Barefoot California Syrah

Price: $6
Maker: Barefoot Cellars
Variety: Syrah
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Barefoot California Syrah (no vintage) from is easily spotted on the shelf by its distinctive label featuring a Robinson Crusoe-style footprint. The wine has a deep, purplish red color and a faint, flowery aroma. Its flavor is dominated by currants and blackberries, with a rounded finish. It’s not a great wine, but is satisfying and inexpensive enough to crack a bottle open with hamburgers or pasta with no guilt feelings.

Barefoot Cellars has won some awards with this wine:

  • GOLD Medal…International Eastern Wine Competition, Santa Rosa, CA and Watkins Glen, NY.
  • GOLD Medal…Colorado State Fair Wine Competition, Pueblo, CO.
  • GOLD Medal…San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Cloverdale, CA.
  • 1st Place…Lake County Fair, Lakeport, CA

Absent a vintage, it may be hard to compare your results with the competitions, but for the price, how far wrong can you go?

Delicato Shiraz 2004

Price: $18
Maker: Delicato Family Vineyards
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: 3 liter box
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Sampling a box of Delicato Shiraz 2004 could be just the thing to convince a box wine sceptic that good things come in large packages. Delicato puts the same wine in its boxes as its bottles, and their wines have earned accolades both in the U.S. and at international competitions. Notably, Delicato’s entry was named “Best Shiraz of California” awards at the 2001, 2002 and 2003 California State Fair Wine Competitions.

The 2004 Delicato Shiraz lives up to its heritage. A powerful scent of spicy cherries practically bursts from the wine as you pour it. The flavor is a bit more subtle, tasting of blackberry and cherry. Overall, the flavor is balanced and quite smooth. The finish lingers with a fruity spiciness. The start and finish of this wine are so wonderful that they overshadow its pleasant flavor.

The box is what Delicato has branded its Bota Box. It features similar construction to other wine boxes, but includes a FlexTap pushbutton-style spout. The pushbutton is easy to handle with one hand, even when tilting the box to get those last few glasses, and is free of annoying post-pour drips.

It’s little surprise that Delicato’s Shiraz is the best selling brand of that variety in the United States. If they can keep up with demand while maintaining quality, they are likely to hold onto that distinction in the coming yeasrs.

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.

Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2003

Price: $8
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

If you are looking for a pleasant red wine with broad appeal, Ravenswood Vintners Blend Zinfandel 2003 may be the ticket. In the glass, it has a pleasing deep red color. This wine has the characteristic fruitiness of a Zin, with black cherry predominating and a hint of vanilla and dried fruit. It’s soft on the palate, with a modest finish. It may not be a truly great Zin, but for the price it’s a fine choice to accompany beef on the grill or any other dish where a gulpable red is needed.

We found this bottle at Sam’s Club, holding down the low end of their red wine display at under seven bucks.

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…”

Funky Llama Shiraz 2004

Price: $9
Maker: Funky Llama
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Wine packaging seems to have two major variants these days – traditional packaging designed to imply centuries of winemaking, and funky, playful, modernistic packaging designed to appeal to a casual wine-buyer. Funky Llama Shiraz is definitely in the latter category. We picked up a bottle on sale for a fairly amazing $5, hoping to venture back for a dozen more if the tasting went well.

The first thing one notices is the bright yellow cork. It nearly glows with neon intensity, and features a picture of a llama. It’s a nice touch – no wine damage from spoiled corks, and a marketing boost from a cork likely to attract the attention of everyone in the room. A year from now, a brightly colored cork may be no big thing, but at the moment it stands out.

If only the wine were as distinctive as its cork. The aroma is faintly floral, and the color is a nice, deep red. The wine combines moderately weak dark berry flavor with spiciness; it’s a bit thin compared to bolder Shirazes. The finish is faintly bitter and peppery. It’s not a bad wine overall for the price, but there are others in this range that are better.