« NEVER Was a NYT Opinion Piece More | Main | I'm Shocked and Heartsick ~ HOW Did Bingley »

March 31, 2009

The Importance Of Knowing Ernest

Some may recall a few weeks ago where I vowed to subject myself to a Plonk-a-thon for you, Dear Readers, to see if there were some hidden gems to be found in the wilds of the box wine world. I know quite well the general box wines, those overly sweet, heavily perfumey tasting beasts marked with generic names like "white grenasty" or "killable red;" wines that quite frankly, while perfectly acceptable when heavily chilled and served over ice, make one feel that somehow they should be wrapped in a brown paper bag when consumed in a back alley somewhere and washed down with a chaser of Prestone. No, I wanted to see how bulk winemakers were handling some of the high-faluting grape varietals, so after some diligent research I found the following three examples of merlot:



and Peter Vella

I found out in the course of this arduous research that both Franzia and Almaden are owned by some mega vino behemoth named the Wine Group or "TWG", which also owns Corbett Canyon, Glen Ellen and many others, while Vella, whose family has long ties with Ernest and Julio Gallo, is part of the even larger E&J Gallo wine empire.

But on to the important stuff...

Each box holds 5 liters of wine, the equivalent of 6 2/3 bottles. I paid $14 for each box, so that means each 'normal' sized 750ml bottle cost $2.10.


That, my friends, is change I can believe in.

Interestingly, each wine had a slightly different tap arrangement

The Franzia and the Almaden both used a 'screw' type tap, with the Franzia's being on top whilst the Almaden's was rotated 90ยบ forward to the front. The Vella's was a spring-loaded push button dealio. They all worked fine for the pouring, but Almaden lost points when it slowly leaked precious wine out when I didn't take care to make sure it was totally closed...an easy thing to do when one is making one's way solo through 15 liters.

The wines all had a similar pleasant ruby color

and there were no offending aromas from the glasses; in fact, they smelled quite decent, so I lined up Murderer's Row

and settled in for a long

and arduous research period

I found that many times I had to re-visit samples many times

to ensure that my data was accurate. Some might call it an obsession, but I feel that you deserve my very best effort.

Pretty early on I have to say I had decided on third place. Least favorite was the Franzia. While it had a smooth mouth feel the wine exhibited some mildly unpleasant grapefruit notes and was noticeably more acidic than the others.

To me the Almaden and Vella wines were clearly superior to the Franzia, but in different ways. The Almaden had the most distinct merlot varietal flavor, with more pronounced cherry fruit and tannins giving it a more complex 'edginess' then you might expect; certainly this would be more at home in a bottle costing, say $8 than $2, while the Vella had a very smooth fullness to it. The fruit and tannins were there but in a more elegant, subdued fashion.

Ultimately I had to give top honors to the Vella. His years working with Ernest and Julio have paid off handsomely for us. It just...satisfied me more. I could easily just have the box on the counter and relax every evening with a glass or three whilst talking with my Bride and enjoying a meal; in fact, I did relax for many evenings with three boxes on the counter. A pleasant wine greatly enhances life, friends.

The really nice thing about these boxes is that the wine stays fresh, as no air gets in to spoil them. In these nervous times these wines are a great value. I really won't buy the Franzia again, but I wouldn't hesitate to buy either the Vella first or the Almaden second again.

Posted by Mr. Bingley at March 31, 2009 09:35 PM


Excellent work!

But I have to inquire, where's the Macinslosh?

Posted by: Nobrainer at March 31, 2009 09:56 PM

Nobrainer, you are most excellent! The 'slosh is still safe and will get used a little later this summer for the boxed wines that demand heavy chilling!

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at March 31, 2009 10:07 PM

Seems to me that you could save a lot of time by putting a couch under the spigots, and drinking straight from the tap. You could do this anywhere in the house, and not inconvenience anyone.

Posted by: JeffS at March 31, 2009 10:16 PM

HAH! Nicely done Bing!

I've never seen the Macinslosh before.

Next, you'll have to invent the Wine Helmet.

Posted by: Gunslinger at April 1, 2009 12:06 AM

Hmmm... my husband has pondered buying the boxed wines, especially as we drink quite a bit of the bottled variety. We are, however, a divided household. *sigh*

I drink white because of migraine issues he likes red better. Since we each have our own, it would certainly be nice if we found a boxed wine for each of us...

In this case, I shall have to pass on your findings. I'm sure he'll be interested in your selfless work in this area. ;-)

Posted by: Teresa at April 1, 2009 12:18 AM

I truly appreciate the work you have done and the rigor with which your research was conducted. Really, if I were to buy box o' wine, I would confidently heed your advice.

P.S. It was also nice to see that the wines nicely compliment grey waffles.

Posted by: Jim - PRS at April 1, 2009 03:53 AM

I'm doing some *cough* research on the white wines even as we speak, Teresa, so I should have some helpful info for you in a week or so.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at April 1, 2009 06:27 AM

Those do look tasty, don't they Jim? I desperately needed to replace my grill grates (I got so tired of the porcelain-covered iron rotting out again and again (my grill gets lots of use) that I finally splurged for the stainless steel. Hallelujah!) and the grate that holds those fire brick/lava rock thingies. I really dislike these gray waffles; they seems to increase the flare ups and they're getting tossed pretty soon.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at April 1, 2009 06:31 AM

Very impressive and I just can't help noting how thoughtful it is of Bingley to put himself through this arduous and selfless research immediately preceding my extended visit to his household.

Posted by: Ave at April 1, 2009 09:53 AM

Oh god, that's right; you are swooping into town soon!

Ok folks, we need a poll here: how many liters of wine will I have to consume to survive a week long visit by my sister-out-law?

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at April 1, 2009 10:30 AM

Liters of wine? Doncha mean "barrels", Bingster?

Posted by: JeffS at April 1, 2009 11:48 AM

Excellent research! You definitely found some good wine that can ease a bit of the financial pain. I have to ask: what are you reading in the last photo?

Posted by: Kate P at April 1, 2009 11:27 PM

Kate, it was one of Bruce Catton's fantastic Army of the Potomac books; I read all three again during this task. I think that one might have been Glory Road, the middle volume.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at April 2, 2009 06:02 AM

How about a Pinot Noir tasting, 'cause, you know...

"No, if anyone orders Merlot, I'm leaving. I am NOT drinking any f***ing Merlot!"

Posted by: Eric at April 2, 2009 07:00 AM

Hehehe, unfortunately, Eric, none of the box folks makes a pinot.

I am in the process of doing cab and a chardonnay...research, though.

Posted by: Mr. Bingley at April 2, 2009 08:04 AM

Keep drinking that crap and medics will find you passed out behind Whole Foods. And don't say you weren't warned, blackout or no.

Posted by: Gary from Jersey at June 24, 2009 03:38 PM