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Wine Ramblings 

Stuff we can't keep bottled up

This is my digest of what is hot, cool and talked about.

The Other Down Under
South Africa has finally released their prized beasts. For years, they selfishly hoarded their better wines, exporting the generic plunk. Once they realized the rest of the world had taste too, the South African wine exporters started pondering the profits they could reap out in the world jungle. Among the wines they've loosed on the US market in the past few years are crisp, grapefruit-laden sauvignon blancs, so much like the excellent New Zealands that a double take is in order. Also worth checking out are their smooth, melony chardonnays and funky, fruity shiraz.

Carb Counters Rejoice
Although I doubt the labels will hype "low carb," wineries are now allowed to list calorie and carbohydrate content. Mainly a ruling to appease beer manufacturers looking to market their lite products, it also applies to wineries and spirits companies. Although only voluntary adherence is suggested now, listing the carb and calorie content will, we hope, promote the inclusion of legitimate wine nutritional information in America. In addition to labeling, wineries can also use the information in advertising, which will be heavily policed.

Trading Cork for Cardboard?
Yes. Boxed wine, rendered decidedly un-chic by not-so-quality brands like Franzia, is making a comeback. With cork prices on the rise, as well as up to 15% spoilage due to the old-fashioned closure, upscale winemakers are banking on the newly rebirthed trend taking hold.

The "bag in a box," so-named because the cardboard box houses a heavy plastic bladder filled with wine, is equipped with a spigot that doesn't allow oxygen -- wine's nemesis -- to enter the remaining liquid. The bag collapses as you draw wine out, so, once opened, the wine stays fresh for up to three months, compared to the maximum four or five days associated with corks and even Stelvin screwtops. That spells fresh wine every day without having to reach for a corkscrew or worry about spoilage.

But in this new life, wine-in-a-box has a more upscale name: "cask" wine. The industry is hoping that Americans, leading consumers of wines, forget the old image of the box, and embrace the value and sense of the closure. Most casks come in three-liter containers, the equivalent of four bottles, and are priced at a bargain three-bottle cost. The tall, squarish shape conveniently fits in the fridge or on the countertop, and features a six-pack-like handle for easy portability.

Per usual, the innovative, risk-taking Aussies lead the cask charge. Nearly half of all Australia's wine sales are in boxes. Hardy's, one of Australia's leading wineries, recently launched their premium varietal cask line called Stamp of Australia, with a delicious shiraz and chardonnay. Banrock Station, owned by the same company, also has a line of cask wines. Here at home, California producers such as Blackstone sell Black Box, a cask featuring their immensely popular Napa Merlot.

Does it work? Hell yes. I have an opened cask of California zinfandel on my kitchen counter that has remained fresh for two months now. It lacks a bit of its original zing, but it's still holding strong. Ask your local wine retailer about getting your hands around this box trend.

Recommended Wine

Boschendal 2003 Grand Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc From the coastal region of South Africa comes an approachable, tart, grassy sauvignon blanc. Peaches, lemon and melon make this a refreshing gulp. $14.

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