Monday, September 20, 2010

Box Wine II – Electric Boogaloo

You may remember back in the late aughts when my dear neighbor Christine the Pie Queen challenged me to write a column on box wines. After some careful thought and consideration, we ended up throwing the First Annual Box Wine Extravaganza.
Somewhat embarrassingly, a couple of years have passed. A lot of wine has been poured across the alley during that stretch, but we hadn’t managed to re-extravaganzize. This year, though, a solid confluence of events stacked the boxes clearly in our path. We were back in business. We coupled the box wine tasting with a reprise of her hubby Jeff’s ribs and let the good times roll.
A quick refresher on box wines. Yes, you can still get your sugar-water box of Franzia or Vella if you really want to make huge batches of sangria, but box technology has improved greatly over the last several years. Advances in production have allowed winemakers to put wines in these containers that can last weeks if not kept cool and months in the fridge.
For a long time, winemakers used box wine as a way to get rid of some of their inferior juice – and there are still clearly cases of that, like the aforementioned Franzia. A couple, however, latched onto the idea that putting halfway decent table wine in boxes for easy consumption was a winning strategy. Three years ago, you’d struggle to find anything other than cabernet, merlot, chardonnay, Riesling, and white Zinfandel in boxes. Now you’ll find malbec, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, and any number of other varietals. Europe has long “boxed” table wine, and some of those are making their way to American shelves as well. As more wines appear on the shelves, quality tends to rise. (Although we have a cautionary tale below.) Prices range from $15-20 for most boxes.
So, in hopes of finding some decent wine, we cracked open four at the Extravaganza:
  • Pinot Evil Winery Pinot Noir
  • Folonari Pinot Grigio
  • Bota Box Chardonnay
  • Red Truck “Mini Barrel Red”
I have different expectations for box wine. I wasn’t looking for any kind of thunderously outstanding vino. When I pour box wine, I want something I can drink pleasantly without thinking too hard. I approached the judging in a very simplified manner. I made a few scoresheets with the following statements:
  1. 1) This wine tastes good.
  2. 2) This wine tastes good with food.
  3. 3) I’d drink this wine at home.
  4. 4) I’d recommend this wine.
People simply checked “yes” or “no” for each statement and added comments if they wished. Each “yes” gave a wine one point. The totals were averaged to determine an overall score. The results?
Folonari Pinot Grigio – Score: 4. The winner of the day. Straight yesses on the scoresheet. “Unassuming, but very pleasant” was one comment. Another noted that it went “very well with the potato salad.” This particular potato salad, interestingly, had olives in it. In retrospect, it makes sense why an Italian wine would be particularly good there. I thought that it was exceptionally drinkable, especially on a warm day. For a setting like our little shindig, it was the right wine for the right time. Around $20 for a box. Folonari also makes a Pinot Noir of which I’ve read some positive reviews. It’s on the list for down the line.
Pinot Evil Winery Pinot Noir – Score: 3.75. Personally, this was my favorite of the four. I didn’t know how well pinot noir would translate to this form. Most inexpensive pinots I see are domestic, but this was a French import. Regardless of ancestry, I thought this was a very solid, lightly fruity summertime option. “Very good. Dangerously drinkable.” was one comment (with which I totally agreed). More than one person mentioned that it was peppery. Also works well with a slight chill. A nice choice for either the patio or living room. Around $18.
Bota Box ChardonnayScore: 3. Bota Box (along with Black Box and Angel Juice) was one of the first “quality” box wine producers that I started seeing regularly. They’ve won awards for their Zin and their Shiraz, and I was curious about their whites. The results were positive, but not overwhelmingly so. “Drinkable, but not that great” was one comment, balanced by “Me like it!” I thought it tasted like someone made a basic, semi-fruity white wine and made “adjustments” to make it taste more like a traditional chardonnay. A hint of butter and oak are certainly in evidence, but they tasted like afterthoughts. There was also some sweetness that I didn’t think belonged there. Still, folks seemed to like it enough to drink it up, so it’s got that going for it. $17.
Red Truck “Mini Barrel Red” – Score: 0. Nope. That’s not a typo. The scoresheet was a universal sea of “no” answers. “Cute packaging. Too bad the content doesn’t measure up.” That sums it up nicely. The packaging was certainly interesting: a small metal “barrel” that’s not obtrusive or unattractive with “feet” that make it stand up. The downside – the wine inside was…well…not good. Somewhat sweet with a vinegary edge. For cooking wine – maybe, but this wine was at least $10 more expensive than the other wines we tried, and the quality was nowhere close. Very disappointing. Box wine is supposed to be economical. Unless there’s a real reason to spend more, why? I think many people saw this wine on the shelf and thought the same. Assuming the wines are of similar quality, why pay $30 for red in a slightly cuter package when you can pay $20 and get something just as serviceable. I suspect that the “cask” I bought had been on the shelf for quite some time and had gone over. If they bring the price point down to a more competitive level, this might be workable. Until that happens, make sure you check the date on the wine and ask your wine store how long those containers have been there. Buyer beware.
And a little something for the kids:


Rhonda said...

Thanks for this review. I've been giving some thought to buying a boxed wine. Occasionally I want just a glass with my dinner, but know I won't be home the next couple nights to finish a whole bottle. I've heard positive things about Black Box as well. Have you tried theirs? Thanks again!

The Naked Vine said...

No problem! Glad you found it useful! Black Box makes some decent wine -- again, nothing spectacular, but their sauvignon blanc and their shiraz are pretty solid.

Anonymous said...

Hey, just googled "reviews of Folonari boxed wines" and this blog came up.... I enjoy the Pino my fridge as we speak, keeps well...was brillant in my white clam sauce...curious to try the Pino Nior, perhaps not available in Long Island? In any event, this blog made me happy that others liked the boxed wine... times are tough...wish more wineries would forgo the bottle for the box...


The Naked Vine said...

The wine store where you get the Folonari Pinot Grigio should be able to order the Pinot Noir without too much trouble. Distributors generally have access most if not all wines from a producer if they carry one of them. I'd ask next time you're in!