Friday, June 28, 2013

Boxed Wine?


Yes!  There are plenty of reasons you might want to buy boxed wine.
  • It’s cheap.
  • It’s environmentally friendly (less packaging and less weight to ship).
  • The bottle can’t break.
  • It can’t have cork taint.
  • It’s portable – you can take it to the beach or any other place that doesn’t allow glass.
  • It will stay fresh for WEEKS!  Maybe more!

When I say boxed wine, I mean the bag-in-a-box type.  Some wines are sold in “Tetra Paks” which are basically cardboard, and can do all of the things listed above except the last one – stay fresh for weeks.  That’s because the bag-in-box design keeps the wine away from oxygen as you use it, while a Tetra Pak doesn’t.  Bag-in-box designs have a spigot, while Tetra Paks usually have a small plastic screw cap on the top.

But will it taste good? 

Box wines have a bad reputation, but in recent years they’ve been improving.  Here are some to try, based partly on my experience and partly on tasting panels that have posted reviews.  These are the recommended brands that are available in our area.  They come in 3 liter boxes, which are equivalent to 4 bottles:
  • Osbourne Bodegas Seven Red Table Wine - $17
  • Bota Box (especially the Shiraz) - $18 
  • Black Box - $21
  • Herding Cats (especially the Chenin Blanc & Chardonnay blend) - $14
  • Fish Eye (especially the Pinot Grigio and Riesling) - $15

Though you may never get a spectacular wine out of a box, you can definitely get a decent one for a great price.  Box wines are good for entertaining, for when you just want a glass of wine every now and then and don’t want to open a bottle, for the beach or picnics, and for cooking.

And as a bonus, here’s a way to reuse the bag, courtesy of America's Test Kitchen:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Texas Viognier Beats California and Rhone!

The traditional home of the Viognier grape is in the Rhone Valley in France, and it has also had success in California.   But more and more Texas wineries are producing wine from Viognier.  How are they doing?  Very well!

Read the full story here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Is your wine over the hill?

I tend to keep wines far too long.  I buy an interesting bottle, and then I save it for when I’m serving just the right meal, for when I get around to hosting that one tasting I had in mind, for when that one person I know who would love it comes over, or for that occasion that’s special enough to justify the cost of the bottle.  In most cases, I’m doing myself (and whomever drinks it with me) a disservice because many times these wines are aging past their prime while I’m waiting for the perfect moment to drink them.  In an effort to inspire myself and others to stop hoarding wine, I’ve come up with a brief guide for “when to drink.”

Rule #1:  90% of the time, DRINK IT NOW!

Many people believe that older wine = better wine, but that isn’t necessarily the case.  The vast majority of wines on store shelves today is meant to be drunk within a year or two of bottling.  Here are some details:

  • Only 10% of red wines will taste better when they are 5 years old than they did at release
  • Only 5% of white wines will taste better when they are 5 years old than they did at release
  • Most wine loses fruitiness within 6 months of bottling
  • Anything with a screw cap (or in a box) is not meant to be aged

Rule #2:  If you want to drink older wines, know what to look for.

You may want to seek out that 10% (or less) of wines that will improve with age, because you appreciate the complex flavors, earthiness, or mellow tannins that develop over time.  Keep in mind that less than 10% of wines will be better after 5 years, and only about 1% of wines will be better after 10 years!  And you will need to store it properly as it ages.  (Hints on that here.)  To find a wine capable of aging, look for one that meets these qualifications:

  • Top quality
  • Strong levels of acid and/or tannin
  • Costs more than $25 (and sometimes quite a bit more)

Here are some specific suggestions:

  • High quality red Bordeaux (like St. Estephe, St. Julien, Pauillac, Margaux, St. Emilion, Pomerol)
  • High quality dessert wines of Bordeaux (like Sauternes)
  • High quality red or white Burgundy 
  • Barolo from Italy
  • Top quality Napa Cabernet 

So to recap, and because any subject involving time and numbers needs a chart…

Wines have a lifecycle.  A few improve before they start to decline, but most start declining right away.  Here’s a simplified chart that illustrates this:

Now I have to go open a bottle of wine I’ve been pointlessly saving!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ancient wine, ancient beer, and how you can try some today!

Recently on the radio program Science Friday, I heard an interview with archaeologist Patrick McGovern, “the Indiana Jones of Wine.”  He researches ancient beverages and has the coolest job I never knew existed.  He had fascinating things to say on the subjects of both wine and beer.

The early French learned to make wine from the early Italians.

McGovern and his team excavated a site near the French town of Lattes on the Mediterranean coast, where they found amphorae (clay vessels) and a wine press.  The amphorae came from around 500BC in central Italy, where the Etruscans lived, so it seems the French were learning winemaking from the Etruscans and importing their wine and technology.  This wine press is the oldest yet found in France.

When McGovern analyzed the amphorae, he found remnants of wine mixed with pine resin, rosemary, and basil.  The pine resin probably came into contact with the wine when the resin was used to seal the amphora.  Pine resin was a common seal around that time and created a pine-infused wine. 

Wine infused with pine resin has been made in Greece for 2000 years and is still made today. It’s called retsina, and you can buy it at Spec’s for around $7.  I bought a bottle of Kourtaki Retsina of Attica at the Spec’s on Bay Area.  The wine is pale yellow with aromas of citrus and a sharp herbal and mineral quality, which I assume comes from the pine.  The smell is not the sweet pine aroma of a Christmas candle, but more of a fresh outdoorsy pine.  The wine is dry, with medium-high acid, and tastes like a crisp, simple white wine with a strong herbal flavor.  I’d never tasted pine before, but I’d compare the flavor to rosemary.  I’d recommend drinking this more for the experience than for the quality or taste of the wine, but that's okay with me when it's only $7.  Retsina might have potential as a cooking wine...

Early beer combined elements of beer, wine, and mead.

McGovern has also discovered some fascinating information about ancient beer.  He analyzed the residue inside of an amphora from Turkey, which was excavated from what is thought to be the palace of King Midas.  The amphora contained remnants of a fermented beverage made from barley, honey, and grapes – the basic ingredients of beer, wine, and mead, all in one.  Microbrewers participated in a contest to recreate what this beverage would have tasted like.  Dogfish Head Brewery won the contest and began producing “Midas Touch.” 

Midas Touch is widely available in Houston – from Spec’s to Whole Foods.  It’s pricey at $10 - $14 for a 4-pack of 12-oz bottles, but I think it’s worth it for the chance to try something so unusual.  The label calls it “handcrafted ancient ale with barley, honey, white muscat grapes, and saffron.”  Midas is a light amber color – darker than a pale ale but lighter than an amber.  It tastes like a strong ale – sort of like a Belgian tripel – with fruit and honey notes, though it isn’t sweet.  Its flavors are complex and rich, and its high alcohol content (9%) contributes to a full-bodied and weighty feel.  It’s pretty good, but I wouldn’t make it a regular drink.  Even so, I love that something like this exists.  It's a history lesson in a bottle.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Interesting Odds and Ends

}} I've recently discovered, a website which will keep you informed about wine events in your area.  It requires a free membership and offers additional services for a small fee.

}} Speaking of drinking wine locally, do you enjoy leisurely browsing the grocery store aisles like I do?  Wouldn't it be even nicer if you had a glass of wine in your hand?  If you shop at the Central Market at Westheimer and Weslayan or the Whole Foods Market at West Alabama and Kirby, you're in luck!

Though it isn't advertised, the coffee bar at the front of Central Market also sells wine by the glass, which you're welcome to consume as you shop.  They currently offer a Chardonnay, a Malbec (1919), and a Cabernet.  If you're more into beer, you can select one from the single-serve beverages near the salad/soup bar, and as long as you take it to the coffee bar to be opened, you may consume it on the premises.

At Whole Foods, head to the coffee/beer/wine counter near the bakery.  They do a better job of advertising what they have to offer, and usually have good selection of rotating wines and beers on draft.

Do you know of other stores in Houston that offer this?  Please share in the comments!

}} I came across a neat blog this week.  Kris at creates and posts some fun infographics and other "wine memes."  I encourage you to check out his site.

}} Mira Winery in California recently conducted an experiment with aging bottles of wine in the ocean.  When compared to the exact same wine aged in the usual way on land, the wine aged in the ocean tasted different!  Studies are underway to determine the exact causes (increased pressure? presence of saltwater? lack of oxygen? lack of light? temperature difference?).

Wine really does get better with age and a little saltwater (Fox News)
Ocean-aged wine is 'more complex' says Napa winery (Decanter)

}} Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, MW, is producing a video series for on aspects of wine quality.  Two have been released so far.  It looks like there will be about 10 videos total, when the series is complete.  I'm excited to see the rest of these, because I think they will answer a lot of questions that people have about how to judge wine, and the end of the "Finesse" video suggests there will be some fun, interactive experiments coming up!  (You may recall she is also the author of The One-Minute Wine Master, which I recently reviewed.)

The first video introduces the series and lists specific aspects of wine quality - FBLICCAT!

The second video discusses the first aspect of wine quality, finesse.