Angel Juice Pinot Grigio

Angel Juice Pinot GrigioPrice: $19
Maker: Underdog Wine Merchants, Ripon,CA
Variety: Pinot Grigio
Packaging: 3-liter box
Alcohol: 12%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Angel Juice Pinot Grigio is appropriately named – it’s a mild, pleasant wine that some will think is heaven-sent. (After I wrote that line, I found that the winemaker had put similar wording on the box…) The nose is floral with some woody notes and a hint of clove. On the palate, the wine is light-bodied and delicate, with pear, melon and citrus leading into a slightly acidic finish.

Angel Juice Pinot Grigio is yet another one of Underdog Wine Merchants’ eclectic offerings. Angel Juice has its origin in Italy; according to the site, “The Friuli Venezia Giulia region is located in northern Italy where the cool climate and influence of the alps produce wines of refined acid structure and wonderfully defined fruit flavors.” In the 2006 World Value Wine Challenge, it scored 86 Points and was deemed “Best Value 3L White Wine Cask.”

Overall, Angel Juice is a delicate, dry, and refreshing wine that can be enjoyed at any time but might be particularly fun at outdoor summer parties, both for general quaffing and to accompany lighter fare like salads and fruit.

Leonard Kreusch Estate Riesling 2005

Leonard Kreusch RieslingPrice: $7
Maker: Leonard Kreusch, Germany
Variety: Merlot
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Alcohol: 11.5%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Leonard Kreusch Estate Riesling 2005 has a mild spicy pear aroma, and a slightly syrupy mouthfeel. Its flavor notes include pear, apple, and grapefruit, with the latter being most prominent in the finish. This is a pleasant enough Riesling that would be fine for serving with seafood or to take some of the bite out of spicy food with its sweetness.

This Riesling is the first Leonard Kreusch wine we can recall trying, but in checking their website it’s clear they distribute a wide range of products. Not only do they have a broad selection of French, German, and Italian wines, they even offer spirits like the unusually named Karl Marx Vodka.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #29 – Biodynamic Wine

Wine Blogging Wednesday #29 was a tough assignment. The interesting challenge comes from the Fork & Bottle blog, who suggested the theme of “biodynamic wines.” This was a new one for us… and when we checked with the wine manager at a well-stocked (in the affordable range) local shop it was a new term to him, too. We won’t go into the whole explanation here, as there are some great links and info at Fork & Bottle. Suffice it to say that “biodynamic” refers to a form of organic growing that is quite labor-intensive but avoids nasty pesticides and the like, and is supposed to self-renew the soil. That’s a huge oversimplification, of course, but in the long run it’s supposed to produce better grapes.

The challenging part of WBW #29 was finding a true biodynamic wine. We started by printing out Fork & Bottle’s huge list of biodynamic winemakers. We found the aforementioned wine manager at a local shop that stocks a fairly extensive assortment of affordable wines, and started going down the list. We focused on California and Australian vineyards, as they seemed the most likely to produce a hit. The only possible hits were Fetzer and Bonny Doon. The “Bonny Doon” wine was Big House Red, which we later discovered had changed owners and wasn’t necessarily produced using the same techniques as the Bonny Doon biodynamic wines. Fetzer Vineyards, though, seemed promising. When we checked their website, we found,

Fetzer Vineyards is an environmentally conscious grower, producer and marketer of wines. We make every effort to ensure that the wine you drink is of the highest quality and value, while managing our impact on the environment. A process to develop and initiate sustainable business practices was implemented in the mid-1980s. We don’t do it because it’s trendy or to make a political statement. We do it because we believe that it results in better-tasting wines and that it’s simply the right thing to do…

We are the largest grower of certified organically grown grapes on the North Coast and one of the largest in the world. 100% of our 2,000 farmed acres are certified organic through California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). Our organic vineyards are farmed without the use of pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers.

Biodynamic? They don’t use that terminology, but they seem to have their head in the right place. So, we picked up a bottle of Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewurztraminer 2005. (We’ve tasted a lot of dry, oaky whites lately, and we were in the mood for something a bit different.) Here’s what we found:

Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewurztraminer

Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewurztraminer 2005

Price: $9
Maker: Fetzer Vineyards, Hopland, Mendocino County, California
Varietal: Gewurztraminer
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Alcohol: 12.0 %
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Gewürztraminer means “spice grapes” in German, and this wine is a good example of the varietal. Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewurztraminer 2005 has a pleasing nose with melon, floral, and spice notes. The flavor is interesting – it starts off with strong sweet peach notes, and neatly transitions into a spicy grapefruit finish. Along the way, there are green apple and honeydew notes. The crisp acidity in the finish balances the early sweetness well.

Gewürztraminer food pairing suggestions often involve spicy foods, and the Fetzer Gewurztraminer would serve this purpose well. It would also be a fine choice to enjoy alone, and the fact that it’s not unforgivingly dry will let it appeal even to those who crinkle their nose at a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

Do organic wines taste different? Perhaps their flavor isn’t inherently different, but the commitment needed to grow the grapes in this exacting manner suggests that the winemaker might take extra care with every step of the process. We found Fetzer Valley Oaks Gewurztraminer to be appealing enough to keep our eyes open for other organic and/or biodynamic wines.

Free Range Sauvignon Blanc 2005

FreeRange White BordeauxPrice: $29
Maker: JuiceBox Wine Company, Manchester, MA
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc
Packaging: 3-liter box
Alcohol: 13.5%
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Free Range Sauvignon Blanc 2005, a box wine from Free Range Wines, is a varietal one doesn’t often see in that kind of packaging. That’s a shame… this Sauvingnon Blanc offers a sweet red apple nose with a hint of vanilla. The flavor offers mild apple, pear, citrus, and oak notes. The finish is slightly peppery. Free Range describes the wine as “light and lively”, which isn’t too far off.

The grapes used for Free Range Sauvignon Blanc 2005 come in equal parts from Béziers and Carcassonne, in the scenic Languedoc-Roussilion region in south France. This wine is a cut above most boxed whites, though we found it a bit more forgettable than its siblings, Free Range White Bordeaux 2005 and Free Range Muscadet 2005. Free Range having such a strong selection of boxed wines (three reds and four whites) is truly an embarrassment of riches – “glass a day” drinkers are likely to be pleased with how long each box lasts, but disappointed that they can’t move on to the next Free Range box wine sooner!

Free Range Chardonnay 2005

FreeRange White BordeauxPrice: $29
Maker: JuiceBox Wine Company, Manchester, MA
Varietal: Chardonnay
Packaging: 3-liter box
Alcohol: 12.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Free Range Chardonnay 2005 is another upper-tier boxed wine from Free Range Wines. This Chardonnay has aromas of green apple and citrus. On the palate, it offers an interesting mix of tart apple flavors, oak notes, and a creamy texture. The effect is one of balanced complexity.

Chardonnay is an all-too-common varietal, and many of the less-expensive brands have too much oak and not enough of anything else. Free Range Chardonnay fortunately is in no way over-oaked, and has a nice depth that will interest a variety of palates. The wine comes from Le Bousquet d’Orb, which is near the picturesque walled city of Carcassonne in the south of France. The town’s website proudly proclaims, “The highly appreciated Chardonnay produced by the wine Cooperative – which won an international gold medal in 1999 – is just one example of the ‘good life’ cultivated here in Le Bousquet d’Orb.” Chardonnay lovers will agree that Free Range Chardonnay is part of the “good life.”

Free Range White Bordeaux 2005

FreeRange White BordeauxPrice: $29
Maker: JuiceBox Wine Company, Manchester, MA
Varietal: Sauvignon Blanc 50%, Semillon 50%
Packaging: 3-liter box
Alcohol: 12.5%
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Free Range White Bordeaux 2005 is the flagship white wine from Free Range Wines – their other offerings, all boxed wines, include Free Range Red Bordeaux. This wine is a 50/50 blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. It has a powerful aroma that leaps from the glass – we found apple, pear, and citrus notes. Apple notes dominate the flavor, with hints of citrus and melon. There is a crisp and refreshing acidity in the finish.

Semillon is often associated with sweet dessert wines, but don’t be misled – Free Range White Bordeaux 2005 isn’t a sweet wine. Despite the 50/50 split between the varietals, it seems that the Sauvignon Blanc plays a stronger role in both the nose and the flavor. This wine was one of the hits of our party wine bar – it was one of the first to be finished.

Wine Blogging Wednesday #28 – Sparkling Wines

Ballatore Gran SpumanteWe’ve missed the last few Wine Blogging Wednesdays, and darn near missed this one. Good thing we checked the calendar! This month is the 28th edition of Wine Blogging Wednesday, hosted by Culinary Fool with the theme of Sparkling Wines. We had planned to hunt down an interesting sparkling Shiraz for this event, but our tardy realization that WBW was upon us forced us to rely on our inventory. We don’t keep a lot of sparkling wine around, and most of the bottles were champagne or champagne wannabes. The only suitable entry we could find in the Box Wine Cellar was a slightly dusty bottle of Ballatore Gran Spumante, no doubt acquired as a host gift at a previous holiday party.

(One slight disappointment is not being able to participate in this WBW with a box wine, or even some other kind of non-bottle packaging. The high internal pressure in sparkling wines means we can expect to see them in traditional bottles for some time to come. Bag-in-box packaging, Tetra Paks, etc., just won’t do for a pressurized product. This is the ideal time of year to look at sparkling wines, though – kudos to Culinary Fool for a great choice! For WBW #28, a bottle it is!)

Ballatore Gran Spumante

Back to the wine at hand… Ballatore Gran Spumante is an inexpensive sparkling white wine from Ballatore Cellars of Modesto, California. I normally avoid Asti Spumantes and the like as they are too sweet for my taste, so I wasn’t anticipating much when I popped the cork on this wine. The nose was quite mild, with a hint of peach. The flavor was actually better than I had expected, though perhaps I’m damning it with faint praise. Yes, it was relatively sweet, but there were nice peach, apricot, and melon notes, leading into a slightly acidic finish that left my mouth filled with the lingering flavor of grapefruit. The bubbly nature of the wine was restrained, forming many tiny bubbles on the tongue for a pleasant tingle. Overall, Ballatore Gran Spumante was better than some of the Asti Spumantes I’ve tried, and would make an inexpensive holiday party choice if most of the guests would prefer a sweeter wine. It would be best served with dessert, but non-fussy guests would probably be happy to drink it alone or with any part of the meal. It definitely fits Culinary Fool’s “party” wine category, offering both a low price and a taste that will appeal to guests who aren’t big wine fanciers.

At a mere 8% alcohol content, a glass or two of Ballatore Gran Spumante won’t get your guests overly buzzed – an advantage or disadvantage, depending on your viewpoint. You should be able to find this wine for well under $10, perhaps as low as $6 – $7. At that price, you can buy a few extra bottles to keep your holiday guests’ glasses topped up!

Free Range Wines – Quality in a Box

Free Range Wine BoxesHere at Box Wines we’ve been predicting an invasion of quality boxed wines from domestic and foreign producers, and we’re pleased to see one such introduction: Free Range Wines from JuiceBox Wine Company. The new firm isn’t launching in a small way – the current lineup of varietals from Free Range includes Pinot Noir, Merlot, Red Bordeaux, White Bordeaux, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. All of these wines are imported from France, though future Free Range offerings may come from other wine-producing countries.

The firm expects these wines to retail for about $30 per 3-liter box, or the equivalent of $7.50 a bottle. That’s at the higher end of the boxed wine prices you’ll currently find on the most U.S. wine shop shelves, which have been dominated in the past by ultra-cheap, low quality wines from Franzia and similar low-end brands. According to JuiceBox co-founder Jonathan Barry, the quality of the wine in the Free Range boxes compares to that of bottled wine that commands much higher prices. “I am fortunate to have friends in the wine business around the globe who make very good wine. Since we are not required to source our wine from any one particular vineyard I knew that we would find some great wines. These remarkable wines are bright and intense, with loads of fruit flavors. They are great to drink alone or paired with food. Our name, FreeRange, reflects the fact that we are free to range to the best wine producing regions in the world to find outstanding wines.”

Like us, JuiceBox is bullish on boxes. Barry notes, “The U.S. has been behind the rest of the world when it comes to putting wine into innovative packaging; however, that is beginning to change. According to industry data, alternative packaging for wine is showing good acceptance in the U.S. and the three liter bag-in-box packaging is the fasting growing format in the U.S.” We certainly agree – as more products like these are introduced, box wines will be increasingly accepted and appreciated for their unique advantages. The other JuiceBox founder, Tom Eddy, underscores the point: “Wine consumers really appreciate the convenience, portability, and lower cost of wines packaged in the bag-in-box format, and no longer associate the packaging solely with inexpensive wines. This isn’t just a fad.” We can’t disagree with that, though some might say we’re a bit prejudiced here at ;). The boxes, by the way, are the bag-in-box type that keeps air out and preserves freshness for weeks after opening.

At the moment, Free Range Wines are available mainly in the Northeast US, but the firm hopes to roll out these wines nationally within the coming year. Check the Free Range Wines website to see if there’s distribution in your area. If you happen to BE a wine distributor in a state that isn’t yet served, I’m sure the folks at Free Range would be happy to hear from you.

We’ll be tasting these wines in the coming weeks, and we’ll of course share our impressions. Overall, we’re excited to see interest in putting less common varietals into box packaging, and we hope the wines live up to their advance billing.

Easley’s Mead (Honey Wine)

Price: $9
Maker: Easley Winery, Indianapolis, Indiana
Varietal: Honey Wine
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Mead brings images to mind of medieval feasts, so it was only appropriate that on Thanksgiving we opened a bottle of Easley’s Mead, a wine made from honey. This wine’s color is light straw-yellow. The label describes it as “semi-sweet”, and it’s definitely at the sweet end of the spectrum. Wine aficionados who appreciate a crisp Pinot Grigio won’t like this one much, but those who can enjoy sweeter wines might like the unusual flavor of this mead. Its aroma strikes a melon note, but the flavor shows off its honey origin. Its slightly syrupy texture goes well with its honey-laced flavor. We found a bit of melon in the flavor, too, along with a hint of smokiness.

Easley’s Mead could serve well as a dessert wine, though sweet-wine lovers might drink it with food or even by itself. The Easley website recommends pairing it with Ethiopian or spicy food. We might prefer a robust Shiraz with those foods, but to each his own.

Golden Princess Wine Tasting 1

A recent trip aboard the Golden Princess featured two separate wine tasting events hosted by the ship’s sommelier staff. The first was less elaborate, and we’ll post on that one here:

Errazuriz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc. This Chilean wine was light in color with excellent clarity and a melon nose. The flavor was a suprisingly sweet mix of pear, melon, and apple.

Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay 2005 (Lake County). Color was straw/light yellow, with brilliant clarity. The aroma had apple, melon, and pineapple notes. Flavor was rich, creamy, and crisp, with apple, melon, oak, and spice.

Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc 2005. From Marlborough, New Zealand, this wine had gooseberry in the nose. Its flavor notes were citrus and peach. It was lightly syrupy in texture, and some residual acidity created a pleasant finish.

Chianti Classico, Riserva (Tuscany). This Chianti had a ruby red color in the glass and a mild berry nose. Its flavor was dry and acidic.

La Crema Pinot Noir. This deep red wine featured an interesting toasted marshmallow nose, with cherry and plum notes leading into an oak finish.

As a group, this wasn’t the most stunning batch of wines, though they were all reasonably drinkable. The second tasting which I’ll report on later was more elaborate and featured somewhat more interesting wines.