Summer in a Box 

Warm weather partners well with white wines, especially those made to last — and last.

Devout East Coasters can get a little superior about the climatic extremes of their beloved seasons — and they often wonder aloud how we transplants to California can bear life without them. To which I like to reply, smugly: You've got a point, but summer does last until November here. ... Come Labor Day, when a sense of impending doom has descended upon coastal communities from Bar Harbor, Maine to Ocean City, Maryland, we in these more temperate parts are just getting started on summer's best indulgences. A few things on that blissfully long list: picnics in the park or on the beach, farmers markets and festivals, and of course white wine. And if that last item needs to last me for the next six weeks, I'll take mine in a box, thank you very much.

Say what you will about the quality of its contents, but it's widely accepted that the bag-in-a-box method of packaging is superior to bottling when it comes to preserving wine that's been opened. So for this column and the next one, I've pitted Trinchero Family Estate's Wine Cube brand of boxed wines, sold exclusively at Target, against $10-and-under value wines to see how they measure up.

First, the 2007 Pinot Grigio Wine Cube ($11.99 for the equivalent of two bottles), which had a nutty aroma that reappeared in the finish and a metallic, acidic taste. Looking over our Token Winemaker's notes, I was slightly alarmed to see the words "demon flesh" scrawled under this wine's entry — but no, I had merely misread "lemon fresh," as in lemon-fresh Pledge. Not a huge improvement over demon flesh, but he did praise the exotic blossoms in the Wine Cube's aroma, as well as its nice body and balance. Miscommunication notwithstanding, this is a good bargain for your next picnic. (It's pretty cute, too — but what else would you expect from the marriage of Target's branding brilliance and the folks who invented white Zin?)

Our Token Winemaker preferred the 2006 Five Rivers Monterey County Chardonnay ($8.99), impressed by its nice nose, balance, and drinkability. I'd actually pegged this one as the boxed wine in our tasting, but I did appreciate the strong melon aroma. I found the mouthfeel and finish a bit harsh — although both improved with time.

My favorite was the 2007 Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio ($7.99) — a verdict that will make my southern mother proud. An original Wineau, for weeks she's been singing the Mezzacorona's praises, touting its lightness and the artful way it pairs with a variety of foods. Having tried it, with her, at a recent summer lunch of salad and a savory tart, I can vouch for its food friendliness. Tasting it blind against the boxed wine, I was once again impressed by its great aroma, overall crispness, and mellow aftertaste.

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