Greetings and salutations! In visiting the store of my local wine purveyor recently, I was struck by the growing number of non-traditional containers (read, containers other than the classic .750 liter glass bottle) that were appearing, presumably from thin air. A quick survey showed large glass bottles of indiscriminate size, glass magnums, glass splits, lined aluminum cans (more on this below) and even an alarming number of box wines of various shapes and sizes. Shortly thereafter, I picked up a recent copy of Wine Enthusiast only to be greeted by an article about quality wines recommended by their experts that come in alternative packaging! Finally, a dear friend from my misspent youth sent me a text with a picture of a wine can with an integrated straw that she was clearly enthusiastic about. This was more than a humble Wine Bargain Sleuth could handle. What in the wide world of sports is going on here?!
I responded by deciding to take on this topic, much as in Chapter 15 of The Wine Bargain Sleuth where we explored the pro’s and con’s of natural cork and other sealers in traditional glass wine bottles. To add a wrinkle to this month’s Chapter I invited my dear friend Lisa McCune Smaga, she of the can and straw container, to give the counterpoint/female view to my point/male version. I am confident that you will enjoy her perspective as much as I do.
HIS VIEW: First of all, I will tell you that this Wine Bargain Sleuth has personally sampled and even enjoyed quality basic wines from a box upon occasion. I’ve even gone so far as to smuggle in a 3 liter box (the equivalent of 4 traditional .750 liter bottles) into a vacation happy hour with dear friends and only later drop the newsy tidbit that the lovely Chardonnay that they were enjoying for happy hour was served to them in a box with a plastic liner. Of course, my initial good humor belly laughs and fun at having pulled a brilliant bait-and-switch at my travel buddies’ expense resulted in their mean-spirited cat calls and heckling about the “bladder wine” that I forced them to drink, but that was just hurtful behavior on their parts. I am happy to report that my tender sensibilities have managed to bounce back from those unwarranted verbal assaults.
With my past experiences, although I am clearly in the glass bottle camp I am certainly not fundamentally opposed to purchasing quaffable juice from a non-traditional container, particularly for summer get-togethers for which chilled white or red wines are appropriate. After all, even old dogs like yours truly can learn a new trick or two! However, this month’s Chapter is not just about my view on the topic. And, right on cue, now for a word or three from the lovely Lisa:
HER VIEW: I feel a bit of introduction is necessary……as a 50 something, single mother of 3 very athletic children, I developed a taste for wine out of necessity. I discovered the wisdom early on that not only did an empty bottle of wine not look as bad in the trash can as 3 or 4 beer bottles at one time, but more importantly you CANNOT chug wine–you must sit down and sip it. [Editor’s Note: That’s why we sometimes refer to wine as “Mommy’s Little Helper”-LM]. There was many a night when the only time I sat down and rested the entire day was while I enjoyed my glass (or 2) of wine. If I happened to fall asleep, I could easily preserve the wine by pouring it back into the bottle for the next night. How to properly re-cork the bottle is a subject all its own that I will leave to my (much) older friend Len, Mr. Wine Bargain Sleuth.
In my opinion one of the best discoveries of the modern world was wine in a box. That being said, believe me the early boxes had something to be desired. First of all those early boxes usually contained, um, lets say the “less sophisticated” blends. Nonetheless, one can always acquire a taste for the early box blends, especially if one was a single parent on a budget! Next, the early spigots in said boxes were definitely a challenge: it only took one time for you not check that the spigot had returned to its “off” position after pouring that glass of wine! I can tell you from experience that inadvertently leaving the spigot in the “on” position will fill the drawers under your countertop with wine in a matter of seconds and create one nasty mess.
Now to my delight and amazement (and to the apparent horror of wine sleuths around the globe!) I have discovered sparkling wine in an aluminum can, complete with a sippy straw– will wonders never cease?! So you see, my dear friend Len, sometimes it is about the container and convenience. I do however, appreciate what you are trying to teach me, and now that I am an empty nester I have the funds and time to splurge on a few of your suggestions. So good job, my friend, and keep those recommendations coming!
THE TAKEAWAY: So what did we learn today? First, don’t EVEN think about failing to double check the spigot on that delicious box wine, whether on your counter or elsewhere. Second, despite what were definitely humble beginnings, more and more decent wines are available in box containers and even (really?!) aluminum cans with sippy straws. Don’t think that this Wine Bargain Sleuth can go that far, my dear friend Lisa, but to each his or her own!
And now, on that note, we will discuss this month’s terrific Value Wines and Worth a Splurge Wine:
Value Wine No. 1: Classic Sauvignon Blanc from Napa
Summer is nigh upon us, and with the warmer weather brings the desire for crisp white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc. I had the pleasure of tasting the crisp, refreshing 2012 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc as an aperitif before the spectacular 2014 Taste of Howell Mountain festival recently in Napa Valley. Not only did this stellar Charles Krug Sav Blanc serve as a delicious way to prepare my palate for the world-class Howell Mountain Cabs that were featured at the festival, but it had the complexity and smooth finish to bring me back for just one more glass on the way out! I have since purchased another bottle or three just to enjoy in the warmer weather down South. The 2012 Charles Krug Sav Blanc contains a complex minerality that delightfully contrasts the honeysuckle, melon and classic grapefruit tastes on the mid-palate, finishing with a lingering, dry finish that reminds of a polished white Bordeaux. Retailing for $18 but widely available at a nice discount, the 2012 Charles Krug Sav Blanc is that rare wine that is easily found but would be worth the search even if it weren’t. The critics appear to be impressed as well. Wine Enthusiast awarded this Sav Blanc an “Editor’s Choice” designation, calling the wine “a first-rate Sauvignon Blanc, delightful to drink now for its crisp fruitiness.” If you happen to be visiting Napa Valley, make a point of touring the Charles Krug winery, considered to be the granddaddy of them all. Hurry to grab the 2012 Charles Krug Sauvignon Blanc before it’s all gone!
Value Wine No. 2: Terrific Unoaked Chardonnay from California
For the Chardonnay fans who are looking for an incredible summer value, you came to the right place this month! Look no further than the 2012 Smoking Loon Steelbird Unoaked Chardonnay, widely available for a remarkable $8US! The 2012 Smoking Loon Steelbird is a crisp, delicious Chard, with green apple and citrus overtone and without the over-oaked, buttery offerings of many California Chardonnays. The Smoking Loon Chard was recently selected by the Wine Spectator editors as their Best Buy of the Week, with James Laube singing the praises of the domestic white: “It sings and dances from start to finish,” while awarding the wine an impressive 89 rating. This is a truly amazing white wine for any price, but the fact that it retails for less than a ten note makes it a perfect wine for Wednesday night chicken dinner–or grilled fish on Saturday with your best friends! A case of wine of this caliber for less than $100–that is about the same cost as a classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon! Value, anyone?
Value Wine No. 3: Quality Red Wine in a Box
I know what you are thinking–talk about box wine is cheap, right? But where should you start if you want to make a bold move? My fellow wine sleuths, look no further than the 2012 Bota Box Shiraz from California. This convenient 3 liter (i.e., the same volume as 4 typical .750 liter bottles) for a mere $23 is a novel and delicious way to enjoy your red wine that is perfect for pairing with a backyard BBQ or burgers. Bota Box advertises that its “Eco Packaging locks in great taste for a month or more by keeping out light and air.” Shiraz, so called in Australia but more typically referred to as Syrah stateside, is a hearty, delicious red wine. The flavor profile for the Bota Box Shiraz is one of smooth red fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and cherries, with a hint of vanilla and toast on the finish. The 2012 Shiraz is a balanced, smooth wine that you would be proud to serve friends anytime, even if they are savvy wine consumers. Last month’s Wine Enthusiast named the wine as a Best Buy, and awarded a respectable 87 rating on the wine. That’s worth checking out, particularly at the price of $23 per 3 liter package. The only question is, are you willing to break away from the bottle?
Worth a Splurge Wine: Pinot Noir Beauty from Anderson Valley
Hailing from California’s Booneville Region in the southeast corner of Anderson Valley, the 2012 Walt The Corners Anderson Valley Pinot Noir is a full-bodied, sumptuous wine. Lush and rounded with a lingering, polished finish, the 2012 Walt The Corners has bright, fresh red fruits on the nose and mid-palate, with faint floral and earthy herbs, and a hint of plum followed by fine-grained tannins to highlight your taste experience. In short, folks, there’s a lot going on in that Pinot! Still a young wine, the 2012 Walt The Corners nonetheless balances the cherries and sweet strawberry nose in an interesting finesse of earthiness that seems to gain even more balance with 15 minutes of air. The wine takes on a rounder, elegant feel that will delight even the drinkers of the Big Reds. Available from the Walt website, www.waltwines.com, approximately 400 cases of this beauty were made by the relatively new sister winery to Hall, which instead features Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs in contrast to Walt’s Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. Retailing for a princely $65, the 2012 The Corners is definitely worthy of splurge and is a fine contrast to the white wines so often served in the heat of the summer months. Like many fine Pinot Noirs, the Walt offering is best served slightly chilled. Stingy Steven Tanzer awarded this Pinot a strong 90 rating and praised its finish of “easygoing tannins and very good length.” James Laube of Wine Spectator similarly praised this wine, noting it “very complete and deftly balanced, ending with a long, smooth lingering aftertaste that keep the berry flavors at the forefront,” while awarding an impressive 91 rating on the 2012 Walt offering. Your humble Wine Bargain Sleuth thinks of this wine as a perfect compromise for lovers of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon–there is something to like for everyone.
Thought for the Day: Shower the People!
This getting older is not for wussies. Don’t let another week go by without telling your loved ones how you feel about them. Two recent unexpected funerals have really hit home, and they serve as a blunt reminder of how precious our lives and relationships are. Reach out to your dear ones you haven’t seen lately and grab a favorite bottle of wine to share. There IS no better use for a great bottle (or box, if you must) than sharing with your favorite folks!
Until next month– Cheers!
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