by Arianna Armstrong
Boxed wines might not have the sexy cache of something in a green bottle one pulls off the shelf of a dark and dusty cellar, but they’re being increasingly recognized as both a great economical and environmental choice. While a little oxygen can help open up a wine (especially younger ones), too much exposure will quickly ruin it. For all of today’s technology, there aren’t many ways to keep this from happening to a traditional bottle of wine, especially at home. Wine in boxes are kept inside a plastic bladder. As wine is emptied, the bladder collapses around it, preventing air from getting in. This method keeps wine drinkable, longer (up to four weeks or so). And that’s in addition to the fact that boxed wine is generally priced at a bulk value (3 Liters = about 4 bottles). Environmentally, when one compares the footprint of shipping heavy glass bottles and cardboard boxes, there’s really no comparison at all.
But even though they might operate using similar mechanics, all boxed wines are not created equal. So what’s worth drinking and what should be bagged and boxed? To answer this question, I conducted a little – absolutely unscientific – market research with the help of some thirsty friends. The wine we tried, boxed red and white, is commercially available, and priced between $10 and $25. This post focuses on the whites. Tune in next week to read about the reds.
To provide feedback on the wines, there was a packet of yellow-tabbed Post-It Notes and red-tabbed Post-It Notes, and party guests were asked to write down their notes – yellow notes for white wine, red notes for red wine.
- Big House White
- Black Box Chardonnay
- Herding Cats Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay Blend
- Jack Tone California White Wine Bottle Blend
- Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc
2010 Big House White. The Big House winery is in Soledad, California. In fact, it’s located right across the way from the Soledad State Correctional Facility, which was the inspiration for the name. Big House says their “cornerstone is rebellious New World winemaking and making blends of unconventional Mediterranean varieties.” Wines are blended from hand-selected, individual lots, and arranged in similar fashion to how a perfumer organizes individual scents to form a whole fragrance.
Big House White is steel tank fermented. The varieties in the 2010 vintage are: Malvasia Bianca, Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Muscat Canelli, Viognier, Verdelho, Albarino, Pinot Gris.
There was only one party comment for this one: “Don’t like smell. Taste not bad.” I took my own notes… “Aromatic nose of white flowers and lychee. The palate is a blend of ripe peach and mango, pineapple and tangerine. Medium finish.” This is a great wine for the hottest months of summer. (13.5% abv. $20 for 3L)
2010 Black Box Chardonnay. The website for Black Box wines boasts that they’ve won “20 Gold Medals and 14 Best Buys,” and it’s easy to understand why. This Chardonnay from Monterey, California was my favorite of the whites: smooth, well-constructed,
crisp and bright. Founder Ryan Sproule was inspired to create “super-premium, appellation-specific, vintage-dated wines in a box” after a trip to Europe, where he was surprised to see Europeans guzzling boxed wine en masse. In 2003, he launched Black Box wines as a way to offer consumers “freshness, value and convenience ” without sacrificing quality.
One commenter said the Black Box Chardonnay is “light but bitter…like…ummm…Can’t think of something clever enough…Good.” I noted that it had scents of cream corn, sea spray, freshly cut grass and pineapple; on the palate, there were notes of vanilla, honey, lemon and mango; with juicy, tart acidity and a somewhat rich, silky mouthfeel. (13.5% abv. $24 for 3L)
2011 Herding Cats Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay. Hailing all the way from South Africa, the idea behind the name is that winemakers Pieter Carstens and Adam Richardson “‘herd together’ signature South African grapes with popular varietals.” The wines are made in a New World style, and are designed to be crowd pleasers. In fact, this was my second-favorite white of the night. It’s not complex, it isn’t fancy, but it is easy and delicious and a ton of fun to drink.
Them: “Very mid-level,” and “Acidic, apple-y.” Me: “Scents of white flowers, orchard fruit and citrus, with flavors identical to the aroma. It had a tart finish, creamy mouthfeel and great acid.” Chenin (80%) Chardonnay (20%). (13.5% abv. $24 for 3L)
Jack Tone White. McMannis Family Vineyards – the California winery that produces the Jack Tone White blend – says, “Our initial White Wine Bottle Blend is a blend of Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay and Muscat. … We have maintained a ‘Non Vintage’ status with the wine in order to give us the freedom to ‘back blend’ between vintages to maintain continuity and consistency.” So there you have it – a flexible, easy-going white wine, that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The wines (both red and white) are named after the Jack Tone Road, the longest straight road in San Joaquin County, that connects the McMannis Family Vineyards in Rippin, CA to Lodi, where their fruit is sourced. That Jack Tone is in tribute to the famous Jack Tone, Gold Rush pioneer, who built the road, and died in 1902.
The sole party person who tried this one felt the wine was, “Light. Sweet. Very good.” I said it has “a nose of pear and apricot and some citrus; and flavors of candied apricot, citrus and green grass. It manages to have tart acid, despite being a bit flabby. The fruity finish was long and delicious.” Another great value. (12.5% abv. $20 for 3L)
2009 Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc: This wine comes from the famous Marlborough region of New Zealand – famous for the gooseberry notes in its Sauvignon Blanc. Winemaker Drew Ellis sources fruit from some of the best vineyards in the area, then stainless steel ferments, to produce a clean, crisp, fresh Sauvignon Blanc, designed to deliver “the quintessential New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc year after year.” This wine was chosen by Wine Enthusiast magazine as a “Best Buy.”
Them - “Tastes sweet.” “Sweet white grape FTW.” “Too sweet for me!” “Tastes like candy. Yes. I like it.” “Syrupy sweet white grape Welch’s.” Me – “Scents of pineapple, mango and gooseberry; flavors of grass, gooseberry, pineapple, kiwi and a little lemongrass. This had a slick, greasy mouthfeel and was fairly full-bodied. A big Sauvignon Blanc.” (13% abv. $24 for 3L)
Winners: Black Box, Herding Cats and Jack Tone
Category: Wines from the Grocery Store | Tags: Big House White, Black Box Chardonnay, boxed white wine, boxed wines, Herding Cats Chenin Blanc/Chardonnay Blend, Jack Tone California White Wine Bottle Blend, Silver Birch Sauvignon Blanc One comment »