Banrock Station Shiraz 2003

Price: $6
Maker: Banrock Station
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

Banrock Station ShirazAustralian winemakers seem to be very good at producing inexpensive but flavorful Shirazes, and Banrock Station Shiraz 2003 fits the bill. It’s definitely inexpensive – we see it for $6 – 7 frequently. It has a nice, fruity aroma with a bit of spice. Its flavor is fruity, with cherry, blackberry, and a bit of strawberry. There’s pepper and oak, too. It has a nice, dry finish. This is a fine shiraz for cookouts, spicy pasta dishes, and the like.

Vicki’s Corner blog said, “Very nicely well rounded, with a bit of herbaceous flavours and spiciness all in one. Curious, yet intense. It`s a bit hard to describe, but I liked it.”

Banrock Station is apparently a large property, with 600 acres of the total 3600 acres being devoted to vineyards. You can even see what’s going on at Banrock Station with a live webcam that even has directional and zooming controls. (When we looked, nobody was stomping grapes.)

Twin Fin Shiraz 2002

Twin Fin Shiraz 2002 Price: $9
Maker: Twin Fin Wines
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, screw cap
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Twin Fin Shiraz 2002 is the first screw-cap wine I’ve tried in a long time, and it certainly won’t be confused with the syrupy-sweet stuff you find in the convenience store cooler. This California shiraz starts with a robust cherry aroma. It’s flavor is bold, rounded, and smooth, emphasizing cherry and red berry fruitiness. The fruit flavor leads into pepper notes, with a spicy finish. Woody overtones give the wine a bit of complexity, although it’s really a food-friendly choice that will appeal to a variety of tastes.

Don’t let the screw-cap fool you – this is a nice domestic shiraz that’s great for a picnic, a barbecue, or with a spicy entree. The label is a sort of contemporary-retro look, with stylish graphics and an illustratoin of a 60s convertible with a surfboard sticking out of it. A fitting image for a relaxed wine. Visit the maker at Twin Fin Wines.

Alice White Shiraz 2005

Price: $6
Maker: Alice White
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

The Alice White Shiraz 2005 is likely to be one of the cheaper bottles of Shiraz on your supermarket shelf, and, if you are willing to wait a bit, it might be worth a taste. At first sampling, this wine seemed a bit thin and harsh. Fortunately, we had to put the partially consumed bottle aside for a day. The additional breathing effected a positive transformation in this young wine, perhaps prematurely aging it. When we tried it again, it was smoother, and offered a nice berry/plum jamminess. The finish had a bit of acidity. We found the Alice White Shiraz for a little under five dollars, making it a good value for the eventual flavor.

Oddly, although the Alice White website is chock full of kangaroos, boomerangs, “barbie” references, and just about every other Australian cliche, the winery seems to be based in California.

Other comments… the KnoxJon blog calls it “way underpriced“. The RealWorldWiners called it, “the Coors Light of wines“.

Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin 2004

Price: $10
Maker: Gnarly Head Cellars
Variety: Zinfandel
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

While not quite box-level cheap, we wanted to compare this inexpensive Zin with a really cheap one, Trinity Oaks Zinfandel 2001. Fortunately, Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin 2004 is quite a bit better. The Gnarly Head Zin has a powerful berry punch, leading into a lengthy finish. This is a wine that is fine to drink alone, and which will hold its own with spicy food, barbeque, beef, and any other strongly flavored dish. “Old vine” Zinfandels are noted for strong fruit flavors, and the Gnarly Head is no exception.

Blogger Sean tasted it, and said, “…this one rocks. It needs a bit to open up, but after at least 1/2 hour it has a great nose… full of the briar and spice often found in more expensive Zins. In the mouth it backs up that spice and adds pepper, a tonne of berries, a good tannic backbone…” Meanwhile, blogger Scott describes it as, “a massive spicy black fruit attack with underlying licorice root, reductive black fruit stew, ripe plums, peppery sort of notes, with subtle vanilla from oak, massive tannin structure and balanced firm mid-palate and a longish finish, still peppered with spice and some dissipating alcohol.”

This is a nice hostess gift, too – it tastes great, has an amusing and unusual name, and features an interesting explanation of the “Gnarly Head” name on the label.

Trinity Oaks Zinfandel 2001

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

While stores are flooded with inexpensive merlots, cabernets, and shirazes, it seems that cheap zinfandels are much less common. We were delighted to encounter Trinity Oaks Zinfandel 2001 for a mere $6 on sale. Not only was the price right, a quick search of the Trinity Oaks site disclosed that the wine had won a silver medal in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, and bronzes in a host of others, including the Grand Harvest Wine Competition, the LA County Fair, the New World International Wine Competition, the Riverside International Wine Competition, the West Coast Wine Competition, and theCalifornia State Fair. With this pedigree, the wine seemed like a sure winner.

We found the aroma to be a mild blend of berry and spice. Uncharacteristically for a Zinfandel, the wine had relatively weak fruit flavor, with the berry characteristics mixed with tannins, oak, and spice. The finish was long and spicy, with lingering and tangy acidity. This wine wasn’t bad by any means, but was a bit disappointing considering its Zin pedigree and host of awards.

If you are looking for an alternative to well-under-$10 cabs and merlots, give the Trinity Oaks zin a try.

Stonehaven Merlot 2004

Price: $9
Maker: Stonehaven Winery
Variety: Merlot
Packaging: Bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

To complete our review of the inexpensive reds from Stonehaven Winery, we tried a bottle of Stonehaven Merlot 2004. It has an unusually full body for a Merlot, with a syrupy smoothness in the mouth. The flavor is soft and fruity, with cherry, plum, and blueberry notes. Tannins and oak add complexity, and the finish adds a hint of lingering tannin and spice. We found this sample for under $5, which is certainly one of the more astounding merlot bargains if you can find it.

Like the Stonehaven Shiraz Cabernet we just sampled, this wine benefitted from plenty of time to breathe. In recent months, we’ve seen the Stonehaven reds ranging in price from just under $10 to under $5, sometimes in the same store. They are all a reasonable value at $9, but when they are under $5 it’s time to stock up for every day drinking.

Stonehaven Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2004

Price: $7
Maker: Stonehaven Winery
Variety: Shiraz – Cabernet Sauvignon
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8 out of 10

We recently sampled this Stonehaven Shiraz, and found it to be a real “Box Wine” value, albeit in a bottle. We looked forward with anticipation to trying the Stonehaven Shiraz Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, and found it, too, to be a great value. The Stonehaven Shiraz-Cab is a nearly equal blend of the two grapes, favoring the Shiraz only by a few percent. The blend is simulaneously less fruity and less spicy than the straight Shiraz. Its aroma is less powerful, with notes of dark fruit and a hint of vanilla. The wine is medium bodied, with its flavor a mix of cherry fruit, soft tannins, pepper, and a bit of astringency. The astringency continues into the finish, with peppery spice coming on stronger as well. Ultimately, we found the flavor to be a bit of a disappointment after our great experience with the Shiraz.

Given the choice, we’d definitely choose the Shiraz over the blend, but confirmed Cab drinkers may find the blend preferable. It’s a very inexpensive wine, perhaps obtainable at a price of less than $5 per bottle with a bit of luck.

Additional Tasting Notes: After this wine had a chance to breathe for a few hours, its character seemed to change quite a bit. Much of the initial astringency went away, and the fruit became much more pronounced. Even the spice seemed to fade a bit as the fruit rose to prominence. Overall, the wine became much smoother and more rounded, and was much more drinkable than the first glass.

Little Penguin Merlot 2004

Price: $7
Maker: Little Penguin
Variety: Merlot
Packaging: 750 ml bottle, artificial cork
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

The Little Penguin Merlot 2004 is the second variety we’ve tried from Little Penguin, and. like the Shiraz we sampled, it’s a pleasing, accessible, and economical wine. For a Merlot, it’s unusually full. Its aroma is pleasantly fruity if a bit weak, and its smooth, rounded flavor is full of cherry with a hint of vanilla. The cherry continues into the prolonged finish, and blends with light pepper.

Cheap Wine Reviews liked this wine too.

At Box Wines, we’re impressed by Little Penguin – they seem to produce eminently drinkable red wines that will appeal to novice wine drinkers but not offend the more serious palate. I tried the Little Penguin Personality Test and, oddly enough, turned out to be a Merlot. Inasmuch as Merlot is my least favorite red, this was a bit distressing. Nevertheless, if I had to be a Merlot, I could do a lot worse than Little Penguin.

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.

Stonehaven Shiraz 2004

Price: $7
Maker: Stonehaven Winery
Variety: Shiraz
Packaging: Bottle, natural cork
Our Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Stonehaven Shiraz has to be one of the great values on your supermarket shelf – we found it on sale for under $5. Higher per glass than a box, perhaps, but an amazing value in a bottle. This Shiraz fills the glass with purple-garnet color, and one’s nose with cherry fruit. Its flavor is juicy, with cherry jam being the most prominent note. The finish isn’t extended, but has a nice peppery aspect with soft tannins. Overall, one’s impression is a smooth, rounded, fruity wine with just enough complexity to make it interesting. From Stonehaven of Australia.

The NoMerlot.com blog found a 1999 version of this Shiraz a few months ago, and found that year to be a good one as well.

According to the Stonehaven US website, this wine is available in a 3 liter “cask” – we haven’t seen this yet, but it would be worth looking for. We’ve also got some Stonehaven Shiraz-Cabernet in the BoxWines.org cellars, and we hope we find an equally strong price/quality relationship.