Boxed Wine Reviews & Pairings Part 1: Offerings from Octavin & Trader Joe’s

At 12:01am early Monday morning August 29, 2011, the gates to Black Rock City, home of the Burning Man Festival, will open, and some 50,000 people will pour in before the Festival ends on Monday September 5.

Which means that this weekend and in the coming week as people pack and prepare for camping on the playa , 40-50,000 people are buying copious amounts of alcoholic beverages.

Labor Day weekend is also a very popular time to go camping–it’s the last three day weekend of summer and summer weather!

To help my favorite winos with decisions about what to bring whether camping at Burning Man, mountains, lake or beach, I have 11 (that’s ELEVEN) boxed/bag in box/bag wines sitting on my counter which have tasted and I am ready and willing to share my expertise with you! From Octavin, I have a German riesling, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a red wine blend from Spain, and a Pinot Noir from France. From Carlo Rossi Founder’s Oak, I have a Merlot, a Cabernet, and a Chardonnay plus Chardonnays from Vella and Turning Leaf. Finally, from Trader Joe’s, I have a Chardonnay and an Australian shiraz.  And since boxed wine keeps for a month or more, I will be bringing these wines to Burning Man for you to taste too! I’ll also say a few words about Pepperwood Grove’s Big Green Box Wine.

I first realized how brilliant boxed wines are for outdoor adventures last November when I received four Big Green Box wines from  Pepperwood Grove and  I took the Old Vine Zin camping.

Boxed wines are really perfect for camping expeditions at Burning Man or elsewhere–they won’t break, you can use them for pillows, and when they’re empty they collapse down into nothing –or fill the bag inside with water, put it in the sun and then use the water for washing dishes or bathing!

In part one of this two part post, I’ll discuss the bag in box offerings from Octavin and Trader Joe’s; part 2 will include Big Green Box and Carlo Rossi Founder’s Oak.

And yes I am bringing these wines out to the playa so YOU can taste them! Check in at PLaya Info–we’ll be doing some tastings there most afternoons around 3-5pm. I’ll also post where and when we’ll be tasting.

Octavin R. Muller “Rabbit” Riesling from Germany

This “medium sweet” wine is best nice and cold (which will be a challenge on the playa!) It would pair well with a cheese plate before or after dinner or with various Asian or Indian spicy stir fries; it was great with a peanut satay sauce, chicken, and vegetables. Light, fresh and aromatic of fresh peaches and pears, it was fermented in stainless steel. Very pleasant, not too complex, slightly metallic finish. 3L box = 4 bottles of wine in the box for $24 or about $6 a bottle. A great value.

Octavin Silver Birch New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc

I really think think this NZ Sauvignon Blanc is an exceptional value. I really like NZ sauvignon blanc in general and I would definitely buy this wine and keep it in the fridge for those lunches or dinners when I’m having a salad and just want a small glass of wine with it. Do not taste it after the riesling though–it brings out a little too much of the gooseberry! Lots of bright citrus–lime, grapefruit– and green apple with a hint of nectarine. Here’s another post about this NZ Sauv Blanc and me. At Burning Man or at home, I’d pair this with salads as well as pesto and pasta (and raw oysters!) $24 for 3L (4 bottles).

Octavin “Seven” Red Wine Blend Spain

I tried this with burgers and bolognese and pasta: it’s a winner with both. It’d be good with hot dogs and pizza too. These menus are a staple of many a camping trip or a quick dinner at home and this wine would work well with them all. It’s a blend of seven red varietals (hence it’s name “Seven”): 25% cab, 25% merlot, 18% syrah, 8% petit verdot, 8% tempranillo, 8% grenache and 8% graciano. It has a pleasing color and it’s soft and round like the fruity berries it will remind you of. 13.6% alcohol. $22 for 3L (4 bottles).

Octavin Pinot “Evil” Pinot Noir France

I’ll be honest, I don’t expect much from a pinot noir that’s under $15. And here this Octavin is $24 for 4 bottles! It’s not a simple strawberry/cherry slurpee either–there’s some nice earth and muskiness which you would expect in a pricier wine. It’s light weight but deeply colored with notes of strawberry, cherry and earth with a nice smooth finish. I’d pair this at Burning Man or camping with a grilled pork tenderloin, roasted chicken or salmon.

How can these wines be so good at such a reasonable price? Boxed wines cost so much less to produce and ship that these savings can get passed on to the consumer.

So two more wines to discuss. As a general rule, if I don’t have something positive to say, I usually don’t say anything. But I am so disappointed in the boxed wines from Trader Joe’s that I have to speak up.

I am usually pleased with what I buy at Trader Joe’s for the money. So I was so excited to see three boxed wines on display that I picked up two to give them a whirl and a swirl. And after doing so, I plan to take them back.

Eco-Vino  Mendocino Chardonnay

I absolutely love the steampunk look of the chardonnay wine bag without a box and I love that it’s organic too. But for $10 for 1.5 liters, I expect more than a tropical tease (although it is sooo much better than Two Buck Chuck.) It’s not that it’s bad…it’s just that I think it should and could be better for the price.

Block Red Wine AUS Shiraz

This has all the characteristics of shiraz that makes people cringe about AUS shiraz and toss around unpleasantries. I LOVE syrah and shiraz!! But this one is flabby. The nose is unpleasant. It gives me acid reflux. I cannot drink this wine. I would not serve this to my friends or my enemies. It gives syrah and shiraz and bad name and should be banned from import. And I can’t imagine what they did to manipulate this wine so that it came out only 13% alcohol. 3 liters for $10.

Okay well that’s a 1000 words! Hope you found it useful! As soon as I can, I will post part 2!

PS I know I found typos when I proofread but I am so tired and so much to do that I give up! if you catch them for me, please let me know where they are so I can discipline them!

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8 thoughts on “Boxed Wine Reviews & Pairings Part 1: Offerings from Octavin & Trader Joe’s

  1. Pingback: Buring Man for Winos Part 3: Boxed Wine Reviews & Pairings– Octavin & TJ’s « art predator

  2. Great post and love the blog!Chuckled at the idea of a wine you wouldn’t serve “to your friends or enemies”.

    In the UK we’re snobby about wine in boxes, but you’re absolutely right that it’s more economic as packaging and therefore you get more for your money. I might start to look beyond botles!

    - LondonWineGirl

  3. Hi London Wine Girl! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

    Plenty of folks are snooty about boxed wine around here too! But the quality of the Pepperwood selections I tasted last fall convinced me to at least give them a try. In addition to the quality, I like how much “greener” and affordable they are.

    Post Burning Man posts coming soon as I get all the dust washed off!

  4. Pingback: Wine for Fall Celebrations & Part 1: A Birthday, Halloween, Days of the Dead « Wine Predator

  5. Pingback: Wines for Fall Festivities « art predator

  6. Your assessment of the Trader Joes Block Red Shiraz is spot on.I just bought it tonight before I read you review and i tried it…I am taking it back. It gives a bad name to the good box wines that do exist. Try Black Box Shiraz, that is decent.

    • Thanks! I’m sorry you didn’t see it before you were disappointed! I was shocked at how bad it was for the $ and grateful they (and most folks) took it back. Ive heard from others that the Black Box is decent so I’ll have to give it a try.

  7. Pingback: Ask the VineSleuth: What boxed wines should I try?

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