Friday, March 18, 2016

Vinebox Review

Yesterday I received my very first box from Vinebox, a new subscription company that sends you wine by the glass each month.  They are focused on smaller boutique wineries and I believe they are on their second or third month of sending out boxes.  So far all the wines have been from France, and none of them are readily available in the US.  Good news, though, if you like any of the wine they send you, then you can purchase the bottle directly from Vinebox, provided you are willing to purchase at least three at a time.  I asked them about this, and they said it is a requirement that comes with the difficulty of shipping wine, and that it wouldn't be feasible for them to allow customers to purchase just one bottle at this time, but that they are trying to come up with a way for customers to purchase additional glasses of the wine that they like.

The cost of the box is $35/month plus $6 shipping.  I received a coupon for my first box from Cratejoy for $10 off, and so I paid $31 total (including shipping).  The box is curated by them, but not tailored to you - there is no way for you to tell them what kinds of wines you enjoy, or for you to pick the wines that are sent to you.  You also cannot tell them if you prefer reds or whites.  Generally, it seems they have been sending out two reds and one white.  They say that they want to give customers the opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not try and to expand their horizons when it comes to different types of wines.

Without further ado, let's dive in!

Right from the get-go, it is quite obvious that the people behind this subscription box put a lot of care and effort into the presentation.  The box that it comes in is made of a very sturdy cardboard with a magnetic clasp.  This is a box that I will have a hard time getting rid of, since it's so nice, despite the fact that I don't really have anything I can use it for aside from storing the empty vials.  (This may actually be a con, as I don't have the space to be hoarding boxes!!!  I like when subscription boxes come packaged in materials that I have no issues with getting rid of, so they don't take up space in my house)

Upon opening the box, the presentation carries over.  The three vials are packaged safely and securely in foam, and a card sits on top of them, basically welcoming you to this subscription box.  This envelope also contained cards for each wine they sent, along with information about the wine such as where it came from, tasting notes, good foods to pair it with, and advice on how to drink it. The attention to detail is absolutely amazing and definitely made me feel all fancy.  I guess, from their point of view, fancy wine should come with fancy presentation.  Not too shabby, if I do say so myself!

I just LOVE the vials that the wine comes in.  They are so cute.  I am not really sure how they can be repurposed, but my mom suggested keeping them for picnics and things like that, when you don't necessarily want to bring along a full bottle of wine when a glass will do.  So I'll probably hang onto them.  You never know when you might find a use for them.  They could probably be turned into a cool craft idea, as well.

One concern that many people seem to have is, how are they getting the wine from bottles into these vials?  I do not know all the science behind it, but according to Vinebox's website, they have a way of extracting wine from bottles into the vials without exposing it to oxygen, so what you are getting is a glass that, if kept unopened, should be good for 3-5 years.  Why you would want to wait that long to drink it is beyond me though!  :)

OK, presentation aside, just how good does this wine actually taste?  Keep in mind, I am no wine expert - simply a wine enthusiast looking to expand my horizons and palate.

La Dame Blanche
Vintage: 2014
Region: Bordeaux, France/AOC Bordeaux
Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc
Price of bottle: $25

I have not tried very many sauvignon blanc, but the ones I've tried in the past have only been so-so in my opinion.  Never really loved them, but didn't hate them, either.  Vinebox advises you to let this one sit out for a little, allowing it to warm up a bit and for the flavors to open up.  As I am testing it out, I wanted to try it both ways, so I took my first sips immediately after pulling it out of the refrigerator, and then let it sit for about 20 minutes before tasting it again and finishing it off.

Let me say that the advice they give is definitely good advice, especially if you enjoy more fruity wines.  On the nose, regardless of temperature, the fruity flavors really jump out at you.  Pineapple really dominates, along with guava and maybe even a hint of coconut.  It definitely has an underlying grassy scent, though, and, weirdly enough, the smell of astro turf.  Tasting it cold, the fruit flavors are muted and the grassiness comes out VERY strongly, and it has a long, quite acidic (I guess what they are referring to as "crisp") finish.  Not entirely unpleasant, but also unexpected, as well.  However, after letting this wine warm up a bit more, the taste becomes much more pleasant and balanced.  Those pineapple flavors that I smelled really jumped out at me, mouthfeel gets a bit fuller, and the acidic finish mellowed out and overall this became an incredibly smooth, balanced wine.  It was one that I enjoyed more and more the more I drank it, and was really sad to finish it off.  I would definitely buy a bottle of this if I could just buy one at a time (I don't need three!).  

My rating: 5/5

Castelmaure "Cuvée N°3"
Vintage: 2013
Region: Languedoc-Roussillon, France/Corbiéres
Grapes: Grenache, Carignan, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvédre
Price of bottle: $40

This wine has a lot going on, but it's still very well balanced.  Lighter on the tannins, medium mouthfeel.  Right off the bat I noticed a lot of darker berry flavors - blackberries, plums even, a bit of woodsy flavor, and a tiny hint of licorice.  Unlike a lot of lighter red wines that I've tried, this one does a great job of balancing out the top berry notes with the middle woodsy notes and the base licorice and spice notes.  Seems like a lot of lighter red wines lack the middle notes and tend to feel too thin, for lack of better wording.  

I did not enjoy this wine as much as the La Dame Blanche, but I still really liked it.  This would be a wonderful wine to drink around the holidays, and would be a definite crowd pleaser.  I would not drop $40 on a bottle of it, though, and definitely not for 3.  $40 is a lot of money for any wine, in my opinion - it wouldn't be the type of wine that I buy multiples of, because that sort of wine is meant to be saved for special occasions.

My rating: 4/5

Château Suau
Vintage: 2009
Region: Bordeaux, France/Cadillac - Côtes de Bordeaux
Grapes: bit of a discrepancy here.  According to the card that came in the box, this wine is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc.  But according to the website this wine is 45% Merlot and 55% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Hmmmm....
Price of bottle: $35

I definitely smell the dark fruits right off the bat.  Blackberry, blackcurrant, plum, a hint of something almost sour - perhaps that's from the oak.  Strangely enough, a bit of like, middle school locker room smell.  Damp dirt.  On the palate I get a lot of plum, a little bit of moss, nutmeg, and old wooden furniture that's maybe a bit musty.  Strong tannins and a very long finish.  

This wine tastes like something you would drink in a very sophisticated setting.  Not necessarily a party, but just some sort of high-class non-party event (does that make any sense?).   It is a no-nonsense sort of wine.  It's dark and mysterious and, weirdly enough, it draws up images in my mind of old businessmen smoking cigars in a room with leather armchairs surrounded by mahogany bookcases filled with old, dusty leather books.  I think that might be more of a whiskey sort of setting, but it's just the mental image that pops into my head as I sip on this wine.

I don't hate this wine, but I don't particularly enjoy it either.  This wine is for those who know they enjoy really full-boddied, tannic reds.  Those who take their coffee black.  Those sorts of people.  I feel like one needs to have a purpose in order to drink this wine - a big steak dinner.  It is not for casual relaxed sipping.  I would not buy a bottle of this wine for myself, but it would definitely make for good gifting to someone who enjoys full-bodied wines.  Overall, it is a very well-balanced, smooth wine.

My rating: 3/5

Overall Thoughts

All-in-all, I loved everything about this box - except the PRICE!!!  I get that these wines are on the higher end in terms of price, but I still do not think that makes it worth nearly $12 per glass (and that's not even factoring in shipping costs).  Also, though their website claims that this box is not only for experienced wine drinkers but also for those who have hardly any wine experience at all, I would NOT recommend this box to new wine drinkers, just based off of the wines I received this month.  The only wine I can see a new wine drinker possibly enjoying would be the La Dame Blanche, and even then, I don't think I would have liked it as a new wine drinker.  

Can I continue to harp on the price???  This box comes in at $41/month (with shipping) and includes 3 glasses of wine - and these glasses of wine are only 100ml, so they are more like tasting sizes.  I was able to drink all three wines in my box in one night and not feel the least bit buzzed.  Not that I drink wine in order to get drunk (I hate the feeling), but realistically, if I am paying $41 for wine and I drink all of said wine in a single night, I should be sloshed!  What you get is drastically out of proportion with what you are paying.  I understand there are costs that go in to making a box like this happen.  Those vials can't be cheap, and I'm sure the process to transfer wine from bottle to vial without oxygen exposure can be costly as well.  But there's got to be some corners that can be cut.  Does the box it comes in REALLY have to be that fancy?  Does it REALLY need that magnetic clasp?  I used to run my own business of handmade soap where I had to shop around for boxes to package and send the soap in.  While it is easy to obtain cheaper boxes, you start adding features to the boxes and that price starts creeping up very quickly. I know that each one of these boxes, with its high-quality cardboard and magnetic clasp, comes with quite a price tag and I would not be surprised if it makes up half the monthly cost of the box.  Perhaps the company should consider downgrading to more basic packaging materials (This can be done while still protecting the wine and still giving an elegant presentation).  I'll bet they could shave at LEAST $10 off the monthly subscription cost for the customer.  As it stands, I don't see them having many long-term subscribers, as most people are not willing to pay a higher price for something just because of packaging, and would take cheaper packaging with a lower cost any day.

One thing that has stood out to me - they have received a LOT of complaints about their price.  Many people say that for a few dollars more, other wine clubs out there send three entire BOTTLES of wine, not just three small glasses.  Vinebox's response has been that not only are the wines they are sending of high quality (fair point), but that this gives one the ability to not waste money buying an entire bottle of wine that they are going to hate.  For one, many of those other clubs that send out entire bottles are also willing to credit or even refund you if you receive a bottle that you hate.  Also, I don't know about you, but I tend to spend way less than $41 on a bottle of wine.  What happens if someone hates every single wine they are sent in their Vinebox?  How is that not worse than buying a bottle of wine for half that price and hating it?  Is Vinebox going to be willing to refund you $12 for each vial of wine that you hate?  For the newbie wine drinker, I think it's very likely they will not enjoy many of the wines sent to them, because they are very complex and, especially in the case of French wines, aren't as sweet as the average newbie American wine drinker would like, coming from a palate used to soda and fruity cocktails.  The more experienced wine drinker probably has a better idea of what he/she enjoys, and is not going to be happy shelling out this kind of money for only three glasses.  So I am having a hard time thinking of what demographic would enjoy this box for the price point.

After receiving my first box, I have decided to cancel my Vinebox subscription.  It is a box that I want to love, and I actually do love, but it is just too expensive and what you get is not worth the money.  It was really great to try some nice French wines that I otherwise may have never had the opportunity to try, though.  If Vinebox ever finds a way to get their price down by $15 or so, then I will be one of the first to sign back up.  But until then, we must regretfully go our separate ways, as I can't even justify this for an every-other-month or quarterly box.

If you are interested in subscribing to this box, head over to their website