When it comes to buying booze in Philly, the 21st and Market store is pretty classy —high ceilings, wood paneling, and a “Premium Wines”section that mentally prepares you for spending a lot of money. But in an effort to really get to know Philly and break outta the bubble in my second year, I went to the liquor store on 17th and JFK. Real stretch experience here, guys.
Lower ceilings, hospital-ly looking floor tiles, and a premium wines section that may or may not have included large-format Franzia. This store had more 1.5L bottles under $10 than wines from this obscure place called “Europe”. But to really own the experience, I spent less than $30 dollars on more than 5L of wine (the equivalent of 7 regular bottles for those of you that are good at boozy math). My picks were a 750 mL of Yellowtail Shiraz-Cab Blend, a 1.5L bottle of Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon, and a whopping 3L box of Old Vine Zinfandel from Bota Box.
This is the point where I’ll get off of my high horse and say that I’ve voluntarily tried and even reviewed many of these wines in my years of writing about value wines. But when you actively avoid bottles more than $20, the truth of the matter is that you’re going to find some duds—maybe they’re incredibly forgettable or maybe they’re just gross. But rather than sit in a corner and cry about bad wine (I mean…what?…I’ve never cried about wine), you’ve got options.
And if you’ve got an autumnal spirit and perhaps a conveniently timed wedding-favor from Zach Stiefler, you too can mull less-than-fantastic wines into warm and cozy perfection. (**Note to self: mulling spices are just a lovely favor for a fall wedding).
SO. How exactly does one mull a wine? Simmer wine on low heat with the following ingredients: 1) Spices 2) Sliced oranges 3) Sugar and 4) Brandy (whaaaaaaaat?! more booze?! oh yeah.). If you need more specifics, try typing “mulled wine recipe”into the inter-webs and see what happens. We tried the wines on their own and in their mulled formats and here are the results:
Our favorite was the Rex Goliath Cabernet Sauvignon. On its own, this Cab has a slightly tart flavor, like pomegranate. It isn’t particularly tannic but is full of ripe, dark fruit. There’s a touch of cinnamon spice that sets it up nicely for mulling. And once you do, the brandy and sugar mellow out the acid. The wine retains spice well, tasting very much like cinnamon and cloves. We even picked up some dried fig flavors in each cozy cup.
The next fave was the Yellow Tail Shiraz-Cabernet blend. This Aussie option had dark, black cherry fruit flavors when tried on its own. The black pepper and spice were balanced by vanilla Coke sweetness. Once mulled, this version was certainly more intense—deep and dark—where the wine covered up the more subtle spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. It smelled wonderfully like berry cobbler, but was a bit too boozy for our preference and would have been better with some food.
Lastly, the Bota Box Old Vine Zinfandel was fine on its own (this was actually one of my favorite boxed wines). It has the tart flavors of cranberry juice with a touch of vanilla sweetness. Sometimes this wine can remind me of fruit roll-ups. After mulling, the concoction has lots of dark fruit flavors and the acid sticks around, retaining that cranberry flavor. It did need a bit more sugar to keep the acid in check. On the plus side, scents of warm apple pie exuded from each and every mug…mmmmm…I’m not falling asleep on my computer right now…
So there you have it—three options to turn cheap booze into holiday heaven. Cheers!