Ask a Somm: Understanding Jug and Box Wines

Are jug and box wines safe to drink? The labels are so vague.

Jug and box wine fall into the bulk-wine production category, which has the loosest laws regarding its production. Bulk wines sold in the U.S. are required to state the country of origin, sub-appellation and type of wine on the label. If you are lucky, they?ll also put the grape variety and vintage date. Such room for manipulations and the comparative lack of labeling requirements leave consumers to wonder what exactly is in the wine.

Thankfully, there are a few bulk-wine producers who make wines from grapes grown organically with no artificial colorings or additives, or who do so sustainably, using organic practices, but are just not certified organic.

In the U.S., Fetzer Family Estates are pioneers in organic and sustainable agriculture. Fetzer?s Eagle Peak California Merlot can be found at Total Wines & More, $11 for 1? liters. Bandit box wines?owned by Trinchero Family Estates?produce sustainably grown wines. Bandit?s Tetrapaks are 100 percent recyclable and are made from recyclable materials. They?re available at Albertsons for $6 for 1 liter.

Outside the U.S., the country to look to for responsibly made bulk wine is Chile. The majority of sustainably or organically farmed wines of Chile will be labeled as such. Chile?s Anakena wines can be found at Total Wines & More for about $15 for 1? liters.

Are there any reds that can be enjoyed in the summer heat?

Summer is upon the Valley, wilting and parching its inhabitants. Probably the last beverage on one?s mind to quench the accompanying thirst is red wine. But don?t count red wine out just yet! There are several red wines perfect for summer drinking that pair well with the foods of the season.

Red wines from Mediterranean countries, such as Sicily, Greece and Sardegna, produce lighter, spicy red wines intended to be enjoyed in their hot environments with the area?s predominantly seafood diet. Look for Sella & Mosca Cannonau Grenache di Sardegna Riserva 2007, available at Valley Cheese & Wine for $23.

French Beaujolais made from the gamay grape is one of the lightest reds in the world. Gamay produces a wine with strawberry, watermelon, pear and bubblegum flavors. Chill it down slightly in the freezer and serve it that way with slices of watermelon and berries. Try Lapierre Morgon Cru Beaujolais 2011, found at Marche Bacchus French Bistro & Wine Shop for $20.

Celebrate the nation?s birthday with a truly American wine: California zinfandel. This fruity and spicy grape can be made into lighter-style wines and ros? as well as the heavy hitters. These lighter zins pair remarkably with barbecue pork ribs. Start with Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel 2011, $18 at Khoury?s Fine Wine & Spirits.

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