for the Best of Portable Potables
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ON THE NAME
A friend took me aside recently after I suggested that he try a recently released white that came in a tetra pack. He looked dismayed and slowly said: "any wine that comes in a box is about as romantic as a fart."
He isn't the only one who hates tetra packaging, some wine writers can't stomach them either. While there is a lot of mediocre wine out there; to tar and feather everything that comes in a tetra pack doesn't make sense. Personally, I have had just about as many bad wines in bottles as in tetra - maybe proportionally more in bottle! The problem is that tetra highs seem to be fewer and farther between, which makes buying blind risky.
Of course, good wines shouldn't be shunned because of packaging. If your friends are allergic to tetra packs, then simply pour the wine into a fancy crystal decanter. Or if that doesn't work, one reader suggests: "just recycle a previously opened bottle, the pricier the better" adding "you'll be amazed how quickly all those prejudices disappear and how much better the wine tastes, when the right label appears." While I can't endorse this form of deception, it's true that many drinkers are label-bound snobs.
My quest for the best portable potables came to a head at a massive tasting of some 77 new-age packaged wines. Before telling you what to buy, I have to admit that there were some despicable entries. I had planned to reveal one of the worst reds ever tasted, but fortunately decided to check out another stand-up floppy pouch. Good idea, it had a different packaging lot number and was now passable.
Huge differences between "bottlings" of makes a reviewer's life impossibly challenging. In the LCBO tasting lab we had Lot L1776 of Prêt a Boire Syrah-Shiraz. It was beyond bad with cooked, bitter, foul flavours. I went down to Queens Quay to check availability and couldn't find it. And so I picked up a sample of newer lot L1796, which turned out to be just fine rating * (out of ***). Such extreme variability from one shipment to the next will definitely kill a brand. It is here where tetra paks seem to suffer the most!
Bottom-of-the-barrel reds include: Australia's Billy Goat Hill Shiraz, which comes in four 250 ml cans at $13.45 (lot 68290242 on the bottom of the can); Ontario's bitter Out of the Box Cabernet Sauvignon at $12.15 a litre (lot 610606); and the tart Sawmill Creek Merlot at $11.15 litre (lot 20061012). Both latter "cellared in Canada" offshore blends are ready for interment.
Thankfully, the whites fared better with only two entries in the "must avoid" department: the French trio of cooked Le Petit Sommelier Chardonnay, which come in small 250 ml boxes at $11.50 (lot L3163); and from South Africa Out of Africa Chardonnay at $13.15 a litre (lot L6229).
As for the best, my top scoring white is still Italy's Fontana di Papa Anfora 2005 Malvasia del Lazio (614925 - lot L06/570) at $13.15 per litre. Made from Malvasia grapes, it has attractive, dry, gently spicy, ripe pear purée flavours with a refreshing finish.
From Australia several Chards show well, including Bilyara Reserve Chardonnay (8128 - pkd-19MAY2006) at $13.95, which comes in break-resistant, light weight, screwcap, plastic "PET" bottle. Released last year at $14.95, it is now more reasonably priced at $13.95. Made by Wolf Blass, it has those typical toasty-cedar notes with spicy, juicy, ripe pear purée flavours.
Also Baldivis Chardonnay (669051 - lot MD072000729 06319) at $13.95 from Western Australia has a complex, floral, key lime pie nose with well structured, lemon meringue flavours. Unfortunately, it was has just been delisted and there is virtually no remaining stock. My favourite white from Ontario is the international blend French Cross Chardonnay (16352 - lot 12/09/06) at $11.15 per litre. Look for pleasant, slightly spicy, light, ripe lemon-melon-pear flavours.
Moving on to top reds: Likan 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon (665349 - lot L112156) $12.15 per litre. Produced by Chile's Concha y Toro, it has appealing, slightly cedary, plummy, black cherry flavours. It is much better that the previously shipped 2004. Also the "cellared in Canada" clove, plum and cherry flavoured French Cross Shiraz (16360 - lot 13/09/06) at $11.15 per litre is quite ok.
Not in the comparative tasting was Australia's newly released Long Flat 2004 Cabernet Merlot (24802 - lot L6303) at $13.15 a litre. It has lots of ripe, plummy, cherry fruit with a pleasingly dry finish. When checking LCBO availability, I discovered that there were two different 2004s are on store shelves: L6305 and L6303. Make sure you buy the latter, which shows much more fruit. Post readers can download the full list of tasting notes complete with lot numbers on our exclusive Reel Wine Database by clicking here
To see Michael Vaughan's September 9, 2006 National Post feature on tetra paks click here
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