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 its prized beasts. For years, it selfishly hoarded its 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 U.S. 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-percent spoilage due to the old-fashioned closure, upscale winemakers are banking on the newly rebirthed trend to take 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, a leading consumer 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 its 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, you might ask? 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 Wines

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

Adelsheim 2001 Pinot Noir Yamhill County Elizabeth's Reserve
Absolutely seductive with a veritable bouquet of aromas and flavors seducing your senses. Elegant lavender, delicious blackberry, and silky black cherry caress your tongue. $35. 1/2

Have a wine question or comment? Contact Wine Editor Taylor Eason at 813-248-8888, ext. 162, or e-mail [email protected].

The Wine List

Native South African importer A. Jewell presents seven wines from South Africa, paired with a five-course French-inspired dinner. $45, plus tax & gratuity. 7 p.m. Thurs., April 22. Le Bouchon Bistro, 796 Indian Rocks Road, Belleair Bluff (727-585-9777).

Chef Gui leads an interactive discussion on high-quality, estate-grown olive oil from Provence, France. Also featured are wines from the Provence region. $20. 6 p.m. Thurs., April 22. Olivia's Restaurant, 937 Main St., Dunedin (727-736-1400).

Join Vintage Wine Cellars for a celebration of Vino Italiano. Taste 10 wines from Tuscano and Roma, the Piedmont region, and Verona. $10 per person. 7 p.m. Fri., April 23. Vintage Wine Cellars, 3629 Henderson Blvd., Tampa (813-879-2931 or

Our own hometown winery near Land O' Lakes presents a wine festival including samples of the winery's offerings, live music, fresh produce and much more. Admission is free. 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat., April 24. Florida Estates Winery, 25241 S.R. 52, Land O Lakes (813-996-2113 or at

Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalist church hosts an organic wine tasting, featuring recording artist Carole Eagleheart, a silent auction and gourmet food. $15 per person. 7 p.m. Sat., April 24. Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalists, 18412 Burrell Road, Odessa (813-792-1622).