Tetra Paks: The Good, The Bad and The Gaudy
Wine of the WeekLizard Flat 2005 Chardonnay Verdleho *** Australia (20610, $13.15/1L)What I expect from a Tetra Pak—a lively, fresh and simple white wine to take on a summer picnic or fishing expedition. The high acid verdelho grape is key to its vitality. Shows clean, almost floral lemony, kiwi and pineapple fruit in a light, crisp yet slightly sweet texture. Finish thin but it is appealing. I have tasted this twice; impressed both times. I have also tasted the companion Lizard Flat 2005 Merlot twice and found one box dull and somewhat oxidative, the other quite good.
Visually-speaking, the “alternative packaging” tasting at LCBO HQ was the most arresting tasting of my career. Over 70 boxes, cubes, bags and plastic bottles lined wall to wall in the sterile, white tasting lab. Taken as a body of work and statement of modern thought on wine packaging, it was jarring and disturbing. Individually, some were classy enough that I might consider placing them on my dinner table. But then I have never pretended to be a packaging expert—what’s inside the wrapper is my playpen.
Despite mirth in the tasting room, it was actually an important tasting, one that professionals need to subject themselves to every once in awhile to calibrate their perspective. So hats off to the Wine Writers Circle and the LCBO general list director Javier Santos for arranging it. My conclusion is that the quality of Tetra Paks is, on average, well… average. Which is not good enough for consumers who care about quality and value. Personally, I would not very often turn to Tetras when there are better alternatives out there in bottles. Should you sacrifice taste and value to the debated enviro-friendliness of Tetras? Your choice.
My job is to provide some guidance as to which Tetra wines are decent buys once you have made that decision. Only seven scored 86 points, in the barely very good (or ***1/2) range. Twenty-seven scored from 83 to 85, in the good (or ***) range. Twenty-one scored 80 to 82, in the fair (or **1/2) range. That leaves 21 scoring below 80 (or **). Most wines came in branded varietal pairs or trios, and these brands as a whole tended to perform consistently, whether good or bad. Furthermore there were certain countries that tended to perform better—Australia, Chile and South Africa—while the European and Canadian Tetras were not so good.
The most consistently good performers were Likan from Chile, Kumala from South Africa, Lizard Flat from Australia plus Hardy’s Kelly’s Revenge and Banrock Station from Australia. The worst performers were Le Petit Sommelier from France, Red Lips from France, Vendange from California, Out of the Box from Canada and French Cross from Canada. Common flaws included oxidation (to which I feel Tetras are very susceptible as they ship and sit in shelf), acetic/volatile acidity and excessive sulphur dioxide. These flaws occurred in the majority of the Tetra Pak wines in varying degrees—from ruinous to just perceptible.
Here are my top ten Tetras. (Please note that package volumes vary when checking price.)
Lizard Flat 2005 Verdelho Chardonnay ***1/2Australia (20610, $13.15/1L)See review above.
Hardy’s 2005 Kelly’s Revenge Chardonnay ***1/2Australia (22178, $12.95/1L)Full flavoured, fairly rich yet lively with lime, avocado, grapefruit and spice. Balanced.
Hardy’s Banrock Station 2006 Chardonnay Unwooded ***1/2Australia (668594, $12.75/1L)Generous, very spicy, canned mandarin and grapefruit. Fairly creamy and rich.
Kumala 2006 Sauvignon Blanc ***1/2South Africa (16147, $11.95/1L)Quite intense, correct quite ripe sauvignon character of lychee, grapefruit and cut grass.
Alice White 2005 Semillon Chardonnay ***Australia (665497, $8.00/500 ml)Soft, mild ripe tropical mango, green fig and lime flavours. A touch sweet, smooth, clean.
Likan 2005 Merlot ***1/2Chile, (665331, $11.95/1L)Deep colour, ripe sweet blackberry, mint and spicy clove. Soft, clean, balanced.
Beringer NV Stone Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon ***1/2California (61404, $13.95/750ml)Four-pack small plastic bottles. Oak, cedar complexity dried berry fruit. Smooth.
Likan 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon ***1/2Chile (665349, $11.95/1L)Deep colour, cassis, mint, good Chilean cab character, if hot and clumsy on the finish.
Baldivis 2003 Shiraz ***Western Australia (669077, $13.95/750ml)New format unfortunately mindful of an IV bag. More mature oaked, quite rich red with good acid balance. A bit pricier than peers.
Hardy’s 2004 Kelly’s Revenge Shiraz ***South Eastern Australia, (22160, $12.95/1L)Deep colour. Generous clove, vanilla, charcoal. Mid-weight, fairly dense, sweetish.