Monthly Archives: January 2013

Style Upgrade: Wine Out of the Box, Into the Boxxle

Have a glass while you cook

Behold, the Boxxle! Have a glass while you cook.

Last week on my blog (and early December in the Village Voice), I published an article reviewing the “best” boxed wines on the market. Prior to tasting twenty+ wines, winnowing the field of drinkable ones to eight, I posed the following question: Can one throw an affordable, elegant dinner party with boxed wines guests would enjoy drinking? The answer was Yes but No. Affordable and enjoyable: Yea, mostly. Elegant? That was still unsolved.

I tested my dinner party theory over Thanksgiving at my sister’s house. As you can see from the photo below, we sampled lots of wines, yet the loveliness of the dining room was undermined by the silly looking collection of boxes on the table. Clearly, refilling guests out of a cardboard container is far from sophisticated unless you plan to use decanters all night.  But decanters are only a solution for a party, not for daily consumption at home. Now, solving for both: The Boxxle.

Affordable and drinkable, but aesthetically displeasing

Affordable and drinkable, but aesthetically displeasing

Apparently I was not the only one to recognize this problem, but Tripp Middleton was the first address it. A University of Georgia graduate, Middleton acknowledged the issue of aesthetics as well as stigma around serving wine in a box, so he created the Boxxle, a patent-pending dispenser made for 3L (equal to 4 bottles) wine bladders.

As you may recall, inside every box of wine is an airtight plastic bag holding the juice. You must get that bladder into the Boxxle, a minor but surmountable challenge that involves pulling it out of the cardboard casing without puncturing it. I speak to that issue since, like an idiot, I tried opening a box with a knife, and well, you know where this is going.

The Boxxle itself features a stylish stainless steel exterior with looks akin to a simplehuman product. Perfect for matching your SH trashcan, Viking Range, Bosch Dishwasher and all the rest of the SS in your kitchen (mine included, although no Viking or Bosch here). The extraction system is easy to use and pretty genius. Rather than the traditional gravity drain method found in a normal box, the Boxxle uses a compression system to squeeze the wine out to the last drop–no embarrassing tilt and shake while trying to get that final spit of alcohol.

Looking elegant and discreet in my kitchen.

Boxxle looking elegant yet discreet in my kitchen.

If you are a regular drinker of red wine, you can leave the Boxxle on your counter (unless you live in the South–too hot folks!) with your favorite 3L bag of vino rosso inside. If you prefer whites, you may have difficulty finding space in the fridge; but a little life priority and shelf rearrangement will have you discreetly drinking chilled wine for months. The beauty of the Boxxle is that nobody can see how much goes out, as long as you put another bladder back in.

Other perks of the Boxxle include larger, nebulous but still important environmental impact savings such as glass bottle waste, shipping, labeling–basically a lowering of your carbon footprint. Plus your wine stays fresh for up to six weeks! A win-win for all. The only question is: Can you find a wine good enough for the Boxxle?

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Filed under Product Review, The Boxxle

The Boxed Wine Experiment

Literally, a box of wine

Literally, a box of wine

If you missed my article in the Village Voice on boxed wine, here is your second chance…

My last memory of drinking boxed wine is from a college football game. A friend duct-taped a Franzia Chardonnay bladder under khaki pants like a wino’s version of a flask. During the game, he would roll up his pant leg, flick the spigot and fill-up nearby students’ cups with the plonk. Given this was years ago, I figured the boxed-wine industry must have matured as much as my graduating class.

Since a box holds more wine, creates less garbage, weighs less, and costs less, if you could just find boxed wine that people actually want to drink, you could throw an affordable, eco-friendly, elegant party. Right?

I perused the shelves at Astor, known for carrying nearly thirty different economy-format wines. I then collected twenty-two samples from various producers who had the best online reviews: Bandit, Würtz and Wineberry, plus the organic wines of Y&B, From the Tank, and Fuori Strada. I even included a college throwback, Franzia, to see if they had improved their game.

Modern packaging styles include Tetra Pak (same material used for chicken broth) with plastic screw caps or the classic bag-in-a-box with spigot. Sizes were generally 1L and 3L, although Bandit also makes a cute 500 ml that fits perfectly in a purse (for football games!)

Boxed wine for a dinner party? Yes!

Boxed wine for a dinner party? Yes!

Here are eight wines for your next party:

Le Garrigon, Côtes du Rhone 2011 from Wineberry, 3L, $40. By far the most sophisticated in taste and packaging. Also, survived the longest at three+ weeks post T-Day in the fridge.

From the Tank, Côtes du Rhone Red, 3L, $36. Blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan, this smooth, red berry and cherry-fruit red was a household favorite, finished in two days.

Y&B Select Red 2010, 1 L, $12. A Santa Barbara-sourced blend with blackberry and spice notes; would make a nice weeknight glass with dinner.

Fuori Strada Sangiovese 2010, 1L, $12. Medium-bodied with smooth tannins and juicy, red fruit. Another surprise keeper.

Würtz Riesling, 3 L, $25. Dry, crisp and fruity crowd-pleaser in a slick, attractive black box.

From the Tank, Languedoc White, 3L, $33. 100% Chardonnay with pretty, but subtle flavors of stone fruit, green apple and citrus. Perfect if you need a white wine option for a party.

Bandit Merlot, 1L, $8. Simple party sipper with moderate tannins, a hint of cedar and vanilla with blueberry-plum fruit.

Fuori Strada Grillo 2011, 1L $12. Lemon-citrus and minerality dominate this clean, fresh and lively wine, if a slight bit tart.

And here’s what I learned about boxed wine:

  • The quality gap between the reds and whites was like that between the Patriots and the Jets. We enjoyed drinking the best reds, while the mostly insipid, often tart whites were a chore to get down, some too sour to drink at all.
  •  The wines in Tetra Pak degraded faster than bottled wine; drink within 24 hours of opening.
  •  The wine spigots were hard to retrieve out of the interior of the boxes. Try pulling them out with pliers.
  •  Don’t bring boxed wine to a party. If my sister (who hosted my tasting over Thanksgiving) wasn’t thrilled, I suspect a non-familial hostess will appreciate the gesture even less. Go glass when gifting.
  • To qualify as “elegant,” serve the wines from decanters.

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Australian Shiraz 2.0: Six Wines Worth Finding

Recent tasting of Australian Shiraz at Corkbuzz Wine Studio

Recent tasting of Australian Shiraz at Corkbuzz Wine Studio

I think we can all agree that Australian Shiraz went through a bubble not unlike the housing crisis in the U.S. But just as homeownership is making a slow, wobbly comeback, so is Shiraz trickling back into the market.

I addressed some of the issues the Australian wine market faced in a previous post, so this is old news. But to briefly recap the story of Shiraz, by winemakers’ own admissions, they glommed on to the trend of producing ripe, oaky syrup intended to please palates of critics and Coca-Cola loving Americans. But they made too much of it, and the style expired (or is still expiring—fingers crossed for the Mid-West!), as all trends do. Americans opened up their wallets and palates to different countries—Argentinian Malbec, for example—as well as to leaner wines with greater finesse. Shiraz was left to wither on the proverbial vine.

Enter Australia 2.0. The country has since come to realize their epic mistake for relying on one grape, one style, one low price point and a couple of critters to represent the country’s potential. Frankly, any thoughtful wine drinker can look at a map of Australia and conceive that there are many different micro-climates, varieties, producers and thus styles that should be heading our way.  However, Australians needed introspection; thus, the industry took a look at their own map, defined their regions, embraced them and are looking to share it with us.

In progression towards this goal, Wine Australia has hosted monthly regional immersion classes for industry folks in hopes we spread the good wine word. I have attended class the last four months, each one focusing on different grapes/styles/regions.

To be honest, when the Shiraz class came up on the schedule, I wasn’t particularly thrilled. I had recently been to a tasting that left me underwhelmed—many of the wines were too ripe, lacked acidity, and had the same profile for which we sent the grape packing in the first place. So, why relive the nightmare in the classroom, when there are so many other wines worth knowing? However, I kept an open mind because that is kind of the point of discovery and Australia is, by my own acknowledgment, a big place.

We tasted 22 wines in all price points, and surprise, many of them were wonderful! I felt like I was tasting the real Shiraz, or at least something different from the past 10 years. Don’t get me wrong—the wines still hold loads of plush fruit, but many had depth, complexity and finally some acidity. The class was a great re-introduction to Aussie Shiraz’ potential, and I kept notes on a handful of wines I believe deserve recognition.

What’s fun about this list is that good Shiraz is being made all over Australia, some regions with cooler climes and thus less ripe styles. Here are a few worth seeking out, and my simplified tasting notes from class:

2010 Inkberry Mountain Estate Shiraz-Cabernet, Central Ranges, NSW, $13: Black cherry, blackberry, black raspberry and a touch of menthol; good value.

2009 Fowles Stone Dwellers Shiraz, Strathbogie Ranges, VIC $20: Fruit and flowers nose; fruit leather, Christmas spice, Sichuan peppercorn and integrated oak palate.

2010 Shingleback The Davey Estate Shiraz, McLaren Vale, SA $22: Mint-choco chip ice cream with silky, warm blackberry sauce; lingering, pepper and herb finish.

2008 Plantagenet Shiraz, Mount Barker, WA $29: Earthy, floral and fruity; lifting acidity and a chocolate-minty finish.

2009 Brokenwood Shiraz, Hunter Valley, NSW, $36: Potpourri of baking spice, dried orange rind, cherries with traces of white fruit; good structure and acidity.

2007 Kilikanoon Oracle Shiraz, Clare Valley, SA $70: Vibrant mint, tobacco and black fruits; silky tannins fine like turkish coffee.

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Welcome to 2013. Try a Painkiller.

Happy New Year! Before I get back to wine related topics, I thought I would share some photos from my Christmas and New Year’s holiday spent with the family in Tortola.

We had a sun-and-rum-soaked two weeks down in the British Virgin Islands. As expected, local liquor stores had limited wine inventory, so we drank rum. Lots of delicious, inexpensive, dark, spicy rums that we mixed into all kinds of juices: guava, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple.

The Painkiller is the national drink, founded at the Soggy Dollar Bar on Jost Van Dyke. The cocktail, so delicious and simple to make, just may perk up your grey, dreary January days. Here is the recipe:

2-4 oz. of Dark Rum
4 oz. pineapple juice (or 4 oz of any combo of juices you like)
1 oz. cream of coconut, preferably Coco Lopez brand
1 oz. orange juice

Shake, strain and serve over ice.
Grated fresh nutmeg on top!

Cow Wreck beach bar on Anegada

Cow Wreck beach bar on Anegada

The most beautiful sailing ship I will never afford

My regret is not enough time in this hammock

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Filed under British Virgin Islands, Painkiller Recipe