For as long as I can remember, my mother has been a devotee of boxed wine. And not the stuff you’re likely to find on the pages of Wine Enthusiast these days, oh no. She’s all about the Franzia. She and Kathy Griffin’s mother (of “Tip It!” fame) are kindred spirits.
My dad has always been more of a Black Swan guy; he disdains the Franzia, but he’s happy with an under-$10 critter label from Down Under.
When I came home for Thanksgiving this year, I found that the tide had turned: My dad has switched to boxed wine. However, he’s a fan of the new, higher-quality crop that has emerged over the past few years (French Rabbit, Black Box, Bota Box, etc). It was the first time I’d had a chance to sample a variety of these new boxed wines, so I thought a blog post was in order. I’m also concerned about the environmental impact of my wine enthusiasm, and as boxed wines can greatly reduce that impact, I was really hoping to find at least one that might suffice as an everyday sipper.
I don’t do ratings, but in this case I figured … well, you’ll see.
2008 Gran Verano Cabernet Sauvignon (Central Valley, Chile; “estate bottled,” whatever that means; $21.99 for 3 liters at a Colorado liquor store): This is pretty thin stuff — I’m not sure whether I got an off box (I guess it can’t be “corked,” right?) or if it was meant to be this way. Not much of a nose to speak of. It has currant and tobacco flavors, but it tastes oddly watered down. This box averaged out to $5.50 per bottle, but I can easily find better options at Trader Joe’s in that price range. SKIP IT.
2009 Bota Box California Shiraz ($19.99 for 3 liters at a Colorado liquor store): Let me preface this by saying I’m not a big fan of Shiraz, especially the Australian style, but I actually thought this one wasn’t bad. Maybe that’s the California winemaking? It doesn’t taste like overripe grapes, which is what I always find in cheap Aussie Shiraz (like the aforementioned Black Swan). Again, not much of a nose, but it’s reasonably well balanced for the price, with juicy red fruit flavors and a touch of pepper. I’d go a step beyond “inoffensive” and call it “not bad.” TIP IT!
2009 Black Box Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina; $21.99 for 3 liters at a Colorado liquor store): Inky garnet color. Nose carries cedar, dark fruits and baking spices. Nicely dry with dark fruit flavors on the midpalate. The finish isn’t long or complex, but this is a good food wine. Easily the best of the boxed wines I tried. TIP IT!
2009 Bota Box Malbec (Lodi, California; $18.99 for 3 liters at Harris Teeter in Virginia): This one is a fruit bomb, and I definitely preferred the Black Box Malbec to it. Nose of slightly overripe dark fruits and baking spices; lots of sweetness on the tongue, where the baking spices are even more pronounced. Oddly, it paired deliciously well with Brillat Savarin cheese (the cheese of the gods!) when I ran out of Blanquette de Limoux. Not a wine I’ll buy again … unless I’m making a giant batch of sangria for a party, in which case I suspect it would work very well. SKIP IT.
2009 Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel (California; $18.99 for 3 liters at Harris Teeter in Virginia): This is the wine my dad had on hand when I came home for Thanksgiving — the wine that showed me that the boxed segment has true potential. Abundant blackcurrant, pepper and some earth on the nose along with faint vegetal hints (green peppers, maybe?). It’s fruity at first sip, but then the spices rush in, along with a good amount of acidity. I think adequate acidity is key for these wines — it’s all too easy for them to go the fruit-bomb route. This one gets it right. Lots going on here. TIP IT!
I sampled my mother’s Franzia Chardonnay, just for kicks, but it didn’t stay in my mouth long enough to produce detailed tasting notes. Let’s just say SKIP IT and leave it at that.
(P.S. I love you, Mom, even though this post has prompted you to tell my friends I was adopted.)