A spicy, inviting nose, redolent of cherries and with a subtle note of Provençal herbs. Warm, ripe, cherry fruit in the mouth with a not-unpleasant medicinal edge. Depth and persistence here, as well. An apples-and-oranges comparison, but I like this slightly better than the Mâcon.
Three Thieves 2005 Chardonnay (California), $10.99 (1-liter jug)
A nice tropical nose of figs, melon, and lemon. Unoaked, which is pleasant. A little too sweet for my taste, but clean flavors, good concentration, and a nice lemony finish. As California chardonnays go, I've had a lot worse for a lot more.
Three Thieves 2003 Zinfandel (California), $10.99 (1-liter jug)
Spicy, brambly red berry aromas—the sort sometimes referred to as "zinberry"—along with a distinct medicinal note. A warm, fairly rich wine, with good structure and a decent finish. The classic American barbecue wine in a barbecue-friendly format.
Banrock Station 2005 Chardonnay (Australia), $18 (3-liter box)
Full-bodied, somewhat creamy wine, with peach, lemon, and marzipan flavors and a lick of honey. Some heft to the wine, but not at all heavy; best of all, lacks the sweetness that mars so many chardonnays, particularly at this price point. Surprisingly pleasant.
Black Box 2004 Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon (California), $18 (3-liter box)
Hello, roadkill—a blast of animal fur greets the nose, and then quickly, mercifully gives way to red berries, smoke, and clay. A cabernet light in color and light on the palate—more East Coast in style than California. That said, not bad—sprightly red fruit with a nice dash of spice and good structure.