t make faces.”

Dr. Vino comes up with another of the unique finds for this WBW – unfortunately, Domain Sorin Cotes de Provence 2005 Rose is available only in France. It is made without chemical fertilizers or pesticides in the vineyard, and is comprised of four classic grape varieties from the region. It comes in a 5-liter box, with a price of about $6 per bottle-equivalent.

Tom of Citizen Wine offers the largest group of boxed wines in this WBW – a group of 17 members of the newly formed San Francisco Wine Enthusiast Meetup group sampled a total of 18 bag-n-box wines. Read the post for more details, but one of the big favorites was the low-cost Corbett Canyon Chardonnay. The wine determined to be the best of the group was a box of Hardys Shiraz.

French RabbitAlder of Vinography did a nice writeup on 2005 French Rabbit Chardonnay, Vin de Pays d’Oc, France. He provides intersting background on the wine, and concludes that “this stuff ain’t awful.” Alder continues, “This is a totally unobjectionable Chardonnay that most folks would be pleased to drink, though it displays little personality or complexity… I’ve certainly been served worse at some weddings I’ve attended.”

Garry of Tales of a Sommelier went in a completely different direction and tasted a Paul Masson White Wine Carafe. The bottle can be pressed into service for vase duty, but, according to Garry, the wine itself is quite bad. He notes, “there really wasnt much taste at all, chilling it made it slightly more palatable, but barely…”

Joe and Pam of A Guy, A Girl, and A Bottle temporarily became A Couple With Cans by trying this WBW’s most popular choice, Sofia Blanc de Blancs. Their podcast format captures the ensuing sound effects in high fidelity. Pam gave the sparkler a thumb up, and Joe thought the small package format would make the Sofia a good choice for mixing with other wine or spirits without having to uncork a whole champagne bottle.

Liz of LizKitchen invited a few friends over for a small group tasting and selected three Chardonnays from three continents: Banrock Station’s 2006 Chardonnay from Australia, Wine Block Chardonnay from California, and French Rabbit Chardonnay from France. The Banrock Station wine was enjoyed by all, and judged to be a good party or picnic choice. The Wine Cube earned high marks for its amazingly compact packaging, but was found to be rather mead-like. The French Rabbit drew mixed reviews, ranging from “undrinkable” and “unpleasant” to “fine.”

Maarten of ChâteauBrys considered trying a single-serving wine box, but instead tried a wee (187 ml) bottle of 2002 Delicato Chardonnay from California. Maarten commented, “The Chardonnay itself is a nice US-style Chardonnay: lots of oak, grease and vanilin. For lovers only.”

As noted above, if I’ve missed your entry or messed it up in some matter, please drop me an email. I’ll publish some additional commentary on the lessons from this WBW tomorrow.

A big THANK YOU to all participants, particularly those who ended up with some not very good wines! Your reporting will save some other readers from having the same bad experience!

16 thoughts on “WBW #31 – Tasting Roundup”

  1. Goodness, Roger, you were extraordinarily kind in your comments about my French Rabbit review – certainly kinder than I was! Of course, alternative packaging is in its infancy, and possibly more marketing hype than “content”.

    But heck, I’ve learned to accept screwcap wines. Plus, those mylar bladders in the 3-liter boxes make decent pillows and good camp showers. So sooner or later I s’pose I’ll shed my antediluvian retrogrouchiness and try another boxed wine someday – maybe after WBW #62 when the quality is sure to improve.

    Keep on keepin’ on, Roger.

  2. Have no fear of the Tesco brand US citizens – it is something that us UK citizens have to be wary of – a supermarket own brand wine!

    Tesco are the UK equivalent of Walmart and have a share of over 30% of the UK grocery trade.

    They also have a similar share of the UK wine trade!

  3. Sparkling wine in a can! is this a new trend??? i also discovered Floot wine in a can…anyone know how it compares to Sophia’s stuff???

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