Kiss, Marry, Kill: White Zinfandel, Merlot & Boxed Wine

Who knew? The playful game that you use to torture your friends is also a great way to learn about wine. Of course there are only two fun ways to play KMK. The first is when all of your options are amazing, and you have to decide who you will kill. The other is when all options are terrible and you have to select who to spouse and who to snog.

Today we play with three wines that Americans hate, believe they hate or would be embarrassed to bring to a party (this last one being an example of someone who you might make out with while partying into the wee hours, but not marry).

Your options are White Zin, Merlot and boxed wine. How would you proceed? Before you answer, I’ll give you some food for thought.


Boxed Wine

In this scenario, for me, boxed wine is like a solid make out session.

Imagine a rooftop party. Everyone looks fabulous, the weather is great and you let loose with a few drinks. By the end of the night, someone who you met early on proves to be somewhat charming. You see no visible abnormalities, and perhaps they are not terribly sexy nor do they offer extraordinary personality or character, but there is nothing off-putting. So you make out (no judgements). That’s boxed wine.

Boxed wine will rarely impress your friends or your parents and the packaging can often be a little rough, but it’s friendly and always up for an adventure. And like any other summer fling, it might lead to something more permanent. Believe it or not, there are plenty of high-quality boxes of wine, depending on the style of wine to which you are drawn.


White Zinfandel

Second, I’m murdering White Zinfandel.

In fairness, we can’t blame White Zinfandel for its crimes. It is a case of nurture creating its insipidness, not nature. Zinfandel is a prized grape, both in California and Puglia, Italy. It is a hearty, full-bodied red wine with great complexity. But in the ’70s, it was corrupted by greedy, publicly traded wine companies that cultivated a cash cow business. Rather than completely fermenting this wine (fermentation is the chemical process where a yeast eats sugar and creates alcohol as a byproduct), fermentation was interrupted and sugar was intentionally left behind, creating a sweet wine. And let’s just say these grapes didn’t come from Napa’s finest vineyards. Now, we can’t only blame the wine companies. Like the drug trade, it takes two to tango, and people loved this sweet pink juice. It was super popular in the ’70s and it’s how most of the Boomer generation was introduced to wine.

However, its legacy is the awful impression it has left on our national wine-drinking psyche. Most of the country still thinks Rosé is cheap and sweet, because of how prolific White Zinfandel was. We all now know that rosé is so much more than White Zinfandel, but maybe not that Zinfandel is so much more than Rosé.

But perhaps you don’t need to be so judgmental of the older generation for drinking it. My guess is that many of you started out drinking a wine that was just as sweet, like Moscato or anything Barefoot, things that are really just White Zin 2.0.

But nurture or nature, it’s easy to bury this wine in the ground and walk away forever, given far more enticing options.



So that leaves Merlot.

Not only would I marry Merlot, I would make sweet, sweet love to it every night.

Merlot has been falsely imprisoned since 2004. It’s actually staggering that a poorly informed movie script has left such a lasting and loathsome impression on Americans. Sideways, while a hysterical, brilliant movie, represents the worst of wine: elitists condescending to everyone else. What is worse is that the elitist, Miles, is an ignorant elitist. What Miles leaves out of his diatribes is that the most expensive wines on the planet are actually Merlot wines. Château Pétrus and Le Pin are regularly the most expensive wines sold today, both from the right bank of Bordeaux and both Merlot wines first. Miles also is unlikely to know that Merlot makes up two times more plantings in Bordeaux than Cabernet, meaning the greatest wine region on the planet calls Merlot its workhorse. Most hypocritical of all, the wine our fool enjoys at the end of the movie, the prize in his collection? Château Cheval Blanc, which is typically about 40% Merlot and always 0% Pinot Noir. #FREEMERLOT

And why is Merlot great? Whether a 100% Merlot wine, or a Bordeaux-style blend with some amount of Merlot in it, Merlot offers unique complexities and flavors, like plum, fig, and earthy mushrooms. Perhaps most importantly, it adds texture. Merlot is arguably the sexiest red wine on the planet because of how luxuriously smooth and soft the wine can be. If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to make it your Fall fling – it is an outstanding turkey wine, by the way. Look for wines from Pomerol and Saint-Émilion.

In short, my fling is boxed wine, my new, beautiful bride is Merlot, and White Zin is missing and presumed dead.

Feel differently? DM your answers @winehack.


  • Aimee says:

    So what box wines would you recommend?

  • Jacques Boudreault says:

    Well done. I love Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and anything from Bordeaux that is full bodied, oaky, dry and smooth. So I may have a little bit of a bias in that I seem to like what you like. And I have found very good boxed wines over the years. Although my complaint is that they tend to be less consistent over time. Some that used to be quite good do not seem to be up to par anymore. While I enjoy a sweet wine now and then, this is not what I prefer on a regular basis, and while some white zins are palatable, too many of them are just there to please the lowest common denominator.

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