Friday, April 24, 2009

Lynch-Bages comes to Austin

A group of French wine lovers welcomed Jean-Michel Cazes, owner of Lynch-Bages winery, for a celebratory dinner at Aquarelle on April 19. It was a homecoming as M. Cazes had been a graduate student at UT, earning a Masters degree in Petroleum Engineering. His visit was from a series of coincidences.

Earlier this year, at UT, another French graduate student in Petroleum Engineering was reading an old Wine Spectator. Anne Burgot relates the story: "I saw this article about Jean-Michel Cazes, like me, did an engineering degree like me in Paris, and then came to Austin to do the same Master degree as me in UT in Austin in 1959, just 50 years ago! So many coincidences! I found that it was too much to be random. Since I love organizing events, I wrote him a letter to ask him if he would like to come back to Austin 50 years later and that I would volunteer to organize a wine tasting dinner at a delicious French restaurant I know." She never expected to hear back from him, but "two weeks later he sent me an email letting me know that he would love to come back to Austin and could be here in April."

Indeed, Ms. Burgot spent four solid months working on the event, but at the end, she put together a benefit for the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas and filled all of Aquarelle's seats. Best for Austin, her newfound interest in wine and organzing have her hooked. Her next program will be to put together a quarterly tasting of wine for women.

As for the dinner, food and wine were both loved by all. Aquarelle's five course menu was scrumptious, as were the wines, but the dinner was dominated by Almond Crusted Beef Tenderloin with Foie Gras and a Cabernet Reduction married with both a 1996 and 1988 Lynch-Bages. The wine of the night, for my purposes, was the 2005 Chateau Villa Bel Air, a dense and rich Graves loaded with violets and lavender.

Thanks again to Ms. Burgot for her efforts and for these photos of herself with M. Cazes and of the Aquarelle kitchen team with M. Cazes.

Washington Wine, the Dewhurst Proposal and a Michael Vilim's Expansion Plans

Gary Hogue, owner of Hogue Cellars in Washington, did an industry only dinner at Mirabelle on April 24, offering many of us the opportunity to try a few inexpensive (under $15) wines as well as a $24 Cab Reserve. Pick of the night among the wines were the Hogue Cellars Genesis Chardonnay ($14), a wine with plenty of acidity to pair up with the big fruit and moderate oakiness. The Hogue Cellars Genesis Merlot ($14) was exactly what an inexpensive Merlot should be: dark plum fruity with a hint of green pepper.

We had a short but lively discussion about Texas Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst's proposal to open up all restaurants to allowing diners to bring in their own wines. One restaurant manager said, "Perhaps they should be able to bring their own steaks to my steak house?" Another said that it would create havoc and end up closing a few. Gary Hogue said that in his home state of Washington, they have the same law and it hasn't hurt restaurants or wineries. We shall see.

Finally, Michael Vilim mentioned that we should be listening for news about him moving into a couple of new restaurant ventures. At least one will have to do with creating international types of street food. He seems very passionate about the idea, enough so that he has been working on recipes and picking locations.

The pictures at the top are of Gary Hogue, regaling us with stories.

Northern Italy Wine Trails

This is an article I originally wrote for the Austin Chronicle. I place it here for your information and as a teaser for when this blog gets going full time, which will be shortly after the edits and art for my next book, What's a Wine Lover To Do? (Artisan), are finally finished.

We rented a car and headed over the Alps to the town of Neive in Piemonte, the northwestern corner of Italy, to La Contea, one of our favorite restaurants in the world. I don't say this lightly. We've been around, and we've been back to La Contea often enough to know that not only is it dazzling, it is consistent. There, Tonino Verro has a small empire as a winemaker, shop owner, restaurateur, and innkeeper. His wife, Claudia, oversees the kitchen, while a crew of young, eager family and friends watches over the front of the house. It is cozy, with fewer than 20 tables, never snobby, and the food is simply glorious. We were there at the beginning of white-truffle season, and Tonino was going table to table, gently imploring the people to try Claudia's Tagliatelle With Tartufo Bianco. It was amazing. Later, Tonino walked through the dining room carrying a box with what looked like a cat in it. When he got to our table, it turned out to be a huge rabbit, freshly shot by a local hunter and ready for Claudia's roasting. We bought an Arnais and a Barbera from Tonino's winery and relaxed into a wonderful meal. The night couldn't have been any better.

Since we were in Italy, we thought it would be a good idea to visit some of the wineries that Austinite Steve Lawrence represents. Romana Carlo is just a few kilometers from La Contea and operated by the nicest family. They set up a lunch Momma cooked (including semolina dolce, a wonderful, sweet, fried polenta), and we tasted through all their wines, tops being the 2004 Terra Verus Barbera Riserva, a dense, delicious wine with a hint of oak. One benefit for all of us, since Steve is local, is that Austin gets these wines first.

With a few days until our next visit, we headed down to Tuscany to see the Banfi operation. This is one of the world's largest wine companies, yet everything we saw was handled like a small winery. We were there as they were bringing in the Sangiovese for their Brunello and watched as the workers literally separated grape by grape to assure the quality. We had three nights at Banfi, staying in a room they reserve for traveling employees. They also have a hotel with a two-star Michelin restaurant, but it starts at $500 a night! Staying in the worker's area allowed us to infiltrate the local scene. We had a chance to be away from tourists. Sitting outside in a breezy piazza, sipping a cup of espresso ... I didn't want to leave.

My favorite Banfi wine of all was Principessa Perlante Gavi, a $15 white wine with tiny bubbles and a beguiling, yummy flavor. I love finding great cheap wines. I also had an opportunity to try a double-blind tasting of 13 2001 Brunellos (see picture above). Now these are some of Italy's most expensive, sought-after wines. The good news was that the most expensive – Pian Delle Vigne by Antinori ($100), Pieve Santa Restituta by Gaja ($125), Biondi-Santi Tenuta Greppo ($120) – were not my favorites. I picked Castello Banfi Poggio Alle Mura as the best (and were the folks at Banfi pleased) and Castelgiocondo second. Both are still pricey, at about $75, but as Brunellos go, they were more than reasonable.

The other ultrapremium wine of Italy is Amarone, and Steve had been able to wangle me an invite to the Yoda of Amarone, Giuseppe Quintarelli. His wines are very rare in the U.S. and are snapped up by collectors. I had a tour of the winery and saw the incredible expense of carefully drying the grapes in lofts, down to the point that there is only a drop or two of decadently rich juice before the press. The outcome is one of the richest red wines on earth. And while Quintarelli's wines go for astronomical prices, the wines of his protégé, Luca Fedrigo of L'Arco, are much more reasonable.

Those are the wines Steve Lawrence brings to Austin, and after having tasted both Quintarelli and L'Arco wine next to each other, I can vouch for Luca's efforts. Luca takes every wine he makes to Quintarelli for his blessing, and you can taste the training Luca has received from the old master.

Our last stop before heading home was to meet with the owners of one of Italy's top white-wine brands, Venica & Venica. We met Giampaolo Venica over lunch at the Ristorante Al Cacciatore in Cormons. As an open fire slowly cooked a batch of polenta in the background, we talked about how his father and uncle had inherited the winery from their father. From the beginning, in 1930, these wines have been in demand all over Italy, but it was only recently that the wines have started building a reputation in the U.S. We tasted through everything they made, at least what wasn't already sold out, and the family style rang through. Sauvignon Blanc, Tocai, and Pinot Bianco are all well-extracted wines, but with plenty of snappy acidity to make them perfect food pairings.

Jetting Home

The trip home from Trieste took 28 grueling hours, most spent at the lovely Newark airport. But it gave us time to talk about what we'd learned, most important being that the French and Italians consider wine to be a living thing. They don't think of it as a means to get drunk or a fun something to put in your hand while you're at a party. They see wine as part of the daily meals, lunch, and dinner. Children drink wine, albeit watered down, but they wouldn't anymore think of depriving a child of wine than asparagus. To them, they are the same. Like a vegetable, a fruit, a piece of meat, or a loaf of bread, wine is food. We should learn from them.

Burgundy: The Grape Beyond Part 2

This is an article I originally wrote for the Austin Chronicle. I place it here for your information and as a teaser for when this blog gets going full time, which will be shortly after the edits and art for my next book, What's a Wine Lover To Do? (Artisan), are finally finished.

Chablis was our starting point, an area planted almost totally in Chardonnay. These wines, like all Burgundies, are food wines. There's plenty of acid to cleanse your palate when you have it with a meal but probably too much acid to sit around sipping it on a hot Texas afternoon. The people of Chablis set four classifications of their own. Petit Chablis is the least of the wines, followed by Chablis, Chablis 1er Cru, and Grand Cru at the top. Of all the Burgundians, they are probably the biggest proponents of terroir. Decades ago, some wine-born pathogen settled in their oak barrels, and the winemakers burned every barrel in the area and installed stainless-steel tanks. Today, almost all Chablis is made without oak, so when you taste a glass of Chablis, you are tasting nothing but grape, terroir, and the winemaker's art.

I know about terroir but was still surprised when I tasted 10 different Chablis, all from one maker, La Chablisienne. All had the wonderful wet slate aroma common to Chablis, but all were completely different. The wines ranged from overly acidic and thin at the Petit Chablis end to magnificent, well-structured richness at the Grand Cru level. Another winemaker, Clotilde Davenne, was my pick of the best winemaker in Chablis. Even her simplest wines, Bourgogne Blanc, had depth and opulence. She also has one of the few vineyards in Chablis that is allowed to grow Sauvignon Blanc, called Les Temps Perdue Saint-Bris. It's elegant and restrained with the aromas hitting you as an afterthought. We were smitten.

The Mâconnais area is around the town of Mâcon. This is where most of the least-expensive Bourgogne wines come from, but it's also where most of the affordable action is these days. It has long been the bastard stepchild of the better areas, but things are changing. The Bret brothers (pictured above with friend and fello wwine writer Leslie Sbrocco), owners of Domaine de la Soufrandière, had a bumper crop, qualitywise, in 2006. Their hand-tended, organic vineyards are producing fruit as good as any in Burgundy, and the brothers are young enough to make a difference in the Mâconnais for many years to come.

Knowledgeable French wine lovers have been scarfing up the wines of the Côte Chalonnaise district for years, because the prices are low compared to the Côte d'Or. The Château de Chamirey showed some incredible 2005 wines that haven't yet hit the U.S. market. The U.S. will only get 25 cases of their Mercurey 1er Cru "Les Ruelles," but it's worth trying to finagle a bottle any way possible. This is quintessential Pinot Noir. A bit easier to find, if more expensive, is the Château de Perdrix Nuit Saint George Premier Cru "Aux Perdrix."

Once we move to the Côte d'Or, the négociants take control of the marketplace. While there are dozens of good négociants, two I trust are Louis Jadot and Joseph Drouhin.

We spent most of an evening with Jadot's winemaker Jacques Lardière as he took us through their barrel room, blithely tasting wine that will retail at anywhere from $9 to $900. I tasted 11 different wines that I would give my highest possible score, and luckily, two will be less than $25 when they hit stores over the next year. The 2006 Pernand Vergelesses Blanc will give you a good idea of what their $200 white Burgundies taste like, and it's under $20. And the 2006 Fixin similarly gives a strong hint of what the $400 Pinot Noirs taste like, and Lardière says it should come in around $25. At the end of the evening, Lardière wanted to show us how long his wines last, so he poured us a 1971 Pommard Rugiens and a 1961 Bonnes Mares. Both were still youthful, brightly colored wines with amazing complexity. These wines really do live a long time.

Drouhin wants to get young people interested in their brand by offering affordable wines. That way, as their taste and wallets mature, they'll be Drouhin fans and go for the higher priced wines. Their starter wine – the $20 2006 Veró Pinot Noir – is a perfect example of a simple Bourgogne level wine, but they have flexed their winemaking muscles to make something dazzling for the price. I'd pick it over a lot of $100-plus Burgundies.

Not all Côte d'Or wine is made by négociants. Winemaker Laurent Pon­sot operates the winery named for his family. He is a tall, thin man with a long gray ponytail (see above), an ex-mountain climber who took a big fall so now gets his fun flying acrobatic planes. And making wine. He is another of the terroir-as-religion folks. "The wine must be a vector between the earth and your glass," he says, as we sip some of his 2006 Morey-St.-Denis Premier Cru Clos des Monts Luisants Vieilles Vignes Blanc, a rare wine made from the Aligote grape. "I am not a winemaker. I am a conductor." The French have a way of tossing these grand statements like we might say our address. My favorite Ponsot quote: "A bottle is too big for one, and a magnum is too small for two."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Burgundy: The Grape Beyond

This is an article I originally wrote for the Austin Chronicle. I place it here for your information and as a teaser for when this blog gets going full time, which will be shortly after the edits and art for my next book, What's a Wine Lover To Do? (Artisan), are finally finished.

Recently, I had the chance to visit a number of French and Italian wineries, mostly hoping to find some new wineries to tell you about but also to try the new vintages before they hit the U.S. shelves. That way I could give you a heads-up. I know: tough work.

For the French part of the trip, we based ourselves in the town of Beaune, the epicenter of the Burgundy wine trade. People in Burgundy are both knowledgeable and opinionated about their food. Ask two people on the street who makes the best jambon persillé or the best fresh goat cheese, and you'll get four different but equally passionate responses. And wine is the most argued-about of all the foods.

Unfortunately for us, no wine area in the world is as inscrutable as Burgundy, mostly because of its labyrinthine classification. I'll try to make it at least basically understandable.

The first thing you have to know about Burgundy is that there are three main grapes grown there. If a Burgundy wine is white, nine times out of 10 it will be a Chardonnay. If it is red, unless it is a Beaujolais, it will be Pinot Noir. Why don't they just say Chardonnay or Pinot Noir? Those nutty French people take terroir (an all-encompassing word meaning dirt, weather, slope, and anything else that can define a single place) as religion. They think where the wine comes from and who makes it are more important than what grape they use.

The next thing to know is there are a number of huge wineries that purchase grapes or juice, then make the wine and market it. These are called négociants. All négociants try to buy the best grapes they can, and many vineyard owners will sell grapes to several négociants to keep the bidding fierce. But that's confusing because you might see several companies producing a wine with the same name.

Here's how Burgundies are labeled:

Grand Cru is the designation for the top wines in Burgundy. We see only a handful of Grand Cru wines in Austin because of their rarity. They are punishingly expensive, frequently north of $300 a bottle and occasionally more than $1,000. These wines are always listed by the name of the place, like Clos de Vougeot, Montrachet, or Chambertin.

Premier Cru (look for "1er Cru" on the bottle) is the next-highest designation. There are more than 500 Premier Cru vineyards. No one living in Beaune can even name them all. Some of the Premier Cru wines can be priced as highly as the Grand Cru. But with a little skill and help, you can frequently find great bargains in this category.

Village wines can be made from any number of vineyards within a village's boundaries. This is where you find wines named after towns. Of course, if you've never traveled Burgundy on a bicycle, it's hard to tell a town from a vineyard. What's worse, years ago, several towns added the name of a Grand Cru vineyard to the name of the town. Puligny became Puligny-Montrachet, and Aloxe became Aloxe-Corton.

The lowest designation we see in the U.S. is simply called Bourgogne. These wines can be made from anywhere in Burgundy, and increasingly we are seeing them marketed here as Bourgogne Pinot Noir or Bourgogne Chardonnay. Bourgogne wines can also be named after a place. Like Macon-Villages. Which leads us to the last snag in labeling.

Burgundy comprises six areas: Beaujolais, Chablis, Mâconnais, Côte Chalonnaise, Côtes de Beaune, and Côtes de Nuits. Moreover, those last two are referred to collectively as the Côte d'Or.

Finally, you should know that there is no apparent connection between price and quality in Burgundian wines. There are négociants – like Jadot and Drouhin – where you can trust most of what they make to be good value for the money. But once you get into the smaller wineries, all bets are off. The best strategy is to talk to a trusted wineshop person, then try some of the least expensive wines. When you find one you like, start moving up that maker's ladder.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Box wines

This is from an article I did for the Austin Chronicle that contains helpful information for these economic times. It has been widely copied throughout the world, I'm sure because we all need good, cheap wine.

Sipping From the Spigot

The great boxed-wine challenge

A quick show of hands: How many of you open a $20-plus bottle of wine each night? How many carefully age their wines for measured maturity? When you pop the cork, do you finish the whole bottle? If not, do you notice how it just doesn't taste right the next day?

The truth is most people drink their wine on the same day they buy it. Most people prefer good-quality, inexpensive wines and stay loyal to the brands they like. And most people have variable rates of wine consumption: maybe a glass tonight, maybe three tomorrow. Plus, since a half-empty bottle of wine goes stale after just one day, they end up drinking subpar wine.

The Australians and Europeans solved all of these problems years ago with one elegant solution. They take a good-quality wine; put it in an inert, vacuum-sealed bag; drop the bag in a box; and place a spigot on the side. In Australia, for instance, 54% of wines sold are box wines.

Imagine dining in a nice European trattoria or brasserie and ordering a carafe of the house wine. It would be a simple, unpretentious wine made for casual consumption. That's what you'll find in the best box wines. They are always priced popularly, with 3-liter boxes (equivalent to four bottles of wine) normally running $10-20. Best of all, you can take as much as you want and not worry about the wine oxidizing by the next day. It will keep in the box for months.

Early on, box wines had a cheesy reputation in the U.S. As Evan Goldstein, a master sommelier and author of Perfect Pairings (University of California Press, $29.95), told me: "You're lucky you weren't doing the box-wine challenge 10 years ago. The wines tasted like plastic." I'd go a step further and say they tasted like you were sucking them through a $2 garden hose.

When fellow Food writer Mick Vann recently asked me which box wines I would recommend, it got me thinking. I've tasted a couple of box wines that really caught my attention. Both FishEye's Pinot Grigio ($14) and the Target stores' California Chardonnay taste like the grapes they are made from, unhampered by oak, and they are young, fruity, and crisp. But I wondered what other, if any, box wines a crew of knowledgeable wine tasters would pick. Are any box wines worthy of a place in America's refrigerators? I decided to put it to the test.

The Process

We asked the biggest wine distributors to send us every box wine they carried. The complications started when we used the word "box."Things have gotten more convoluted since Three Thieves came out with the Tetra Pak, which is like the juice cartons kids use. Adult juice, indeed. Anyway, the industry term for what I was looking for is "bag in a box." We ended up with (gulp!) 50 wines.

Next up was picking the experts. I wanted some parity among disciplines, and I knew that I wanted to start with the three Austinites who had won the Texas Best Sommelier awards: Devon Broglie of Whole Foods, Craig Collins of Prestige Wine Cellars, and Scott Cameron of Avante Beverages. I also wanted some experienced winemakers. Jim Johnson of Alamosa Wine Cellars not only makes great Texas wine; he has worked at some high-end California wineries like Heitz and St. Francis. Mark Penna is making stellar wine for Damian Mandola but also has the experience of actually making this style of wine from when he was the winemaker at Ste. Genevieve. Two retailers from Twin Liquors: our budding TV star Ross Outon (soon to be seen on the PBS reality series The Winemakers) and Martin Aechternacht. I invited two consumers. Steve Tipton is on the board of the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and owner of one of the top wine cellars in the city. The other consumer was my brother-in-law, Stephen Aechternacht (Martin's father), because he actually regularly drinks boxed wines. The last two slots were chef spots: one for a current chef, Charles Mayes of Cafe Josie, and another for a retired chef, the Chronicle's Vann.

(Let me jump in here with an important oversight. When our Food editor makes a mistake, she calls it the "off-with-my-head department." Well, get your guillotines sharpened. I didn't notice until we were posing for our picture that I had completely forgotten to give this group a gender option. I left out female wine professionals and consumers. So sorry. Be careful with that axe, Eugenia.)

Broglie was kind enough to get us a place for the box-off at the Whole Foods Market Culinary Center. It was a first visit there for most of us, and we were all bowled over at how beautiful and functional the place is. Not only did they treat us kindly and let us dirty a hundred or so of their wine glasses, but they were considerate and helpful, even though they had a private cooking class going on at the same time!

We tasted the wines in varietal groups: Pinot Grigios, Chardonnays, other whites, Merlots, Cabernets, Shirazes, and other reds. Instead of using a 100-point scale, we decided to use the system that most wine competitions would use. A wine could receive any of four rankings. We defined gold as a wine that we would happily buy and keep around the house for personal consumption. Silver meant we'd buy it for parties, cooking, and infrequent drinking. Bronze meant we would happily drink it for free at someone else's party. No medal meant we wouldn't even swallow the stuff; we'd spit it out.

The competition was conducted double blind. Here's how that works: Four volunteers poured the wines in another room and brought them in pitchers so no one, myself included, knew which wines we were drinking. Then, to keep us all honest, for each varietal, we slipped in real glass-bottle wines in the $15-20 range to see if the experts could tell the difference.

The good news is that out of 50 wines, only eight averaged "no medal." The vast majority rated bronze, which is a definite step up from the original box wines. The bad news is that, with the exception of three categories, our judges picked the bottle wines as the top in their varietal. Remember, none of us knew what he was tasting, which just goes to show that you still mostly get what you pay for. However, there are some exceptions.

And the Winners Are ...

Our goal was to find any box wine that could stand up against its glass brethren, and we found three that were absolute knockouts. They were the winning Cabernet, Merlot, and other white.

Our final step was to bring the Top 3 wines in for a face-off. Still, none of us knew what he was tasting, other than a Cab, a Merlot, and an other white. We were aiming for Best Red, Best White, and Best of Show. For the red, all but one judge chose the Cabernet, so all that remained was to choose between the Cabernet and other white for the Best of Show.

This was the crowning moment of our run through 50 wines, so excitement was in the air. Our first three judges voted Cab, signaling a trend. But then the next three picked the other white. Things teeter-tottered through the rest of the judges, and the final vote was ... a tie. We decided to award a Best of Show to both wines.

That's when we finally got to see what we had picked.

1) Seeberger Riesling ($16 for 3 liters) is made in Germany and full of crisp, appley Riesling flavors. The fact that it's a low 10% alcohol makes it a perfect Texas summer wine. Ross Outon summed up his reasons for picking the Seeberger: "The only note I wrote down as I tried the winning white wine was, 'Riesling ... best white.'That says it all.It was varietally correct enough for me to pull out blind, and it was also balanced and well-structured ... and I'd drink another glass." Devon Broglie was equally ecstatic: "I felt like it had a crisp, clean finish. This is a wonderful summer white and the definition of summer quaffing wine! I am going to start keeping a box in the fridge just on principle!" Seeberger is available at most HEB stores, although based on Devon's opinion, I bet we'll be seeing it at Whole Foods in the near future.

2) Powers Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($20 for 3 liters) is made by Badger Mountain Vineyard in Kennewick, Wash. Their main operation is organic, but for this less expensive wine, they must rely on nonorganic fruit. This wine easily could be mistaken for a $15-20-a-bottle Cabernet. It is 100% Cabernet that has seen time in real barrels, something you hardly ever find in wines less than $15 a bottle. That's positively amazing for a wine that works out to the equivalent of $5 a bottle. Winemaker Jim Johnson commented that it is "the perfect box wine, appropriate color, nice nose. It finishes dry, and the fruit is bright, forward, and squeaky clean. Very well-made." I agree. The Powers was my favorite wine of the entire contest. It is available at Grape Vine, Spec's, Whole Foods, and Whip In.

The other top wine was Hardys Stamp Merlot ($16 for 3 liters). Hardy Wine Co. is a huge Australian company with more than a dozen brands. For the Stamp line, winemaker Peter Dawson blends his wines using fruit from all over Australia, then puts the same wines in his bottles as in his boxes. The box wines come at a discount because making and shipping the wine costs so much less than using glass and corks. Their Merlot is velvety with just a touch of green-pepper aroma and quite rich for the price. Vann loved it. "This red is sippable or can go with just about any food," he said. "For an out-of-a-box wine, this is just what the doctor ordered for that glass-a-night before bedtime or ideal for the feast for friends." Hardys Stamp Merlot is only available at Spec's.

News You Can Use Next Time You Go to the Store

Another trend that we noticed was that a few brands showed well in almost every varietal. This is convenient because once you get the image of the label fixed in your mind, you can rest assured that you have a good chance of finding decent wines no matter the grape.

For instance, the highest ranked brand was Wine Cube, a brand sold only at Target stores. They placed in the top tier for their Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Shiraz and in the third tier for their Cabernet. These wines are line priced at $16, making them the equivalent of $4 for a regular 750-milliliter bottle.

I was surprised at the strong showing for Delicato, which placed in Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. Delicato has been advertising all the awards they've been winning, but I've never been convinced. Well, they've obviously invested the time and money in really raising the quality of their wines. That goes to prove why critical tastings should always be double blind.

Other labels showed well. Box Star is an Australian brand that placed in Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet, and Shiraz. Black Box wines also did well in the box-off, placing with their Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet. And Rain Dance placed in the top tier for both their Chardonnay and Shiraz.

So Should I Sell My Collection of First Growth Bordeaux and Buy Boxes?

First and foremost, wine is food, and just like most of us can't and don't eat lobster and caviar every night, we'll also never be in the $100-a-night wine club. Although the idea is appealing, after a while you'd be lusting after $500 bottles. Instead, relax, and know that a good wine at a bargain price is a thing of beauty, one that we all should be excited to find.

Does it matter if it's in a box? Of course it does. On the plus side, you can pour as much as you want and know that the rest will stay nice and fresh, just awaiting your next pour. You'll also save some money by avoiding the price penalty for bottles and corks.

The minus side is that you might feel embarrassed in the checkout line. What will they think if they see me with a box wine?

Just smile, take comfort in your intelligence, and tell them you read it here: Good wines do come in boxes.

Results of Top-Placing Wines

The numbers after the brands reflect the broad ranks, i.e. all the "1" ranks were in the range between gold and silver, "2" was between silver and bronze, "3" was between bronze and no medal.


Box Star: 1

Rain Dance: 1

Wine Cube: 1

Black Box: 2

Delicato: 2

FishEye: 2

Hardys: 2

Killer Juice: 3

Pinot Grigio

Wine Cube: 1

Delicato: 2

FishEye: 3

Other White

Seeberger Riesling: 1

Franzia Chablis: 2


Hardys: 1

Black Box: 2

Delicato: 2

Box Star: 3


Powers: 1

Black Box: 2

Box Star: 3

Delicato: 3

Wine Cube: 3

Other Red

Pinot Evil: 1

Le Faux Frog Pinot: 2

Badger Mountain Red (Organic): 3


Rain Dance: 1

Wine Cube: 1

Banrock Station: 2

Box Star: 2

Black Box: 3

FishEye: 3

Hardys Shiraz: 3