Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Drinking Outside the Box

Trusted by suburban moms for eons to make trips to Chuck E. Cheese's- with a small army of screaming kids- more palatable, the box o' wine has offered a cheap, alcoholic wine-flavored beverage to the indiscriminate guzzler. Lauded for its ability to keep the contents fresh forever (keep what fresh, though?) and emblazoned with wine awards and tasting medals of unknown providence, the one constant in my- or any other- childhood household in the sprawls of mid-80's America was that carton of Franzia.

"Doesn't wine come in a bottle?" I'd ponder. "It's wine...in a box. I guess it's good; the packaging says it's 'America's Best-Selling Wine'" (or some crap like that).

Alas, the innocent days preceding my current state of jaded marketing grunt and overzealous advocate of the fermented grape. Like so many consumers, I took no offense to a carton full of French Colombard labeled "Chablis". I wasn't disturbed by the origins of "Chillable Red". It was wine- and good wine- because every kid had a box in his parents' fridge.

I think the box o' wine is, in no small part, to blame for why many folks do not like wine these days. The hangovers alone induced by that plonk are not to be forgotten. However, not being one to laud tradition and curse innovation, I like the idea of this new-fashioned packaging.

My only request is that the quality improve. Box o' wine has a bad reputation. I was recently given some samples of Pepperwood Grove's "Big Green Box" to try out as part of a Twitter Taste Live event. My first thought was, "Alright. Some crappy boxed wine to go with my crystal meth and hot dogs."

Not that there's anything wrong with hot dogs. But I'm talking the really cheap ones made out of mechanically separated chicken and served on the heel of a stale loaf of wheat bread (because buns were too expensive). That, my friends, is meth-head Chateaubriand.

Hot dogs consumed, I cracked into the 4 "eco-friendly" monoliths of booze- a Pinot Grigio, a Chardonnay, an "Old Vine" Zinfandel (marketing, by the way...there's no age requirement to call vines "old" or "ancient" in the States), and a Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile. To my delight, the wines were palatable. Hell, they were good. Now, I have to qualify this by saying that they were not my speed: a little too fruit-forward, simplistic, and lacking structure (a sure product of micro-oxygenation). That being said, not every glass of wine is supposed to be complex and thought-provoking. Sometimes, a wine just needs to get you where you need to be (actual examples of use):

- Thoroughly plowed when the beloved Atlanta Falcons lay an egg against the despicable Philadelphia Eagles. "Despicable" is an acceptable adjective for any Philadelphia sports franchise and its fans as well.

-Kept warm and jovial around a campfire with good friends (especially when the box part was needed to start the fire...the bag holds up just fine, though).

-Sipped casually while using the long-lived and easily measured juice for cooking (I love box o' wine for cooking, as it stays fresh for a long time. I keep a box of Pinot Grigio or other light-bodied and unoaked white in the fridge).

I think these wines would be popular with a lot of folks. I'm not going to bring them to any high-end dinners anytime soon, but I don't mind having them around during football season. In any case, it's terrific to see the quality of boxed wine improve from childhood (not that I ever snuck a taste of that stuff... ...). No, this is not wine for the seasoned vet, but it's wine that I wouldn't be offended to suggest to the casual drinker...suburban moms not excluded.

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