Growing up in an Italian family, my dad's Carlo Rossi jug was never far from the kitchen table. It's not that we were broke, he just liked the cheap simplicity of it. In fact, he still does. Try as I might to upgrade Dad's palate by sending him nice wines (translation: with corks), he still heads straight for the jug shelf at Vince & Joe's Italian market whenever it's time for a refill.
Back in the '70s and '80s, my pop's penchant for jug wines wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Big jugs were all the rage in America then (and I don't mean the kind they have at Hooters). According to wine industry gurus Gomberg, Fredrikson & Associates, annual jug wine sales climbed steadily through the '70s and reached a peak of 105 million cases in the early '80s.
No thanks to people like my dad, jug wine sales have dropped nearly 50 percent since then. The reason? There are more cheap-but-tasty wines on the market today than ever before, and most of them don't come in squatty jugs. In addition to the domestic labels, ultra-affordable wines are now being imported from places like Chile, Australia and even South Africa.
Having said that, big bottles do have their place. While $10 may be a bargain for a standard bottle of wine, buying multiple bottles for a big party may not turn out to be so cheap. For situations when quantity is key, large bottles are your best bet. But that doesn't mean you have to serve sucky wine. Believe it or not, there are good wines hiding inside some of those behemoth bottles.
In response to the drop in jug wine sales and the rise in wine drinkers' standards, many producers have started introducing better-quality wines in 1.5-liter "magnum" bottles. Unlike their fat, stunted cousins, magnums look just like standard 750 ml wine bottles -- except they hold twice as much vino. As an added bonus, the wine inside these bottles is usually superior to the stuff that comes in jugs.
Following are some tasty "big bottle wines" to help you keep the juices flowing at your next backyard blowout. At less than $10 each, they might just convince you that good things don't always come in small packages.
Note: We've introduced a rating system this week that reflects wine quality compared to others in its class based on price. In other words, a three-star 1.5-liter will not be judged on the same basis as a three-star French Cabernet. The system is one to five stars, with five stars being the best.
2000 Vina Borgia ($8.99/1.5L): Made from Grenache grapes, this easy-drinkin' Spanish red has a berry-spice thing goin' on. I would drink this even if I wasn't broke.
Estrella Zinfandel 1998 ($7.99/1.5L): If you like your reds earthy and kind of mushroomy, this tasty Zin's for you. Light bodied, fruity and dry at the same time. 1/2
Carlo Rossi Red Sangria ($3.99/1.5L; $7.99/4L): My friend served buckets of this jug Sangria at her wedding, and it was pretty damn good. Just pour it into a big pitcher, add some orange and apple slices and serve over ice.
Sutter Home Sauvignon Blanc 2000 ($7.49/1.5L): Smooth and yummy with a great balance between melony richness and green apple refreshment. This may very well be my new favorite cheap white.
Lindemans Cawarra Semillon Chardonnay 2000 ($9.99/1.5L): The vanilla-y aroma of this wine made me think of those overly oaked Chardonnays that I so love to hate. I needn't have worried -- those Australians aren't nearly as oak happy as we Yanks tend to be. Pleasantly tart and tasty with flavors that linger. 1/2
Tina Caputo is a San Francisco-based wino who supports her nasty wine habit by writing for several wine publications. Have a fabulous wine or wine experience you want to share with us? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Corkscrew, 1310 East 9th Ave., Tampa, FL 33605.
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