Tastings: New box wines provide quality and convenience at low cost
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Fourth of July is the opportune time to start thinking outside the bottle. If you think all wines sold in plastic-lined cardboard boxes are sweet swill, you haven't heard about the big revolution in wine packaging.
Today, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette dining critic Elizabeth Downer becomes our wine writer as well.
Ms. Downer began her wine studies as a student at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 50 years ago. When she moved to Paris in 1977, she became a full-time wine student and capped her studies with two terms at the University of Bordeaux School of Oenologie.
She also was a partner at l'Academie du Vin, the wine school in Paris that fathered the famous 1976 blind tasting that made Napa wines a household name. Ms. Downer has taught wine-tasting classes in both France and the United States. She is one of few foreigners to have been named Chevalier du Merite Agricole for her services to the French wine industry.
Wine in boxes has been around for more than 30 years, but has never caught on with Americans. This is partly because the early 5-liter boxes generally traded quality for quantity.
In Australia, where better-quality wines are packaged in boxes, more than 50 percent of table wines sold are in boxes. England and Scandinavia are not far behind.
California wine makers have recently begun selling vintage-dated, premium varietals in 1.5- and 3-liter containers and these new products are earning respect from serious wine drinkers. These wines represent a revolution in beverage packaging and are definitely worth exploring.
What could be better for picnics, barbecues, camping trips, boating parties and pool-side dining than wine in a package that is rugged, unbreakable, lightweight, easy-to-carry, compact, recyclable and opened without the aid of any special tools? All you do is pop out the spigot and fill a glass. It takes up minimal room in the fridge and later, in the garbage can. For entertaining a large group or for making quantities of sangria for summer guests, this is an ideal product.
Because the cost of a box is negligible compared to the cost of the four glass bottles and four corks that would be needed to package 3 liters of wine, the consumer benefits from a substantial savings as well.
Click on the link to hear the PG's Elizabeth Downer toasting the virtues of box wine:
Further savings are realized in shipping the lighter boxes vs. heavy bottles and this, too, is passed on to the buyer.
Another big plus is the ability of the wine to remain unchanged for up to a month after opening. This means no more pressure to polish off a whole bottle rather than let it spoil! Just tap the handy spigot and dispense one glass at a time over a four-week period. As the wine is consumed, the vacuum-closed bag inside the box collapses, allowing no oxygen to enter and destroy the wine. The four-week old glass will taste identical to the first glass out of the box.
I have tasted some surprisingly good examples of California wines out of boxes. I can't imagine where one could find wines of the same quality at anywhere near the price of these boxes.
Below is a list of my favorites, as well as a recipe to break out at your next summer party.
Wine Block is a product of Kendall-Jackson winery. They make 75,000 cases of each variety annually. The price is $11.99 for 1.5 liters. This means the bottom line is $6 per 750 milliliter bottle.
PLCB # 06904: 2004 Chardonnay; mellow, buttery nose with peaches, pears and citrus in the mouth. This is a balanced and pleasant wine.
PLCB # 06930: 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon; black cherries and cocoa nose with good structure and nice finish.
Black Box is winning Gold Medal awards for its exciting line of boxed wines. The price is $19.99 for 3 liters until Sunday. At the sale price, it translates to $5 per bottle. After Sunday the wines revert to their normal price, $23.99 or $6 a bottle.
PLCB # 05905, 2004 Napa Chardonnay; hints of butter and oak on the nose, apples and pears in the mouth.
PLCB # 05906 Sonoma Merlot; herbal aromas with lots of red currants and plums in the mouth.
Although I have not tasted it, Delicato Shiraz, PLCB # 9991, $17.99 for 3 liters, scored an astonishing 90 points in Wine Enthusiast magazine.
My advice to you is, "Don't buy stock in wine bottle manufacturing companies." It looks as if boxed wine might be the way of the future.
- 5 cups red or white wine from a box
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- 1 orange cut into wedges
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- 3 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute
- 1/3 cup orange juice
- 2 shots gin
- 1 cup sliced strawberries
- 1 small can diced pineapple with juice
- 2 12-ounce cans ginger ale or citrus-based soda such as 7-UP
Pour wine into pitcher and squeeze citrus juices into wine (avoiding seeds). Toss in the fruit wedges and add sugar, orange juice and gin. Chill overnight to allow flavors to meld together.
Just before serving, add berries, pineapple, ginger ale and ice. Pour into glass and add some of the fruit.
First Published June 22, 2006 12:00 am