November 3, 2009

TNT Goes Real Cheap... as in "Box Wine"

Recently Wine Spectator did a special on "box wines" last month. Intrigued by their spread, I decided I'd do a little taste test of my own. And with the holidays almost upon us, who doesn't love to entertain? Could these box wines hold up to bottled wines? Are the stereotypes of box wines a thing of the past? Will you be pouring box wines the next time you host?

Ironically enough, the box wines I tried weren't too bad. Having said that, I paid $20 for each box (each box is equivalent to 4 bottles). If you're paying over $25 for the box, you can find better bottled wine for around $6-$7 per bottle (Columbia Crest Two Vines is impossible to beat, in my mind). But if you can find these for under $25, then you can't really go wrong.

I went to several wine stores in NJ to see what was commonly available. I decided to stay clear of the real cheap stuff (if they don't produce good bottled wine, the boxes won't be any good). That means I didn't try Franzia, Carlo Rossi, Almaden, etc. I picked up "Black Box Cabernet" from California and "Hardy's Cabernet" from Australia. I was also looking for "Killer Juice Cabernet", but couldn't find it at any of the stores I visited. There are a few other brands (Fish Eye and Bota Box, to name a few), but I didn't need the equivalent of 2 cases of wine in my fridge. So I decided to limit my taste test to these two readily available wines.

The nice thing about the box wines is their shelf life. With the "spigot" dispensing the wine, no air is allowed into the bag holding the wine. This means, the wine has a life of several months once opened. Plus they take up almost no room... especially compared to the 4 bottles that are included in each box. But, the most important... how do they taste???

2007 Black Box Cabernet Sauvignon, California
Purchased for $20 (3L box). Nose of clove, strawberry and oak. On the palate, more of the same... candied cherry, strawberry, butterscotch and a hint of spice. Simple, easy. Short finish.

My take: Average+

2007 Hardy's Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia
Purchased for $17 (3L box). On the nose, oak is the most dominant scent followed by bubble gum and strawberry notes. There may be a hint of mint as well. But don't let all these scents trick you into thinking this is a complex wine. On the palate, the oak and strawberry really come through.

My take: Average-

So for about $5 per bottle, these wines aren't too shabby. Easy to drink, simple, non-thinking wines. Definitely great if you're entertaining for a large number of people. But if you're paying more than $25 for the box, you can do better with actual bottled wine. Having said that, if you want something to keep in the back of the fridge for a quick glass when you're not looking to open an entire bottle, you can't go wrong. With a shelf-life of several months and minimal cost, these two box wines can't be beat.