There are a few things that I know get many oenophiles’ judgmental antennae twitching: a dirt cheap price tag, cartoony labeling, non-descript “table wine” blends, and—of course—boxed wines. If you’re one of those people, Big House Wines will surely make your brain explode.
Big House is a winery in Soledad, California, near the Soledad State Correctional Facility. It take inspiration from its jailhouse neighbor, and runs with it in the names and packaging of the entire line of Big House wines (not to mention the winery’s absurd website): Unchained Chardonnay, The Usual Suspect Cab Sauv, and so on. My first experience with Big House was a few years ago, with their Cardinal Zin, a balanced value zin.
For a recent party, I decided to pick up a 3-liter box of the Big House White and the Big House Red, at a budget-friendly price $18 each. For the equivalent of under $5 a bottle for blend wines, I had low expectations (but fortunately didn’t need high ones, since the party was comprised largely of people from whom wine is wine, nothing more).
Both wines exceeded my admittedly paltry expectations for them. The Big House White is a crisp, summery wine that tastes like … well, white wine. Part of the problem with many blends is that they don’t end up tasting like anything. Easy to drink, but lacking depth and complexity, the Big House White is a cheap wine that is ideal for large groups of non-judgmental consumers.
The Big House Red is another kitchen-sink blend of a bunch of grapes that ends up tasting simply like red wine, albeit a little more interesting than its White counterpart. Again, the price point and fact that it’s a blend establish low expectations, so you’ll have to forgive it for being a little bitter on the back of your palate. The Big House Red has a bit of a peppery edge to it, and is a solid pizza companion. For big-time barbecues, I’d leave it aside and break out something better.
The bottom line with the Big House blends is that the price and the ridiculous (in a good way) cartoon labels keep you from taking the wine too seriously. But they’re appropriately priced and, well, good enough for budget wines to grab if you just need some drinkin’ wine around.