Happy campers

While everyone else argues about synth vs. real cork, writers keep getting bombarded with box wine samples. I think it’s really the same issue. With synth cork or wine in boxes vs. bottles it’s really about the loss of wine’s romance—the packaging just isn’t as sexy. But the come-ons from the box wine promoters are hilarious, basically they say, “Box Wines: they don’t suck as much as they used to.”

Wow. Ringing endorsement. My husband who writes the Booze on a Budget  column for The Orange County Register has let them pile up in the closet for just that reason. But we finally dragged them out in a “How bad can they be?” moment of surrender. 

At first I swore I wouldn’t write about these cheesy wines but after tasting I thought I would give my readers the benefit of this research—why not? Summer is a time when box wine is pretty darn convenient and ultra cheap. We tried three different products: Seven, a blend of so many things from tempranillo to petit verdot that it doesn’t really know what it is; Black Box, an Argentine malbec; and The Climber, a cabernet by Clif Family Winery.

The first two were thin and watery, dry, acidic, really not worth drinking, even though the price comes out to something like $5-$10 a bottle. But The Climber was different. It was a bit more than palatable with the cassis nose characteristic of the varietal, a medium bodied, slightly supple texture, and a fairly fruit-driven finish.

I wouldn’t say it was a great wine, it had tannins although no structure, but it wasn’t bad either. It tasted fresh and its greatest “flaw” was not having a ton of character. Actually you could say that about many wines that sell for $15 or less. This one was definitely serviceable and stood head and shoulders above the rest of the boxed bunch we tasted.

If you’re looking for something that travels well, this comes in a packable 1.5 liter pouch, much like a vacuum bag you might buy coffee in, and it has a spigot for easy pouring.  If you care about such things—and who shouldn’t?—it has an 80 percent lower carbon footprint and 90 percent less waste than glass.

I think it’s a perfect gift for the 21-and-over crowd who will spend the summer hiking, cycling, camping, and backyard barbecuing. It’s cheap, too. Only $16.99 which comes out to about $8 per bottle. There’s also a chardonnay available at the same price. So, get several for the kids and keep one for yourself. It’ll come in mighty handy when it’s your turn to pack the picnic for the Hollywood Bowl.—Anne Valdespino 

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