One of the surest, if simplest, signs of wealth may be one’s capacity to casually reach out a hand, flip a spigot, and have oneself a refreshing draft of wine at each pass through the kitchen. The notion stirs up the sweetest sentiments of bucolic living, where products of the Earth lie every which way on the homestead; a barrel of fresh ale here, a wheel of cheese there, plums and cherries in a basket, fresh mushrooms harvested from the glen across the meadow, and, of course, limitless quantities of rustic wine.
If such a scenario signifies immeasurable wealth, then most of us are dirt poor. We have our wine when we can get it, almost always in bottles, and once that seal is broken it’s all downhill for the wine. It must be downed promptly lest oxidation begins, spoiling all the delicate aromas and nuances of flavor and turning the wine rank within several days – if it should ever actually last that long, but that’s another story.
But wine in a box keeps for weeks after the first pour. True: The clunky cumbersome cubes preclude the dramatic show of uncorking a bottle before thirsty guests, but once lodged in its place of residence, the ease and grace with which one may fill a glass trumps almost all that may be said for wine bottles. Panels of experts, too, have many times been tested blindly, tasting bottled wine against the same wine from a box; these nerds can’t tell the difference, so likely you can’t. The packaging streamlines costs, as well, and the price of most boxed wines comes out to be a per-bottle bargain. Speaking of bottles, boxed wines generally come in a three-liter size, equating four bottles. On that note, there is no need to commit to drinking the full container when all you want is a sip, and if you have several boxes side by side, a wine tasting session is just an arm’s length away. We recently did just that – tasted three bargain boxed wines at a sitting. Our results:
- Herding Cats Merlot-Pinotage, $15: This wine provides a big wash of mulberries, followed by the tannic pull at the mouth of cranberry juice. It’s a bit acidic upfront, but balanced by a jammy body. Sniff it long and hard and you’ll find a deep smokiness. I don’t eat beef and I don’t dig on swine, so I deem this wine a good match for Agaricus augustus or Boletus edulis.
- Herding Cats Chenin Blanc-Chardonnay, $15: You’ll find grapefruit in the foreground of this crisp golden wine. Creamy vanilla, peach and guava lurk on lower levels, as does a unique mead or honey taste. Listen closely. You’ll find it. The wine is very crisp, and I would prefer a little more oak and vanilla, but the price is right. Pair this one to some Lepiota rachodes sautéed in olive oil and rosemary.
- Black Box 2007 Central Coast Shiraz, $24.99: This brand has the coolest name in the boxed wine sub-industry. It looks pretty awesome, too, shiny and confident as Darth Vader. The aroma is a wafting wall of savory things. Think of smoked ham, Italian seasoning, and that smoky earthy flavor of porcini browning in a pan. In the mouth it, this Shiraz is round, full, and satisfying, dominated by big-bodied fruit and bacon and softened by vanilla and rosemary. A fine and complex wine at just $6.25 per bottle.
Stash any of these on your dresser, above the fridge, by the stove, next to your favorite reading chair – anyplace where you suspect it may come in handy in the next 15 minutes. And while you’re at it, you might just keep multiple boxes around the homestead while you’re at it: in the barn, in the cellar, up high, down low, left, right, and center. Have yourself a draft anytime you please. If the world is an oyster, you’ve found its pearls. Share the wealth with your guests. It feels like a million bucks, especially for a BrokeAss bum.