A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Caryl tweeted me the following: "@vinelinesbdn How about a "best box of wine for Xmas" recommendation/article? (Because relatives don't get the good stuff)."
She was kidding, of course. About relatives not getting the good stuff. At least I THINK she was kidding. Regardless, the idea was a great one, so I decided to take her up on the challenge, and come up with a list of good boxes — as in box ‘o’ wine — for the holidays.
Because while one always wants to throw a great party or feast for family and/or friends, most of us can’t afford to trot out our favourites for big get-togethers. With the price of wine in this country being what it is, many opt for the practicality of the (usually) vastly cheaper boxes of wine in order to provide libations to loved ones, yet not break the bank while doing so.
Since my extended family members now have extended families of their own, we don’t congregate the way we used to. And that means my family gatherings are usually small affairs nowadays, so I DO serve the best wines I can afford. I mean, Christmas is special, and so are the people who are closest to me, so it’s a treat to be able to spoil them. Besides, as a wine columnist and someone who’s ultra-picky about her wine, it’d be a bit hypocritical for me to serve schlock to the folks I love the most.
But while price isn’t always an indicator of quality, it frequently is, and I, too, have used less fabulous, less expensive wines when hosting large groups of people. Usually I try to find something I like, and also something I think others whose tastes are different than mine will enjoy. And that’s sometimes the inherent challenge of boxed wines because they come in big quantities (two to four litres), one can end up with an awful lot of wine, and once the boxes are opened, they obviously can’t be returned. Which perhaps speaks to the advantage of bottles over boxes. But then again, the boxes are made to dispense wine and not draw in oxygen, which means that unlike bottles, opened boxes can last for a few weeks.
Anyway, the boxes I go to, time and again, are the Tocornal Cono Sur Chardonnay and the Tocornal Cab/Merlot. From Chile, these are gutsy, fruity, big-flavoured wines. The Chard is fairly oaky, so if you’re not into oak, this one isn’t for you. But every time — EVERY time — I have these wines, I shake my head and say, usually out loud, "I can’t BELIEVE how good these are for the price." And I can’t. For $28.99 per three-litre cask, I think these two are the pick of the litter.
If you’re after a considerably less intense white, check out the Franciscan White Cask from Canada’s Peller Wines. This one is light with more than a suggestion of sweetness, but it’s pleasant to sip and innocuous enough to please many palates. For four litres, the Franciscan White sells for $31.65.
Two easy-drinking Canadian-boxed four-litre whites are the Hochtaler Dry Cask from Andres at $30.99, and the Mission Ridge White Cask, which is $32.99.
If you want to step it up a notch, Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay from Australia is a reasonable choice. Three litres sells for $36.98, and this is a crisp, full-bodied white that’s eminently drinkable. If you’re a fan of the Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chard in a 750 ml bottle, which is $12.49 a bottle (I am, as a go-to inexpensive Chard), be warned that, while the Bin 65 in a box purports to be the same beverage, it’s just not. While the box is still a good deal for the money, I’ve done a side-by-side taste comparison between a just-opened bottle of Bin 65 and a just-opened box. Believe me, the stuff in the bottle is much better. Which, I believe, explains the price difference between it and the box.
From Chile, the Frontera line from Concha y Toro has always been a respectable choice for lower-end wines. Both the Chardonnay cask and the Cabernet Sauvignon cask contain three litres for $28.99.
When I first tried a bottle of the Copper Moon Shiraz, to be frank, I didn’t like it. It was way too sweet for me. But this past summer, a friend poured me a taste — I didn’t know what was in the glass — of what turned out to be Peller’s Copper Moon Shiraz Cask. I was quite surprised when I found out what it was, given that I hadn’t been enamoured with the bottled stuff I’d tried a year before. But for $31.99 for three litres, I didn’t mind this at all. And it wasn’t nearly as sweet as I thought the bottle had been. While I haven’t tried them, Copper Moon also has three-litre boxes of Sauv Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Cab Sauv, Merlot, and Malbec for the same price.
If you want a real treat, and you have a port lover in your midst, give De Bortoli’s Reserve Tawny Port Cask a go. This Australian product is $24.99 for two litres, and is a deal worthy of Scrooge himself. It’s cheap, it’s tasty, and it’s especially lovely during the festive season, when something sweet to warm your innards is particularly satisfying. Break out the Stilton or the bleu cheese and go to town. At that price for port, you can afford to!