When it comes to wine, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, it can sometimes be much worse.
But with the holidays fast approaching, you may find yourself hosting a party, a dinner or some sort of other festive gathering, and that means you need wine — and plenty of it.
Rather than raid your cellar or break the bank buying all manner of bottles for friends and family, picking up a larger-format, bag-in-box red or white is a quick and convenient way to ensure there’s wine in everyone’s glass.
There are other benefits to buying boxed wine; it typically doesn’t go bad for weeks (versus a few days for an open bottle), and is also an ideal option if you’re making mulled wine.
But not all boxed wine is created equal, and there’s a lot of plonk out there.
Some careful shopping, however, can result in some pretty solid sipping — and even the occasional pleasant surprise.
While many of the boxed wines in our market are Canadian, for the most part, they’re created using both domestic and international juice that’s then blended and bottled (or boxed, in this case) in Canada.
A box of "Canadian" Merlot could, in fact, be made predominantly from bulk juice shipped in from Chile, Spain, Italy or elsewhere.
And while those are all countries that make quality wine, you can bet the juice they’re shipping up to Canada is far from their best stuff.
The best way to find a decent boxed wine, of course, is to try before you buy.
The good news is that most wines available in our market in two-, three- or four-litre boxes are also available in 750-millilitre bottles.
Before dropping your hard-earned dough on a big box of wine, do some taste-testing beforehand.
Or, read on for some tasting notes.
All wines except the Bota Box were tasted from 750ml bottles. Vintage variation is noted where applicable.
Lindemans 2019 Bin 85 Pinot Grigio (South Eastern Australia — $35.99/3L box or $12.99/bottle, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Pale straw in colour, the Bin 85 offers fresh melon, pear, red-apple and peach aromas, the latter two coming through with a slightly candied note.
It’s a light-bodied white that’s just barely off-dry, with that hint of sweetness adding a decidedly ripe note to the apple, peach, lemon, pear and melon notes on the palate.
It’s extremely crowd-friendly and versatile, and would work well with milder creamy cheeses, finger foods, raw veggies and salads. The box is the 2018 vintage, which should still be plenty fresh. ★★★
Radio Boka 2018 Tempranillo (Spain — $38.99/3L box or $13.99/bottle, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Spanish Tempranillo is pale cherry in colour, with blueberry, iron and red-licorice aromas. It’s a medium-bodied, dry but fruit-driven red, with raspberry, strawberry, red-licorice and plum notes that work well with light acidity and tannin and an underlying herbal note.
Those latter three notes keep things intriguing where they could have been simple and underwhelming; throw this box (or bottle) in the fridge for about 15-20 minutes for drinking on its own with medium cheeses and hors d’oeuvres. The box had no visible vintage. ★★★
Bota Box 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel (California — $39.99/3L box, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This "award-winning wine in eco-friendly, portable packaging" is pale purple in colour, and aromatically brings pretty straightforward raisin, blackberry, plum and cocoa notes that are typical of California Zin.
On the medium-plus bodied palate, there’s less weight than most your typical Zinfandel, but the raisin, blackberry, cocoa and resinous notes typical of the grape come through well enough.
Probably one of the better red wines you’ll find in a larger format available in our market, especially if you’re after a wine that brings big flavour and little to no tannins. ★★★
Black Box Premium Wines 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile — $40.17/3L box or $9.02/500ml Go-Pack carton, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Medium purple in colour, this red offers eucalyptus, blackberry, herbal, mint and cassis notes on the nose — pretty typical for Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s medium-plus bodied and fairly rich, with ripe blackberry, plum, cassis, and modest vanilla notes on the palate, with a hint of sweetness that’s mainly offset by light tannins and light-plus acidity.
The herbal note is a touch too intense here, but it’s a decent (albeit not mind-blowing) offering. ★★½
Fairview 2017 Goats Do Roam red blend (Western Cape, South Africa — $41.99/3L box or $13.99/bottle, Liquor Marts and beyond)
This Shiraz-driven red blend is deep purple in colour, and brings black-cherry, smoke, raspberry-leaf, herbal and black-tea notes on the nose. It’s a medium-plus bodied red, with up-front red-berry flavours that work well with the slightly smoky, meaty notes, the light-plus tannins and the medium acidity.
Those looking for a more robust large-volume option for slightly stronger cheeses, roasted meats and spicier fare will enjoy this. The box is the newer 2018 vintage. ★★★½
Some quick beer-news hits:
● Little Brown Jug Brewing Co. (336 William Ave.) is celebrating turning three years old by releasing a new seasonal brew, a black lager.
The beer is available in cans and on tap at the brewery, and will be rolling out soon to Liquor Marts and beer vendors.
● Half Pints Brewing Co. (550 Roseberry St.) is having an open house today from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., where it will launch its Honeywood sparkling, barrel-aged mead and will be offering some other small-batch treats.
On Dec. 21, it will pour its flagship, seasonal and some select aged beers into thirsty patrons’ growlers at their 12 Beers of Christmas event, which starts at 11 a.m.
● Trans Canada Brewing Co. (1290 Kenaston Blvd.) is celebrating the holidays by tapping festive-themed casks every Thursday and Friday in their taproom starting at 4 p.m.
Check their social media accounts for weekly details.