The Importance Of Knowing Ernest

Some may recall a few weeks ago where I vowed to subject myself to a Plonk-a-thon for you, Dear Readers, to see if there were some hidden gems to be found in the wilds of the box wine world. I know quite well the general box wines, those overly sweet, heavily perfumey tasting beasts marked with generic names like “white grenasty” or “killable red;” wines that quite frankly, while perfectly acceptable when heavily chilled and served over ice, make one feel that somehow they should be wrapped in a brown paper bag when consumed in a back alley somewhere and washed down with a chaser of Prestone. No, I wanted to see how bulk winemakers were handling some of the high-faluting grape varietals, so after some diligent research I found the following three examples of merlot:



and Peter Vella

I found out in the course of this arduous research that both Franzia and Almaden are owned by some mega vino behemoth named the Wine Group or “TWG”, which also owns Corbett Canyon, Glen Ellen and many others, while Vella, whose family has long ties with Ernest and Julio Gallo, is part of the even larger E&J Gallo wine empire.

But on to the important stuff…

Each box holds 5 liters of wine, the equivalent of 6 2/3 bottles. I paid $14 for each box, so that means each ‘normal’ sized 750ml bottle cost $2.10.


That, my friends, is change I can believe in.

Interestingly, each wine had a slightly different tap arrangement

The Franzia and the Almaden both used a ‘screw’ type tap, with the Franzia’s being on top whilst the Almaden’s was rotated 90º forward to the front. The Vella’s was a spring-loaded push button dealio. They all worked fine for the pouring, but Almaden lost points when it slowly leaked precious wine out when I didn’t take care to make sure it was totally closed…an easy thing to do when one is making one’s way solo through 15 liters.

The wines all had a similar pleasant ruby color

and there were no offending aromas from the glasses; in fact, they smelled quite decent, so I lined up Murderer’s Row

and settled in for a long

and arduous research period

I found that many times I had to re-visit samples many times

to ensure that my data was accurate. Some might call it an obsession, but I feel that you deserve my very best effort.

Pretty early on I have to say I had decided on third place. Least favorite was the Franzia. While it had a smooth mouth feel the wine exhibited some mildly unpleasant grapefruit notes and was noticeably more acidic than the others.

To me the Almaden and Vella wines were clearly superior to the Franzia, but in different ways. The Almaden had the most distinct merlot varietal flavor, with more pronounced cherry fruit and tannins giving it a more complex ‘edginess’ then you might expect; certainly this would be more at home in a bottle costing, say $8 than $2, while the Vella had a very smooth fullness to it. The fruit and tannins were there but in a more elegant, subdued fashion.

Ultimately I had to give top honors to the Vella. His years working with Ernest and Julio have paid off handsomely for us. It just…satisfied me more. I could easily just have the box on the counter and relax every evening with a glass or three whilst talking with my Bride and enjoying a meal; in fact, I did relax for many evenings with three boxes on the counter. A pleasant wine greatly enhances life, friends.

The really nice thing about these boxes is that the wine stays fresh, as no air gets in to spoil them. In these nervous times these wines are a great value. I really won’t buy the Franzia again, but I wouldn’t hesitate to buy either the Vella first or the Almaden second again.

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