Wine on the Cheap

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If you’re a regular visitor to the local supermarkets, you may have noticed an increasing number of boxed wines or “wine casks”, as the Australians prefer to call them. Unfortunately, boxed wines have earned themselves a dubious reputation since they first emerged in the late 1960s, because the stuff in the box (or more, accurately, the bag) was invariably poor quality.   Some wine producers are still doing themselves – and us – a grave disservice by continuing the practice of putting their cheapest products into wine casks. A couple of weeks ago I tasted one which was an absolute killer; a nasty vengeful thing which was barely drinkable. It tasted like the kind of fluid they’d use to clean out the gearbox of a Bangkok bus.

Fortunately, there are some good boxed wines available. The Mont Clair range are well-known everyday wines and easily available, but the Australian Cedar Creek (Bt. 950 for a 4.5 litre box at Villa) are probably even better and excellent value; the equivalent of Bt. 150 for a standard bottle. That’s about twenty-five baht a glass. At that kind of price, it should be possible to drink a decent wine every day with the evening meal.

Vineyard in the foothills of the Andes (Photo: Beatrice Murch) Vineyard in the foothills of the Andes (Photo: Beatrice Murch)

The good thing about wine casks is that as the wine is poured, the bag slowly collapses inside the box ensuring that the air doesn’t come into contact with the wine. The result is that unlike a bottle, the wine stays fresh for several weeks after opening.

Bodegas Centenarias Sauvignon Blanc 2011 (white), Chile. (Villa Bt. 799, 3 litre box)

This 3 litre box is equivalent to four 75cl bottles – so the cost works out at around Bt. 200 for a standard bottle. That sounds good to my ears. The wine is pretty good too. It’s a light gold colour and has a lovely delicate floral aroma with grapefruit, lemon and hints of vanilla and spice. The fruit is well forward on the taste with grapefruit and faint tang of orange. It’s medium-bodied and quite dry too, with a pleasing touch of mineral acidity that gives it a refreshing taste. It’s a satisfying easy-drinker and pleasantly assertive too. With a fresh and lively mouth-feel, the wine would make a good apéritif. It stands well above the competition and would make a good partner for fish, seafood, chicken and many Thai dishes.

Bodegas Centenarias Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot 2010 (red), Chile. (Villa Bt. 799, 3 litre box)

With an attractive aroma of black fruit, ripe cherries and a peppery sprinkling of herbs, this is a rich red colour with purplish hues. The fruit is well-forward on the taste and there’s quite a soft and attractive mouth-feel supported by light supple tannins. It’s quite dry and medium-bodied and has a pleasing dry finish. The vintage and alcohol content (which is 12.5%) are printed on the box but they’re extremely difficult to find, but you can amuse yourself for a pleasant five minutes searching for them, if that is, you have the inclination.

With the money you save by buying boxed wines, you can buy yourself a decanter, if you haven’t already got one. This is fairly essential because it’s messy pouring a glass each time. In addition, the decanter will help you keep an eye on how much you’re drinking. They have some attractive decanters and wine jugs in various sizes at Pattaya Kitchen Ware, the kitchen shop next to Foodland. Their 500ml decanter (just under a full bottle) is made of light glass and ideal for everyday use. It’s plain and quite elegant and only about sixty baht. I’ve seen the so-called “ship’s decanters” on sale in various shops. They’re those heavy things with an abnormally wide base. Although they would have been highly practical on a sailing ship buffeting across the Atlantic, the wide base area probably aerates the wine too quickly.

By the way, these two Chilean wine casks come with a clever rotating tap which requires a bit of care. If you don’t get the glass or decanter exactly in the right position or turn the tap too vigorously, you’ll probably finish up with wine all over the floor. And here, you may detect the voice of experience.