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Wine Review: Can wine in a box work?

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I dislike wine clubs. A club's brochure might rave about the fine qualities of Chateau Godzilla, a French wine from downtown Bordeaux, but fail to tell you that it has the aroma of fish and tastes like cardboard. Did you really expect them to tell you the truth?

Another of my dislikes was wine in boxes, which was a good idea that never flew. Often, the boxes were filled with wines that were, at best, mediocre. It is therefore little wonder why most of them failed miserably and in doing so developed the reputation of boxed junk.

The theory behind wine in a box is basically sound. Wine is put into a food- grade plastic bag that collapses as the wine is withdrawn, thus protecting the wine from oxidation spoilage by entrapped air. As was the case for most of the former attempts, the wine inside the box remained unoxidized but was of such low quality that it really didn’t matter.

Then there is Gratsi, which means “thanks” in Italian and represents the latest entry into both the wine club and boxed wine field. Gratsi wines come from vineyards in Washington state, where some excellent wines are currently being produced, so the chances of this one succeeding looks pretty good on paper.

I recently was asked to sample two Gratsi wines: a generic red and a generic white. There is the equivalent of four bottles of wine in each box, which sell at $70 for two box sets to club members. Club membership is free. This equals out to $8.75 per 750-milliliter bottle. You will have to admit finding even an acceptable wine at that price is virtually impossible.

There is, however, a caveat: Buying a great deal of wine at one time may seem excessive to some. No real problem there; the wine is in a sealed container and will remain pristine, much like a wine in a sealed bottle.

Gratsi wines are not great wines. You don't put great wines in a box, and you don’t sell them at down-to-earth prices. What they are, are copious amounts of well-made, enjoyable wines. Isn’t that exactly what we are always seeking?

Gratsi Old Country Red
This wine is a cabernet sauvignon blend made from grapes grown in the Columbia Valley of Washington state. The flavor and aroma are very much Italian in style, or as the winemaker likes to call it, “old world.” The wine displays an identifiable cabernet-like aroma of cherries, spice and oak. The oak caught my attention because it proved the Gratsi red was not quickly made and just as quickly put into a box. This is a red wine that has spent some time in casks to age and mellow. Another benefit was that the wine tasted the same 10 days later as it did on the first day. There was no detectable degradation which, if you have ever left wine in a bottle to finish the next day, you know is very noticeable.

Gratsi Old Country White
White wine in a box? If that isn’t asking for trouble, nothing else is as white wines rapidly go downhill when exposed to air. This wine displays a floral aroma of summer flowers and a peach and apricot flavor. OK, that was the first day, what about seven days later? I could detect no difference, nor did any of my focus group who help me evaluate wines. Believe me, they were looking for faults. To put it simply, the Gratsi boxed wine system works. The wine was good, with no noticeable degradation in flavor or aroma over several weeks. To the makers of the wine, I say, “Gratsi!”

Wine columnist Bennet Bodenstein can be reached at frojhe1@att.net.

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