Homecoming: Going with the Boxed Return

I opened up the site to my blog today (on a work and 4th of July holiday break), and much like the wines that sit near me every day, it has gathered dust. Like, lots of it. (But the benefit is that my wine has also grown in numbers, so there’s that…)

A friend recently asked me, upon looking at my rack (wine, that is), “You’re apartment is so clean, yet there is dust on your wine? I think it’s because you want it to look aged. Yes?”

It was a great question, actually, and brought me to quick attention—why haven’t I been drinking my collection? Am I a poser? Am I on the wagon? (Um, hardly). Without venturing into TMI territory, I realized might need to actually start to dust off that wine, this blog, and maybe a little bit of myself.

And as I searched for the elusive WordPress password, I heard Josh Ritter sing “Homecoming” and that felt like the right sentiment for today: ”I first tasted the universe on a night like this/A box of wine, and I’ll abide…”

So here I am. Abiding my drinking hobby from one of the two boxes of wines in my fridge. (Or maybe both. But I apparently have to tell you, since I’m going to mention both wines. And since I’m hanging solo during a hot, holiday weekend, am not yet prepared to dust off the other bottles).

Why a box? Many reasons. Convenience. It says fresher for longer (read: maybe three weeks vs. three days of opening a bottle). Boxed wines are meant to be consumed soon after “bagging,” –like within a year— because the bags allow oxygen to pass through which will ultimately make them less fresh over time. Please don’t buy box wines with the purpose of stockpiling—I won’t be coming to dinner if you are serving a vintage 2000 from cardboard. I may even defriend you on Facebook, but I digress.

The Wines:

The Bota Box Chardonnay is a little lackluster for the varietal in that it showcases neither oak nor mineral…but just is, and sometimes, that’s okay. It’s cold, tasty in a non-descript, unoffensive way with hints of the tropical fruits it boasts and goes with anything. This is a fine wine, and for $18/box (which is about 3 liters or 4 bottles of wine), you’d be fine serving to friends, the jersey shore crowd that’s currently packed around my apartment-complex pool sporting cans of beer, or yourself after a bikeride, run or long day on the sofa.

(The pool/party/people in the picture are why: 1. I don’t mind drinking in my apartment 2. Have box wine at the avail).

The Alverdi Pinot Grigio is a deviation from my normal boxed PG, but it still holds the flavor profile of the Pinot Grigio grape quite nicely. High acidity, crisp notes of green fruit and a hint of flowers, I’d say this is a win—in a bottle or a box. The added benefit is that this box runs around $22 for 3 liters.

If buying only one boxed wine to start out, I’d lean toward a Pinot Grigio (even if you can’t find this brand). I find it’s a little harder to mess up a more straight-forward varietal like a Pinot Grigio than the Chardonnay—where these wines can display high elegance and $$$ if you happen on the right one. (Translation: You are probably not going to find the best representation of Burgandy in a box. Just a guess on my part, but there’s more tasting to be done!!)

Both have won awards from Wine Enthusiast and for good reason—these are completely drinkable, affordable and won’t embarrass the posse or yourself if you pull this out to serve…or hide away from the crowds.  (Wines purchased at the Wine & Spirits store).

What/Why I’m drinking these: These wines pair with the HEAT that is 4th of July weekend in Philadelphia; exhausting bike rides and runs around the city, and a general disdain of shopping for cold bottles from the Wine & Spirits shop that has grown to great distances during “Construction Season” in the city. PLUS, I’m hanging solo (completely +0) for the weekend, and the boxed wine allows me flexibility of not finishing the 6 or so bottles cumulatively within. My goal is to still make the workout in the a.m. (And I’ve succeeded the past four days during this long weekend!)

(According the above description, it also pairs nicely with plans to go into the U.S. Marshal’s Witness Protection Program, but if you hit that stage of the game, spring for a nice bottle or two. See: Burgandy, White. You don’t have storage needs.)


Practice makes perfect: Tercero-The Outlier, 2013 Gewürztraminer, Santa Barbara

On a Saturday morning during the 2013 Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Barbara, California, I vowed to go light on the next round of tastings.  I had had a lot of wine to taste (by normal tasting standards, it was only 11:30 am) and I wanted to enjoy lunch and have some easy-going conversations with people I had been ignoring due to the focus on wine.   Then I happened upon a Tercero wine table, and I was smitten.

Crisp, refreshing and what I think are a new twist on old takes (Syrahs, Roses, White Grenaches, oh my!) I couldn’t get these wines out of my head several months later before I joined the Tercero Wine Club.

My memory served meDSC_0501 well, especially with regard to The Outlier 2013 Gewurztraminer. I hadn’t kept this wine in a refrigerator, but it is Minnesota, so it was opened and served slightly chilled.

The body and taste is voluptuous but restrained, as if viewing a curvy woman in a tightly woven bodice; revealing and refrained and showing a few mysteries one drink at a time.

A just-opened bottle, the wine offers aromas of stone fruit–some would say peach or more like lychee to me, as if some herbaceous hints lay beneath the surface.  With another turn of the glass and served with panko-and-parmesan breaded walleye, this wine’s lemon and green grape notes and medium plus acid complemented dinner in a beautifully balanced way.   The taste lingered, but not the tartness that usually turns me off of cheaper whites.

At $25 a bottle, I would stock up on a few bottles of this wine that goes just as well with winter fare as it will summer delights.  If Malcolm Gladwell is correct, and outliers are defined by 10,000 or so hours of practice, I have to believe a lot of practice went into making this wine a perfect dining (and drinking) companion.


Tough as…wine? Weingut Hexamer Sauvignon Blanc, 2009er

Some days are red wine tough–what is needed is the wine with legs, guts, strength, but purity of thought and purpose that can punctuate the close of day like a final sigh that matches pace with a lingering sunset, on that has been stalling until you finally have the chance to look outside. It was waiting for you.  But before you had the sunset, you had the kind of day where chaos ran the show, the bad guy wins, and you get a parking ticket on the remaining three minutes of regulated parking.

I find that wine helps in these situations.

Substitute “you” for “me” and that was my first-world-problems sort of day, but I still needed just one drink. Economically, however, it didn’t make sense to open a red, though, since my current stock seemed to run oDSC_0009n the higher end. I reached for the one remaining white in my fridge.

The wine: Weingut Hexamer Sauvignon Blanc, 2009er, Trocken,  Nahe.  When I purchased this $13 bottle from Surdyks in North Minneapolis, I thought the label was wrong–I’ve never heard of Sauvignon Blanc from Germany. Riesling, yes. This? No. I was really glad I picked it up and opened it on this day.

This wine was sturdy and delicate in balance and body.  It didn’t have the clasic grassy or grapefruit flavors of other traditional Sauvignon Blancs, but I felt that the austere Pinot Grigio might be its distant cousin.  Credit goes to the steep and carefully cultivated Nahe region. Notes of citrus, stone fruit and rich minerality, the wine had a mellow but solid finish and medium acid. Taking away some of the high pitch notes that other Sauvignon Blanc’s exhibit when too much of the world has been added to the palette, this wine paired nicely with my stress level, post kettlebell workout and steak (yes, a white with steak!)

I got the workout in, but definitely would buy more of this wine to forge sunset salutations at the end of the day.


Fishing for Riesling: Smith-Madrone 2008

Strangely I find that I love fishing.

A born-again city girl (I grew up on a cattle farm), it took me 10 years to go up to my parents’ lake cabin in the Lake of the Woods (since the drive is one that measures between 9 and 10 hours), and anytime I came back from DC, all I wanted to do was to relax away from the noise, traffic and ladder climbers.

Having gone up twice in one summer, I recognize I was missing out. Serene, beautiful and pristine, it’s exactly where one should go to escape. And with any good escape, one should bring wine. In the past I brought wine in case it had to substitute for the lack of fish; here, one brings wine to accentuate the beauty, enjoy silence around conversation and punctuate the fish. (Catching fish is always a given here).DSC_0078

Smith Madrone Riesling, Napa Valley 2008 (12.5%) was the wine for freshly caught, paprika-seasoned walleye, broccoli and kale salad.

The flavors of Smith Madrone Riesling included apple, stone fruit and melon. It was a dry, medium acid wine with a good amount of minerality that helped tame the could-be harsh smells and tastes of fish and vegetables. It was nice—like a nap on Sunday one takes inadvertently watching a round of golf on T.V., but it was short lived. I liked it, but could take a pass if a Riesling with a German background came along.DSC_0080

Purchased at Cork Dork for just under $20, I would say buy it if in doubt, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it, unless it’s a few minutes for a nap.3of5

Tiny Bubbles for Big People of the Midwest: Botter’s Prosecco

Some days call for a celebration, even in a stunted, inexpensive way.  August 30th of this year was one of them.

I had a bottle of Prosecco, given to me by a former colleague in DC.  It was the last day of my 10-year stint in DC, and he handed me a bottle of Botter Prosecco. Tim, a foodie and wine-lover’s advice to me was simple, “Don’t mix this with OJ.” So, a year later, this non-lover of sparkling opened the bottle (that to me, signaled endings–and beginnings) on a waning Summer day in Minnesota.  It fit.

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The Wine: Hailing from NE Italy and the Veneto region, Botter’s Prosecco was a nice, simple surprise. Made from what I understand is the grape behind Prosecco’s name, Glera, it is a neutral, medium plus acid, lightly-bubbled sparkling wine. Wine-makers use a technique that brings the wine through a second fermentation in a tank, a very different method than that which makes Champagne Champagne (among other reasons, of course!)

The fruit of green apple and honey is subtle.  The fun part of the bottle is that it is corked like a still-wine, each cork hand-wrapped by string, bringing to mind the sealed letters of historic European royalty. Retailing around $13 (listed at Total Wine should you be near one), there is nothing surprising about the wine.  It was a pleasant drink on the same occasion as it was given-the end of the summer, and the beginning of new adventures.   For the price and the enjoyment, I would definitely pick up a bottle if I were you and it was on the shelf in front of me. Salute!

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The Gold Standard-Meursault, Les Vireuils, 2004

Like a symphony orchestra that gave me the chills with notes of lingering melancholia; or a poem I strain my ears to hear so that I might remember the words as I do old friends; or a sunset I dared not blink through in case I missed the next hue that would top what came before,  this Meursault (White Burgandy, Chardonnay) rivaled all great moments that have caused me to painfully concentrate on its moments of joy.

I know–that’s a lot of expectation to bestow upon a wine, but like all great and welcome surprises, I wasn’t prepared to be enamored.

The setting: I could wane about a terrible trip I had had leading up to this wine, but I prefer to recall the spectacular August night of Minnesota, with a well-cooked filet mignon and quiet company, this wine was a great point of punctuation to what rivals perfection.

The wine:  Meursault, Les Vireuils, 2004-Nicolas Patel hails from Nuit-Sant-Georges, the northern part of the Cote d’Or (“slope of gold”) in France’s Burgandy region, and as I already set the expectation earlier in this post, it was the perfect wine for the perfect night.


Served chilled, but not overly cold, the wine was full-bodied, rich in texture and taste.  The wine was at first subdued butter, but surrendered to mineral tones that lingered on the pallet, and marked a delicate balance with it’s citrus and almond notes that came through the medium plus acidity.  While I could have had the wine on it’s own, it held its own in body against filet mignon (cooked in butter) and its acid and fruit flavors played well off of the steamed and season cabbage, of all things!


The wine was a suspended note of gold wrapping that made me want to linger in the moment longer that what was possible.  Yet, as Robert Frost wrote of gold, it is the hardest hue to hold and ultimately, cannot stay.  But, the good news is the wine is still on the shelf, and will hopefully bring future good memories to bear.

The good (or bad?) bottom line: You can find this in Minnesota.  I found mine at Haskell’s, Maple Grove (Retail: $30-50, depending on sale).








Summer Solstice, Fishing, and Rieslings to celebrate!

“I go fishing not to find myself but to lose myself.” –Joseph Monniger

Day one on the water in Lake of the Woods, Minnesota (see location under “isolated”) and it’s easy to realize that it’s hard to be stressed out with a fishing pole in the hand, a beautiful lake before you, and some sun setting in the distance.  My first trip to my parents’ cabin in over a decade, I wondered, “What took me so long to return?”



Backing up one week, I discovered that of all the wines I buy, my mother has taken to Riesling the most. In preparation, I went to Surdyks in NE Minneapolis because I knew they would have an adequate selection.  And since she would likely be cooking up the spoils of our fishing, I wanted to appease the cook.

The wines:

Willi Schaefer, 2012 Graacher Domprobst Riesling, Kabinett, Mosel (8.0%) (Retail: On sale, $15.99).  A traditional-style Riesling, this wine was a great “opener” for the first night of fishing that marked the Summer Solstice.  (No fish yet, but cheese complimented this selection). Fruit forward of tropical fruit of perhaps light mango and peach meets yellow apple, and pear.  True to style, there is an elegance of minerality and high acidity that keeps this wine from being sweet at 8% alcohol.  As the sun lasted well past 10:00 pm, this wine, too, was bright, light and silky fun.


Theo Minges Weingut’s, 2007 Der Froschkonig Spatlese, Pfalz (12.5%) (Retail: $29.99).  Named after a German tale, “The Frog King” (Think girl kisses frog he becomes a prince.  But this is the German version, so girl throws frog against a wall, and they live happily ever after), this wine is a tale of its own! The winemaker left this wine untouched for 18 months after harvesting.  The DSC_0104result: A delightful, elegant and surprisingly impactful dry Riesling that tasted of still, vintage champagne.  While no yeast touched the process, this wine opened with zesty, fruity and flowery notes of golden apple, gooseberry, and white flowers and opened into notes of yeast and minerality.  Like a fairy tale, the high acid and long finish was like a finely filtered ray of sunlight that one could hold in the palm, and palette, to remember the day in one’s senses.  Highly recommend.


Weingut and Weinstube Kruger-Rumpf, 2007 Binger Schorlachberg Riesling Spatlese (8.5%) (Retail: $34.99).  Karen MacNeil writes in the Wine Bible that the essence of German Rieslings is the essence of “transparency”–that there is a nakedness and a preciseness to these wines that defines their elegance.  I couldn’t agree more.  On a day were our limit was caught (a fun and whopping 20 walleye!), this honey-straw colored wine had no pretense to hide–it was the pinnacle of my Riesling experiment.  Ripe yellow apple, grapes, pear, melon notes met the deeper characteristics of brioche and yeast, wet mineral notes below.  It was smooth and silky, as a grown-ups cottoncandy held in the mouth before dissolution.  I could drink this every day to remind myself what the good things in life are. It was stunning.

Rieslings, like my belief that a 10 hour trip up North could be fun, are the come-from-behind contenders.  But the good ones, and there are many, are easy to find if you push past the shelves in your store that simply scream, “I’m cheap! I’m sweet!” If in doubt, look for the eagle on the bottle with the cluster of grapes in the center: This is the logo of the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates which is awarded to the top 200 producers.