Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Wine - Thinking Inside the Box

Most of us, at some point in our wine drinking experience, have tried a boxed wine.  Back in the 80’s, Franzia and Almaden offered several wines in a fridge-friendly, easy pour spout box.  While not stellar wines, they were drinkable and cheap.  A great way to begin learning about different types of wines and grapes, and something you could afford that was not in the dreaded jug.

The concept of boxed wine actually began in 1965 with the Angove Family Winemakers in Renmark West, Australia.  Thomas W. C. Angove developed the idea of taking a one gallon plastic bag, placing it in a box and filling it with wine - the first “bag in a box ‘ or casked wine.  The idea revolutionized the world wine market.  By 1967, Penfold's Wines had patented an airtight plastic tap.

You may wonder why you would ever choose a boxed wine over a bottle.  It depends on what issues you consider important, eco-friendliness, convenience, value, taste...

First, in our green society, wine boxes are much more eco-friendly than bottles.  Landfill waste can be reduced by up to 90% when using a wine box as compared to using a bottle.  Greenhouse gases are reduced by 75% when compared to the glass wine bottle.  Most of the cardboard boxes are recyclable and, depending on where you are, many of the plastic bags may be.

Box sizes have also changed.  Gone are the 5-liter ‘party’ boxes of the 1980’s.  Now consumers can purchase 3-liter boxes (equal to 4 bottles.)  One-liter boxes are also offered, (the same as one 750ml bottle.)  And, yes, some have taken it a step further and are offering a mini-box that holds only two glasses (500 ml) of wine.

Manufacturers say that bag-in-box (BIB) technology has also improved. Bags are the heavier, food-grade versions, and collapse better. The tap spouts are airtight so oxygen can no longer seep in to ruin what’s left of your boxed wine. Wine will now stay fresher, longer – up to six weeks – in the box.

This is a picnic-friendly, portable type of wine. Just a few of the box pluses include; easy open, unbreakable, lightweight, freshness, and a better value than bottled wines.  They about 40% cheaper than the equivalent wine in bottles.  You can open a box and keep it for about a month without the wine oxidizing.  (A bottle will last only a few days.)

But remember, these are not wines to be cellered.  They are to be purchased, tapped and enjoyed within a month of opening.  Most will bear a best-before date, usually 12 months after they were filled and boxed.

The French, Italians and Australians already love boxed (or casked, as they call them) wines.  But we in the U.S. are having a harder time embracing them.   While we may still be influenced by those 80’s boxed wines, there are several new boxed wines out there to consider.  Many are garnering wine rating points and awards usually reserved for the bottled versions.

Black Box is one of the leaders in the field. In 2003, Black Box became the first U.S. winemaker to offer grape specific, vintage dated boxes wines.  Not only did they get the packaging right, they actually put some damn decent wine in those boxes!  Reds include Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Shiraz, and a Sweet Red.  Whites include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Moscato.

Big House is another favorite out there.  Cute and kitschy, they offer six wines in the 3 liter box that will stay fresh “ for up to 6 week.”  These include Big House Red, Big House White, Unchained Naked Chardonnay, the Usual Suspect Cabernet, Cardinal Zin, the Birdman Pinot Grigio, and coming this summer the Slammer Sweet Shiraz and Gru – V (Gruner Veltliner.)

Bandit boxed wines are available in 1 and 3 liter brightly colored boxes.  Choose from Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sangria and Moscato.

Bota Box Wine located in California offers nine popular wines in 3 liter and 500 ml boxes.  These include Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot, Old Vine Zinfandel, Shiraz, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, and a red blend called RedVolution. Wines will stay fresh for 6 weeks.

Pepperwood Grove is offered by Don and Sons, and comes in ‘The Green Box’ - BIG (3-liter) or little (500-ml).  Four wines are available Chardonnay, Old Vine Zinfandel, Pinot Grigio, and Cabernet.

The mass retailer Target, has jumped on board the boxed wine train, offering their own Wine Cube.  Available in Riesling, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet.

Maybe it’s time to put away those preconceived notions about boxed wine and give these new options a try.  For a summer beach party or summer holiday gathering, these just might be perfect. You’ll never know till you give them a try by thinking inside the box.  Enjoy!


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Music Affects Your Enjoyment of Wine

Music is said to have charms to sooth a savage breast, but did you know it could also influence what wine you buy?  And, it can also affect how that wine tastes to you, depending on what type of music is playing.

Numerous studies in the past twenty years have indicated that music and wine are closely linked, and that music can heavily influence a person’s decision about which wine to buy.  Wine, it seems, echoes our surroundings and our feelings.  This may be part of the reason that professional wine judging events are held in silence; to give the judges a chance to “hear” the wine and interact with it.

A study on the type of music played in grocery stores and how that influenced  what wines were purchased was administered by Adrian North and colleagues in 1997 at Leicester University.  Nearly 80% of shoppers in the study purchased the type of wine that corresponded to the kind of music playing in the background; When French accordion music was playing, 77% of wines purchased were French.   When traditional German music (Oomph music) was heard, 73% of the wine sold was German. But when 44 of the store customers were asked if they believed the music had affected their choice, only one person said yes.

The results of this study suggested that you would be 3 to 4 times more likely to purchase a wine that matched the music playing in the store as a wine that did not match it.

Stores and restaurants have known for quite some time that playing classical music will influence shoppers to purchase more expensive wines, and to spend longer in their establishments, thereby purchasing more wines and food.

The pace of the music can also influence how quickly and how much you drink.  Reports have shown that when faster, upbeat music is played, restaurant and bar patrons drink more alcohol, wine and beer.  But when slow, mournful music is heard, drinking slows, sales decrease, and the restaurant or bar gets (depressingly)quiet.

The rationale for this music-wine connection says that playing happy music with a happy wine, (Chardonnay or Muscato) will open it up more, making it more enjoyable. Chardonnay may be perceived as being confident and fresh when paired with pop music. 

A darker, moodier wine (think Cabernet or Syrah,) paired with low, brooding music will make both seem darker and morose.

Simply put, music can change our perception of the taste of the wine.  If the music and the wine have the same basic feel or values, they will pair well together and compliment each other’s vibe.

That means  music may help the wine seem even smoother or fruitier when paired with certain songs.  If paired poorly, the wine may test harsh or astringent.

Clark Smith, winemaker at Diamond Ridge Vineyards, has been testing these theories and drawing some interesting conclusions. According to Smith, “Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It's very hard to find a piece of music that's good for both Pinot and Cabernet.” “Red wines need either minor key or they need music that has negative emotion. They don't like happy music. With expensive reds, don't play music that makes you giggle. Pinots like sexy music. Cabernets like angry music. It's very hard to find a piece of music that's good for both Pinot and Cabernet.”

Adrian North (of the grocery–music study mentioned above) has also done a scientific study into the  wine-music correlation at of Heriot Watt University in England.   His latest research shows that background music influenced the taste of the wine by up to 60%.  Of 250 students studied, the results showed that the music did effect the drinker’s perception of the wine on a consistent basis.  Again, Cabernet lends its self to moody, heavy “powerful and heavy” music and a Chard responds better to “zingy and refreshing” songs.

North’s study offers four types of music, a song suggestion and the wine to pair it with.  Here are just a few examples:

Wine                           Type of Music             Song & Artist                          
Cabernet                   Powerful & Heavy     Won’t Get Fooled Again-Who
Syrah                           Subtle & Refined         Canon –Pachelbel                 
Merlot                  Mellow & Soft         Over the Rainbow – Eva Cassidy        

Chardonnay         Zingy & Refreshing         Atomic – Blondie

Want to try it yourself? Clark Smith offers a one-hour recorded seminar called Mysterious Resonances. “By utilizing brain scan technologies that enhance our understanding of music, Smith demonstrates how harmony in wine and music are linked”. The cost is $9.99  and the seminar is available at

The wine-music connection is intriguing.  It may someday encourage winemakers to recommend music selections on their wine labels to pair with their wines - A sort of balance in harmony.  Wine and music, just another way to enjoy!

~ Joy

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Insider's Look at Planning a Winery or Vineyard Wedding

With the arrival of June, come summer weddings.  June is considered one of the most fortunate months in which to wed according to folklore and tradition.  The goddess Juno, whom the month is named after, was the patron of wives, protecting hearth and home.  But another reason had noting to do with warm weather, roses, hearth, or home – It seems that June was also the month when most people took their yearly bath.

 Regardless of the reasons, June brides are always looking for imaginative and romantic wedding ideas and settings.  So today we’ll take a look at getting married in a vineyard or at a winery.

Vineyard Wedding:
If you want to have an outdoor wedding, consider getting married in a vineyard.  The leaves are full and lush in the summer, and grapevines offer a gorgeous backdrop for the event.  (Autumn is another beautiful time when the leaves change color.)  Many vineyards also have amazing vistas that overlook scenic valleys, winding roads, or are backed by mountains or woods.

Winery Wedding:
If you are more inclined to have an indoor wedding, there are may be a couple of options available when considering a winery.  Usually a winery will offer a banquet center or event room for such celebrations.  They may have a location for the ceremony and a different place for you to hold your reception, complete with dance floor and wine bar.

If you are having a small, intimate wedding, you might consider getting married in the winery’s barrel room or cellar.  Ask to find out if this is an option.

Winery Checklist:
Just as with any other wedding plans, you need to know what the winery/vineyard will furnish for your special day. Be sure to ask about the following:

• How many people can the winery wedding site accommodate?
• Is parking adequate for the number of guests you expect?
• What are the number of hours you will have access and use of the event space?

• What are the exact times when this space will be available for you and your party only?  (Many wineries will list the hours available for the ceremony and reception, for example, from 5 P.M. to Midnight on this date.)

• If you’re having an outdoor ceremony, what is the alternative in case of bad weather?
• What are the fees and what is included in each package?
• How much is the deposit and what does it cover?  Is it refundable?  (FYI – If a winery requests/requires you to pay in cash – consider going somewhere else.  This can be a sign of problems ahead.)
• Can other alcoholic beverages be brought on site for the reception?

• Will the winery provide a server at the wine bar?

• What areas of the winery and/or vineyard may be used for wedding photos?

Other Points to Consider:
• Most wineries that offer bridal packages will also have a dedicated staff member in charge of such events.  This will be your ‘go-to’ person with any questions, concerns, and ideas.
• Find out if you may use/rent arbors, gazebos, barrels, chairs, tables, china, stemware, silverware and linens from the winery.
• If the winery also has a restaurant, check into their custom menus and in-house catering for weddings and rehearsal dinners.  Most wineries with restaurants will prepare different dishes for your consideration and selection.

• Discuss your wine interests and needs with your winery wedding planner.  She can guide you in selecting wines that pair well with the foods you’ve chosen.  Or help you in offering wines that most guests, dry or sweet wine lovers, will enjoy.
•  Make sure you have access to the wedding site and reception area the day before or the day of the event in order to decorate.
• Arrange for rehearsal time the day or evening before the wedding.
•  Be sure you and your party have access to changing rooms and restrooms.
• And make sure that your marriage license is valid in the county your getting married in.

Carrying Out the Wine Theme:
When planning a wine-themed wedding, think about what the winery offers that you can use in your arrangements:
• Specialty labels for the wines served at your reception may be an option.  Many wineries will put a photo label of the couple on wine bottles to be served at the event or to be given as gifts.
• Wine themed favors for guests.  Check with the winery wedding coordinator to see if you can purchase these items from the winery gift shop and if a discount can be given.
• Ask your wedding coordinator to save wine corks to use as name cardholders.
• Empty wine bottles with candles in them are another idea.
• WINE!  Many wineries will offer case discounts to wedding parties purchasing a certain number of cases or bottle of their wines.  Ask and see what the discounts are.

It’s your special day!  With a qualified winery wedding planner on your side, you should experience a beautiful event with lasting memories.
Congratulations!  And enjoy!!

~ Joy