Adventures in Boxed Wine

March 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

There are two things I enjoy in life nearly as much as music and writing: Good wine and cheap alcohol. Good wine on the cheap is even better.

Anyone who is friends with a writer knows that we’re alcoholics — or at the very least, lushes. The fruit of the vine ferments vats of inspiration. Or something to that effect. And to marry my lush-writer lifestyle with my love of good wine on the cheap, I offer this new series of Adventures in Boxed Wine: Where I Review Several Varieties So That You Don’t Have to Sufferâ„¢.

I know what you’re thinking. Everyone knows that boxed wine is mediocre. You have your fine wines, you have your good wines, you have your hit-or-miss $10 wines which can often surprise you by landing in the “good” category, you have your bad wines for when you want to attempt a sense of sophistication while hammered, and then you have boxed wines. The lowest of the low. The kind of wine soccer moms buy for book club on Thursday nights, or the kind of wine you asked your big sister to use her fake ID to buy at the grocery store so you could look rebel-classy at your middle school sleepover. This sounds more like an exercise in futility.

But we’re not talking about that kind of boxed wine. In recent years, companies and wineries known for producing quality affordable wines in bottles (the kind that would fit in the $10 to $15 “good” or “really good” category as indicated above) have expanded into the economical and eco-friendly realm of boxed wine. The wine is sealed in an air-tight 3 liter bag (that’s four bottles worth!) that survives unoxodized for up to a month. It’s a lush-writer-wine-lover’s dream! Especially when it’s coming from the same kind of people who produce wines like Three Thieves and Gnarly Head (who, in my opinion, has the best cabernet sauvignon on the planet at a dangerously affordable $10 a bottle). These boxed wines are begging to be tasty and trendy and enjoyed by the same drinkers who appreciate tasty, trendy wines in general.

Several months ago, I was intrigued and succumbed to my first regrettable purchase of what I hoped would be a respectable wine from a box. It started with a Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon, and it’s no surprise that it was awful seeing as it’s produced by the same company that churns out gallons of Arbor Mist. I think I drank a glass or two, then used the rest in several batches of drunken shepherd’s pie.

Last week, when I had a craving for wine and a limited booze budget, I was bitten by the boxed wine bug again. I mean, four bottles of wine in one airtight box for the price of 1.5 bottles! You can’t beat that kind of deal, especially with a variety of wine that’s trying so hard to break its old stigmas. I gave in to the urge and bought a box of Falling Star Malbec.

I’ve tried two different $12 bottles of malbec in the recent past which I would classify as “really good” and “best-wine-outside-of-Gnarly-Head’s-Cab-excellent,” respectively. In my limited wino vocabulary, I would describe my favorite malbec as somewhat dry, smoky, woodsy, with some hint of ripe, juicy berry and a little spice on the finish. Perfect to sip in early December just after dusk when the snow begins to fall.

The Falling Star boxed variety doesn’t even come close. In my limited wino vocabulary, I would describe it as flat with a hint of sour vinegar. Like that $5 pinot noir with a screw-top cap I bought one time under the mistaken impression that it might fall into the “half-decent and drinkable” category. It had some juicy-berry malbec characteristic, but the bland sourness ruined any other flavor that might have been hiding in there.

The box is salvageable, however. On a refrigerator quest to find some juice to mix with the wine for a sort of impromptu cooler, I discovered that mixing in some Pom Wonderful pomegranate-cherry juice releases some of the dry, smoky malbec characteristics that first made me fall in love with the style. Cranberry juice adds some nice balance too, but the combo of dry cranberry juice with a dry red wine was a little too dry for my tastes.

If you’re adventurous enough to journey into the dark world of boxed wine with me, here’s one box we can both scratch off our lists.

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