Belaire Creek Cabernet Sauvingon 2002

Price: $17
Maker: Belaire Creek Cellars
Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 3-liter box
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

This wine may be a bit hard to find – even its nominal maker, Belaire Creek Cellars, may be a bit hard to track down. If you stumble across a box of Belaire Creek Cabernet Sauvingon 2002 in your supermarket, though, give it a try. It’s a bit more expensive than cheaper boxes like the Almaden Cab, but you’ll notice a subsantial improvement in flavor for the modest premium. Its mild aroma is spicy with a hint of berry. Its flavor is a balance of cherry, spice, tannins, and oak. These flavors continue into a lengthy finish, with the tannins and oak winning at the end.

This Belaire Creek cabernet is at least the equal of many lower-cost bottled cabs, and offers the attractive combination of a lower price per glass and the preservative effects of the collapsing bag. I’d pair it with steak or other grilled meat, but regular cab drinkers will find it serves a broad range of foods.

Crane Lake Cabernet Sauvignon 2002

Price: $5
Maker: Crane Lake
Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Crane Lake Cabernet Sauvignon 2002 begins in a promising manner, with a mild berry aroma with a hint of vanilla. The flavor, though, is somewhat variable. On first tasting it, I was somewhat impressed by a strong jammy flavor more characteristic of a Syrah. Oddly, a second tasting a few hours later had much less of a fruit-forward character. Both times, the finish was quite abbreviated. The combination of very low price and reasonably bold flavor might make it suitable for, say, a big cookout attended by non-discriminating friends.

Almaden Cabernet Sauvignon – Box

Price: $12
Variety: Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: 5 liter box
Our Rating: 7 out of 10

Almaden Cabernet Sauvignon in a box has the distinction of being the best of a group that is, at best, fair. At least in the Midwest US, three brands have dominated the cheap box business – Franzia, Vella, and Almaden. These boxes are always 5 liters in size, and may sell as cheaply as $8 for a box – a little over a buck per bottle-equivalent. The Merlot and Cabernet varieties tend to cost a bit more, generally $10 – $13 per box. Even for those, the cost is incredibly cheap and the box preserves the wine for far, far longer than a bottle would…

With the price comes middling quality. The Almaden boxed Cab is probably the best of the 5 liter group, at least from a red standpoint. It has a pleasant, if faint, fruity/floral aroma. Its color is deep garnet. The flavor is of berries, with fairly strong tannins. The overall impression is a bit thin and light. A couple of times I detected a very slight, fishy off-note. The finish offers a lingering hint of pepper.

Wine lovers are likely to find that the Almaden Cabernet comes up a bit short compared to some lower-end bottled fare or more costly, premium boxed wines (usually sold in 3 liter boxes), but it can still serve as a good buy for economical party or barbecue use, or for a “glass of red wine a day” consumer looking more for a great value than subtle flavor. A box should hold the flavor for a month, making for much easier management than bottles. Spicy food might be a good pairing, too, since it demands less subtlety and more flavor.

One plus to the Almaden Cabernet is the reliable spigot. While for some reason Franzia box spigots often dribble like incontinent octagenarians, the Almaden Cab pours and shuts off with nary a wasted drop. The spigot is of the rotating knob type – perhaps slightly less convenient than the push-button style, but effective nonetheless.

Folie à Deux Ménage à Trois Red 2003

Price: $10
Variety: Blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

The amusing name of Ménage à Trois Red comes from it being a blend of three different wines: Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. According to the maker, Folie à Deux, the three wines are aged separately in barrels, blended, and then aged again.

The 2003 vintage definitely favors the Zinfandel portion of the blend. The aroma is floral and fruity. The wine has a soft texture and is dominated by a plummy fruitiness that brings a surprising sweetness to the wine. The rounded flavor leads to a somewhat spicy and lingering finish. Ménage à Trois Red wine has the advantage of appealing to wine drinkers who might normally wrinkle their noses at a dry Merlot or Cab, although it lacks the complexity of a great Zin.

Another opinion comes from Sean at the More is Less blog: “it’s not complex, but for grape juice, it’s not bad…”