Friday, April 4, 2014

Rustico boxes in Calamity Jane

 Photo: Rustico's Bruce Fuller

Can you imagine a three litre box of wine sporting the VQA symbol?

Well, you have to imagine it because the rules of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance forbid the use of the VQA symbol on boxed wines. However, I would not be surprised to see that rule changed, given that several wineries now are selling boxed wines containing wines that would be VQA if released in bottles.

Rustico Farm and Cellars has three boxed wines under its new Ambush brand while Mt. Boucherie Family Estate Winery has just released two. Pentâge Winery in Penticton has been selling Pinot Gris in a three litre box for about five years.

Of course, the major commercial wineries have boxed wine –three, four and 16 litre – on the market for years. Generally, these contain wines imported in bulk from somewhere else in the world. VQA wines can be made only from grapes grown in British Columbia or Ontario.

The perception is that boxed wines are not very good. That may or may not be the truth. That is the reason why the VQA symbol is not allowed on boxes. The wine industry does not want to dilute the VQA image.

For many consumers, this is merely an academic discussion. They just see boxed wines as super affordable. There are numerous four-litre box wines in the BC Liquor Distribution Branch stores selling for $32.99. That works out to $6.19 a bottle.

Cooper Moon Cabernet Sauvignon from Calona is a typical example of a three-litre box. It is priced at $30.99,  the equivalent of $7.75 a bottle.

The price rises if the box contains British Columbia wine rather than leftovers from California. Even so, the B.C. boxes also deliver good value. Mt. Boucherie asks $38.50 for a box of Chardonnay ($9.63 a bottle) and $42.50 for a box of Merlot ($10.63 a bottle). Pentâge asks $66.50 ($16.62) for a box of what is premium Pinot Gris.

Aside from value, box wines offer the convenience of having wine on tap. You can pour yourself just a glass or two whenever you feel like it. The shelf life of these wines is long enough for you to tipple your way through four bottles before the wine starts to oxidize.

Rustico’s Bruce Fuller, who runs his tasting room with considerable flare, has come up with a clever way of defusing the perception that box wines are plonk. He has miniature barrels in Rustico’s wine shop,  each designed to hide a box wine. Only the spigot protrudes, allowing wines to be served to guests. Only after they have tasted the wine, and usually enjoyed it, are guests allowed to peak into the open back of the barrels to discover the wines came from a box, not a barrel.

Every camper also knows how much more convenient the little boxes are on camping trips compared with heavier and more fragile glass. One of Bruce’s customers last summer was in an Osoyoos campground and counted 17 boxes of Ambush on tables around the site.

Bruce believes he is tapping into a trend. “I researched boxed wines before we did anything,” he says. “In France, over 30% of wine sales are now in boxes. What does that tell you? In California, you have Mondavi and others in boxes.”

You might note the names Bruce gives to each Rustico wine, often inspired by the Okanagan’s history of mining and ranching.

“Do you know who Calamity Jane was?” Bruce asks. “She was a woman who was known as a straight shooter. She was a big time alcoholic. She hung out with Wild Bill Hickok. She rode in the pony express. Sometimes she was a whore working in a saloon. Half of what you read about her is mythology and the other half is truth. She is buried in Deadwood, South Dakota.” Bruce, who has visited her grave, had more than enough material for good “back label” copy.

Here are notes on Rustico’s three litre box wines and on its other current releases.

Ambush Calamity Jane Dry Riesling ($42.95). This is a crisp and refreshing Riesling, with citrus aromas and flavours. The finish lingers. 87.

Ambush Whippersnapper White ($39.95). This is 50/50 blend of Sémillon and Chardonnay. It has layers of lime and grapefruit in the aroma and on the palate, with the fleshy texture that Sémillon brings to the party. 88.

Ambush The Posse Red ($44.95). This is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine presents an almost jammy ripe plum and cherry profile that is pulled together effectively by the pepper and spice on the finish. 87.

Rustico Isabella’s Poke Pinot Gris 2012 ($17.95). The wine begins with appealing herbal aromas, leading to pear and citrus flavours, with a crisp tang of lime on the refreshing finish. 88.

Rustico Farmer’s Daughter Dry Gewürztraminer 2012 ($17.95). The wine begins with the aromas of rose petals and spice, leading to delicate flavours of lychee and grapefruit. The dry finish makes this a fine food wine. 88.

Rustico Sashay Sémillon 2012 ($17.95). Somewhat austere in the dryness of the finish, this wine has notes of lemon and grapefruit on the palate. 86.

Rustico Silver Garter Unoaked Chardonnay 2012 ($17.95). This focused and fruit-forward wine has flavours of apples with a mineral backbone. The finish is crisp and fresh. 87.

Rustico Golden Garter Oaked Chardonnay 2012 ($29.95). The oak is very well integrated in this buttery and rich wine, with flavours of tangerine and with a hint of clove on the finish. 89-90.

Rustico Saloon Sally Dry Cabernet Franc Rosé 2011 ($16.90). This is a remarkable fresh wine for a three-year-old rosé. It still shows off the varietal’s red berry and strawberry flavours and aromas. The texture is juicy but the finish is crisp. 89.

Rustico Doc’s Buggy Pinot Noir 2008 ($24.95). Barrel-aged nine months, this wine has notes of strawberry and cherry on the palate, with a touch of spice on the dry finish. 87.

Rustico Mother Lode Merlot 2007 ($24.95).  Every wine has a story. The reference here is to a mother lode of gold that a prospector named One-Armed Reid was looking for. He would have been happy with this tasty red, a medium-bodied wine with a core of blackberry and cassis, although the hint of espresso on the finish would taste way better than the coffee that he brewed in his kettle. 88.

Rustico Last Chance 2008 ($19.95). One-Armed Reid, according to Bruce’s narrative, staked the first claim at Fairview. This wine is a blend of Chancellor (30%), Merlot (35%) and Zinfandel (25%) and a touch of Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch. This is a last chance to taste Chancellor because those vines have been replaced. This is a dark, brambly red with a rustic earthiness on the finish. 88.

Rustico Threesome 2008 ($35.95). This is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon. This has the classic Bordeaux blend notes of cedar and cigar box on the nose, following with flavours of black currant and blackberry. 90.

Rustico  Bonanza Old Vines Zinfandel 2008 ($34.95). The full-bodied wine may well be unfiltered because it throws a bit of sediment, which is not a problem if you decant the wine. It begins with aromas of oak, vanilla and red berries. On the palate, there are classic varietal flavours, including raspberry, blackberry and black cherry. The long ripe tannins give the wine a generous texture. There is also a peppery hint on the finish. 90.


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