Spanish Wine and the 99 cent Wine Box: the Local Verdict, Barcel

Spanish Wine and the 99 cent Wine Box: the Local Verdict

Spanish wines, and especially Catalunyan wines, are wonderful – and affordable. Go to the wine section of El Corte Inglés or specialised wine shops such as Vila Viniteca and Lavinia and you can buy a decent quaffer for around five euros, a nice drop for around ten euros, and a brilliant wine for 20 euros upwards.

If you’re a traveller on a tight budget, you can find a drinkable bottle of wine at the supermercado for around three euros, and some that go for as little as 1.95 euros – which is why it confounds us that anyone, even the most frugal long-term backpacker, would resort to buying a .95 cent box (cask) or Tetra Pak of wine such as the hugely popular Don Simon range.

Don’t think we haven’t gone there ourselves. When Terence and I backpacked around Spain well over a decade ago, we’d buy the odd wine box ourselves. We have fond memories of picnics with our queso curado, jamon Iberico and Tetra Pak of Don Simon. On my first solo trip to Spain around 15 years ago, my friends and I drank little else. I remember our evening ritual drinking Don Simon from the hostel balcony overlooking Las Ramblas – it was 99 pesetas then!

So when a Twitter pal TheresaTsui asked us for our verdict on the .99 cent red wine, we gave it some thought. When we went shopping we noticed that young travellers were still buying the wine boxes and we wondered what it tasted like these days and why they weren’t spending an extra euro or two to buy a better quality of wine in a bottle. Then we read that Don Simon was “the best selling Spanish wine worldwide because of its unbeatable value”. Was it really?

A tasting was in order. Rather than do it ourselves, as we did with our DIY Sherry tasting, we decided to recruit our new local friends instead and conduct a blind tasting of the Don Simon range plus a 1.95 euro bottle. Here’s how it went:

Don Simon Rosado (Rosé, .95 cents)

Ester: It doesn’t even smell of anything. Rosado should be fruity and a little sweet.

Kim: (pulls a face) Is that wine? It doesn’t taste like anything. The smell is gross.

Julio: This is like water. Red water. It’s very soft.

Sergio: This is a kind of wine… it should be colder. My mouth doesn’t feel anything. It’s free of feeling!

Julio: I imagine it’s a very cheap wine. You could give me some of this so I’m not thirsty, but that’s all… it’s a paradox.

None of the participants could finish their small tasting portions.

Don Simon Vino Tinto (Red Wine, .95 cents)

Ester: It has a short length… the taste finishes fast, like a house wine.

Kim: Ooh, it takes like Don Simon! No, I don’t really like that at all. It tastes cheap! I’d be disappointed if I was served that.

Julio: It’s a little acidic. It has a bitter after-taste. But it’s drinkable…

Sergio: It’s not very intense, it’s young, and it doesn’t have a lot of body.

Julio: It actually has more flavour after a few sips… (Julio sips some more)… but the flavour actually gets worse with every sip!

A bottle of Vino Tinto (Red Wine, 1.95 euro)

Ester: (looking at the legs on the glass) It at least has some viscosity. But it leaves a dry sensation. It’s too rough on the tongue. It has smell. But somehow the taste is not related to the smell.

Kim: In comparison to the last two, it’s better. It’s heavier. There’s still not much flavour though. It’s definitely more drinkable, but it’s smells a bit of vomit.

Julio: It’s very dry. It lacks body. I prefer more viscosity. For sure, it’s better than the last ones, but the taste doesn’t last long at all.

Sergio: It’s got a bit more body than the last ones, and more tannins… but it’s… aspero… rough?… like the skin of a peach. Maybe it needs time to open up?

The participants actually finished their tasting portions of this wine!

Don Simon Sangria (.95 cents)

Ester: It’s Sangria! But I like it. It’s very sweet. And it’s drinkable, unlike the others. It’s a great summer drink!

Kim: I have drank this before… it’s punch. Yeah, that’s quite nice. If it was colder it would be better…

Julio: It’s Sangria for sure… The first time I ever got drunk it was on this. It’s typical for families to drink this together. It’s actually quite a good Sangria.

Sergio: It’s the best one, no? I like Sangria, so I don’t mind this one. It’s very easy to drink!

And drink it they did!

VERDICT on our Spanish Wine test

Our tasters found that the 1.95 euro bottle of vino tinto was more drinkable than the .95 cent Don Simon wines. But they overwhelmingly agreed that if your budget only stretches to .95 cents then you’re far better off buying Don Simon’s Sangria. And that’s the advice of a local! Four of them in fact.

There are 25 comments

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  1. Heather Carreiro

    Awesome idea! I remember visiting Melilla and Ceuta and having my first taste of box wine after spending months in Morocco (where I didn’t really bother to find wine cause it was fairly expensive). For our group, it was more about the experience, sitting in the square drinking box wine, than the actual taste. I guess wine in a box is a novelty for many travelers, although you can also get bottled wine pretty cheap in Spain.

  2. ryan

    these wines are not for drinking! 🙁 They give real boxed wines a bad name. So many great boxed wines exist, but sadly these get lumped in with the rest of them!!

  3. lara dunston

    Hi Heather – Thanks! Appreciated! Some of the Moroccan bottled wines are very good actually, but agree they’re expensive for what they are. As I said, we also have some fond memories of the old Don Simon in the park – when we were young… 🙁

  4. lara dunston

    Hola Ryan

    If they’re *not* for drinking, then why is Don Simon the number one selling boxed wine? It’s also the most readily available, and it has cult status among backpackers who wouldn’t buy anything else.

    Frankly, as an Australian – from the land that invented boxed wines (we call them ‘cask wines’ down under) – I don’t think there are *any* boxed wines that are very good, and the only reason we’d buy a boxed wine over a bottle is if we were going on a camping trip or picnic or something.

    But, we’d love you to recommend the good Spanish 99 cent drinkable boxed wines for the sake of our readers. Looking forward to your tips!

    Muchas gracias!

  5. ryan

    Don Simon is the biggest selling wine in Spain because it’s the same as malt liquor, cheap vodka and other “top sellers”, it gives a buzz. Not to mention it FUELS the cesspool of cheap sangria which tourists come here to get their headache on with. It’s not a “drinking wine” it’s a “drunking wine”.

    Boxed wines are nothing more than wine in a different package. There are VERY expensive boxed wines from all over the world, that are HIGH QUALITY and many that are very affordable and also great quality. Many times wineries even box the same top sellers in boxes that were once in bottles. Osborne is a great example of putting Solaz in boxes and selling a 3 liter option of this great everyday wine.

    MasRoig in Montsant just won top awards in a recent competition for their boxed wines, not to mention El Punt VI who only sell their wines in Boxes.

    nothing more

  6. theresa tsui

    Firstly, I’d like to apologise to the wine-tasters for any lacerations, stripping of taste-buds, ulcers or sinusitis which may have been caused by the 0.99euro wine!!

    I don’t recall my 0.99euro wine coming out of a box… not that it makes it any better! actually what do i recall of that night – i dunno…

    Regardless – i can’t believe that Don Simon is the best selling wine! Are there really enough back-packers travelling through Spain to warrant this title?

    @ Ryan: i agree with box = containers. i’ve tasted some fantastic boxed wines. This was a 0.99euro challenge – hilarious result. I laughed at Sergio’s apology to his cava-making parents.

  7. Wine Pleasures

    Within the context of the recent Wine Pleasures International Wine Tourism Conference one member of a group of participating tour operators from India bought several cartons of Don Simon to take back home. Over dinner in one of the hotels we stayed in he kindly offered a glass of Don Simon to all party members after a long haul with wines from Summaroca (DO Penedès) and Cava from…. can’t remember now…. Anyway we got it on film and you can see us “enjoying” Don Simon Sangria with our Celebrity friends from LA

    Last week we received a thank you letter from the gentleman in question thanking us for the Conference and Workshop and stopping off to get some Don Simon. He said he was enjoying it at home with his wife and went on to say that it was a pity we couldn’t find any Port in carton.

    So the answer to the question is probably down to wine experience. If you haven’t got any then you’ll probably go for Don Simon and most likely will enjoy it.

  8. lara dunston

    Hi Ryan

    Let me clarify if it wasn’t clear above, but we were asked to test out the .99 cent wines that are so popular with budget travellers – not to judge boxed wines in general.

    It sounds like boxed wines here are *very* different to those in Australia. Down under, they have historically *not* used the same quality wine in casks as they have in bottles – it’s always been the worst grapes of the harvest. It has only been in the last year or so – since the wine glut – that they’ve had no choice but to use good quality grapes in casks as well as bottles. But that’s been seen as a temporary measure, because, ironically, just as there’s enough good wine to share around, sales of casks are dropping – budget-conscious wine-buyers are increasingly favoring bottles of ‘clean skins’.

    As you say yourself, the top sellers aren’t always the best quality wines. Look at Jacob’s Creek in Australia. Or Fosters Beer. I believe they’re both drank (or drunk!) by more people outside of Australia than in – people who appreciate good wine and good beer don’t touch either.

    Thanks for your tips for Spanish boxed wines – perhaps budget travellers can try these ones instead.

  9. lara dunston

    Hello Teresa

    No need to apologize! It was loads of fun – and even though our friends didn’t enjoy the Don Simon at all, they were good sports about it and we had a blast!

    You’re right in that the .99 cent wines actually come in a Tetra Pak, but I seem to find myself explaining what a Tetra Pak is more than a box wine/wine cask, and Don Simon comes in both a Tetra Park and wine box, so I went for the box.

    Don Simon claim their Tetra Paks are the best selling wine in that price bracket, but who knows.

    So what’s our next challenge, Theresa? 🙂

  10. lara dunston

    Hola Anthony

    Great point: “So the answer to the question is probably down to wine experience. If you haven’t got any then you’ll probably go for Don Simon and most likely will enjoy it.”

    I’m guessing you’ve tried the wine in India, then? 😉

  11. lara dunston

    Can’t say that we saw Don Simon in India, but the best restaurants in Mumbai that we ate at served everything from Argentine Malbecs to the ubiquitous Jacob’s Creek that in Australia only really gets used as cooking wine!

  12. theresa tsui

    Challenge? Hmmm… we used to do the “Try a Chinese takeaway meal” challenge whereever we went.

    There were some brilliant ones and some really bad ones. From the flouro pink sweet and sour chicken in Tel Aviv to Peking duck in Marbella which had cheese and pineapple pieces to put inside the pancake instead of cucumber and spring onions. Plum wine grappa after a chinese meal italian style (primo piatti, secondi piatti instead of the usual chinese style of eating all the food at once). The Chinese owner was called Gianni!

    The best thing was: in all these places the Chinese people spoke the language. The Chinese man in Tel Aviv was the best one.

    When we rock up at the Chinese restaurant they don’t know quite what to make of us turning up – are they serving food for the Chinese palate or the local (non-chinese) population…

    And Chinese wine? that’s another thing altogether!

  13. Terence Carter

    We used to do kebabs as our challenge, but it became quite disheartening. Thai was another. In Céret, France where we are now, there is a restaurant that serves Thai, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. We won’t be visiting…

  14. Keith

    I think the bottom line is … bad wine is bad wine, whether it’s sold in a bottle, a box or a jam-jar.

    Certainly, the fact that the ‘two-buck chuck’ was a little bit this side of heaven is, as you say, no reason to condemn all box wines; we often buy them, for we find they’re convenient when you just want a glass of wine, rather than a whole bottle.

    As for cooking with ‘Jake’, I believe it was an Australian celebrity chef who laid down that you should never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink?

  15. Lara Dunston

    Yeah, the old wine casks certainly can be convenient, especially if you’re travelling – ideal for camping trips – and, you’re right, some are certainly quaffable.

    Was it an Aussie chef who said that? Wonder who it was… Thanks for dropping by, Keith!

  16. Mst

    I can see no one of you are from spain… That wine is for mixing not for drink it in a glass… just drunkers drink those boxes of wine straight from the box… We love mixing wine with sparkly lemonade, that mix is called “tinto de verano” which means “summer wine” we drink it everyday it is like a beer or a coke a commmon drink… so when we want to drink Vino Tinto we buy those boxes because the wine is young, strong a cheap perfect for mix it with lemonade and a lot of ice, and when we want to drink plain wine in glass then we buy a bottle in supermarket…

  17. Lara Dunston

    Yes, we know how Spanish drink these wines. I think, due to the language, you have missed a couple of important points above, one of which explains the point of this exercise, and that’s because a reader of our blog and follower from Twitter dared us to test out the box wines following another tasting we did earlier in that trip.

    No, we are not from Spain, however, we have been travelling there for almost 20 years and know the country and culture well, and as you will see from the story and the photos above we are with Spanish people. We know Spanish drink these wines differently, but as we point out above, the box wines are very popular with backpackers and budget travellers.

    The whole exercise was very tongue-in-cheek – a joke 🙂

  18. caleb

    Writing from Nigeria. I have always had doubts about Don Simon Vino Tinto (which is cheaper than bottled wines); doubts about whether it is truly a red wine or has a whole lot of other things(chemicals) mixed with it. What do you say to this?

    Also, what do you think of Baron de Senac from murcia; is it a better alternative to Don Simon Vino Tinto boxed wine? We see Baron De Senac in Lagos, Nigeria too.

    Lastly, I read something here (site/blog) some wines being made from bad grapes. Please educate me: are some wines truly made from bad/low quality grapes? Further questions later if any (& you could leave your twitter handle here)

  19. Lara Dunston

    Hi Caleb, you’d have to look on the Don Simon box to see what additives it contains, but, yes, it’s true that some wines do contain chemicals (like sulphur dioxide, and residues from pesticides etc), and additives (glycerin for example), which is why some people prefer natural, organic and biodynamic wines. I don’t know the other box wine you mention – I’m not an expert of the stuff, sorry, this was just something fun we did on a dare with some new friends.
    Winemakers generally use poorer quality grapes for table wines, box wines, cask wine, etc. Grape quality depends on a lot of things, like climate, soil, vineyard age etc, plus grapes have to be picked at the perfect time.
    Our Twitter a/c is @gran_tourismo
    Thanks for dropping by!

  20. Caleb

    Thanks. I guess i have to check for ingredients on every bottle/pack to make sure I’m taking something absolutely natural.

  21. marie robinson

    I found you by chance and glad I did 🙂

    I searched don simon boxed wine as it was mentioned on PDC forum, Lanzarote. Someone suggested buying this if they were on a budget.

    I love the comments above, but each to their own. I think I’ll stick to the Torres Vino Sol when I go back x

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