Category:Italian wine

Wine of the week: Pio Cesare Arneis 2013

Pio Cesare ArneisDoes Mom like white wine? Do you want to spend more than $10 since it’s wine for Mother’s Day? Then enjoy the Pio Cesare Arneis ($15, purchased, 13%). If all $15 wine tasted like this, the Wine Curmudgeon would drink more $15 wine.

Arneis is a rare Piedmontese white grape usually used for blending in expensive red wine, or to make flabby, simple stuff that we rarely see much in this country. The Pio Cesare Arneis, on the other hand, gives this grape a respect it has rarely had. I first tasted it four years ago, where it was almost an afterthought during a lunch that included most of the great red wines from Pio Cesare, one of Italy’s top producers.

This vintage (which was about one-quarter less expensive than the first Arneis, and no, I don’t know why) was even more enjoyable. Look for white pepper, some subtle white fruit that stays just out of recognition, and that is still amazingly fresh even though it’s a three-year-old white wine in this era of drink it or toss it. It’s also rounder and fuller than most $15 white wines, without the acidic edges that even some chardonnays at that price have.

Highly recommended, especially if you want to try something other than chardonnay and more green apple fruit and fake vanilla. Drink it on its own to toast Mom, or with any sort of Mother’s Day brunch.

Five cheap Chiantis

cheap chiantiOne of the handful of real values left in wine is Chianti, the red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy. Why are cheap Chiantis so common? Maybe because there is so much in Chianti in the world, or that it’s not popular with wine drinkers who are not of a certain age, or because the Italians just do it that way.

Regardless, these five cheap Chiantis – four cost $8 or less – are varietally correct, with sour cherry fruit and that certain tartness that identifies the wine as Italian, and they offer as much value as other red wines costing twice as much. Plus, they’re low in alcohol, which makes them an ideal red wine as the weather warms and spring turns into summer.

Pair these with any food remotely associated with red sauce or sausage, as well as almost anything grilled outdoors, including chicken, and the odd meatloaf or hamburger. And I speak from personal experience – these wines have more than once rescued an evening where circumstances forced me to eat corporate takeout pizza.

Melini Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%). Look for berry fruit, more black than red, clean and fresh, and just enough character — some tannins and earthiness — to let you know this is wine from Italy. It’s a simple wine, but as I have noted before, simple does not have to mean stupid.

Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%) from Aldi tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but “this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5. It’s simple and juicy, with a touch of cherry fruit, and softer than most of the rest of the wines in this post.

Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) may be the best cheap Chianti of the bunch, with more depth than the Melini, some earthiness, black pepper, and grip that’s rare in an $8 wine. Plus, the sour cherry and tart acidity are spot on, making this wine almost certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2017.

Caposaldi Chianti ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way that made so many of the Italian wines of my youth undrinkable. Almost as well done as the Straccali,

Placido Chianti ($8, purchased, 12.5%) is very, very simple, but still tastes like Chianti, a winemaking approach that California gave up on years ago in favor of lots and lots of sweet fruit regardless of what the wine should taste like. The Placido doesn’t insult the drinker, and if you’re stuck on the road late at night with one of those sodium- and gimmick-laden corporate pizzas, you’re in luck with this wine.

Wine of the week: Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! 2014

Falesco EstThe Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is legendary cheap wine, and the only reason that I don’t review it more often is because the only store in Dallas that carries it always sells out. (That no one else carries it speaks to how most retailers feel about cheap wine in Dallas).

What do you need to know about the Falesco Est ($8, sample, 12%)? That it’s made by the Cotarella family, which gives us Vitiano and so much other quality cheap and moderately-priced wine. That it’s a white blend made with trebbiano, the Italian version of my beloved ugni blanc and a grape that gets as much respect from wine geeks as I would at a Wine Spectator editorial meeting. That it’s tart and lemony with a little white fruit and quite refreshing, but not very complex and also not very demanding on the drinker.

In this, it’s exactly what cheap wine should be — well-made, affordable, and something you can drink without having to consult scores, pairing charts, or wine websites. Consider it the Italian equivalent of the Rene Barbier white — not quite Hall of Fame material, but dependable and enjoyable. Isn’t that what cheap wine should be?

Wine of the week: Banfi CollePino 2014

Banfi CollePino Grocery store wine, and especially grocery store wine from the biggest companies, takes a lot of abuse on the blog (and deservedly so). So when Big Wine does grocery store wine right, it’s worth noting, and that’s why you’re reading about the Banfi CollePino.

Banfi is among the top 20 biggest producers in the U.S. which makes the Banfi CollePino ($9, sample, 13%) all that much more interesting. That’s because it shows what Big Wine can do when it aims for more then technical correctness — that is, boring wine made without any flaws. In this, the CollePino is varietally correct, so that it’s made with sangiovese and tastes like sangiovese, with the telltale tart cherry fruit, a certain freshness, and soft tannins. It’s also worth noting that these wines need some oak to temper the, bu that it it has almost no oak and yet what little oak there is has done its job. This is a testament to Big Wine’s technical ability.

But that may not be the CollePino’s greatest asset. It’s made with a bit of merlot, which softens the sangiovese and produces a wine that’s soft enough so that it won’t scare off the grocery store smooth wine drinkers who are, I assume, its target audience. But those of us who want more than smooth should also be happy, and especially if we drink it with anything with red sauce. Highly recommended, and candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.

Wine of the week: Lamura Bianco Organica 2014

lamura biancoOrganic and natural wines, despite powerful support, have never gotten much attention from consumers. For one thing, it’s difficult to tell the difference between organic and conventional wines, and especially when it comes to quality. Fortunately, the Lamura Bianco, a white from Sicily made with catarratto, has been a consistent organic value for years.

The Lamura Bianco ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is made with organic grapes (which is different from an organic wine); the 2014 vintage, despite its age, shows why Lamura delivers outstanding quality and value almost annually. Look for lemon and tropical fruit in a wine that is crisp and fresh, and with all of that topped off with the minerality one expects from a wine that will pair perfectly with seafood.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame, with one caveat. Older vintages of the white (though not of the other Lamura, a red) don’t always age well, and can taste tired and worn out. I haven’t noticed a pattern to this, and it may be because the wine suffers during its Dallas supply chain experience. If that’s the case, then you won’t have a problem with it in other parts of the country.

Wine of the week: Farnese Fantini Sangiovese 2013

Farnese Fantini SangioveseDuring last week’s judging at the Texsom International Wine Awards, another judge and I were commiserating about how difficult it had to become to find value in California, and just not at my price range. Fortunately, the judge told me, there is always Spain and Italy.

Which is about the best way possible to introduce the Farnese Fantini sangiovese ($10, purchased, 12%), an Italian red wine from Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast west of Rome. Cheap wine doesn’t get much better than this; it’s as if the last couple of years of premiumization and dumbing down wine never happened. The Fantini (Farnese is the producer) is surprisingly layered and rich for a $10 sangiovese, with almost sour cherry fruit, black pepper, and what the tasting notes call a wood flavor, an intriguing way to describe how sort of oaky it is.

The other thing I liked? That it tasted like sangiovese, but didn’t taste like the $10 sangioveses from Umbria, about two hours north or Abruzzo, or those from Tuscany, another couple of hours north. In this, we get a chance to taste terroir for our $10, and how often does that happen with cheap wine?

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame. Pair the Fantini with red sauce, of course, but don’t be afraid to try it with grilled meats and beef stews.

Wine of the week: Benedetto Chianti 2014

Benedetto ChiantiOne of the problems with really cheap wine — the $3, $4, and $5 labels like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck and Whole Foods’ Three Wishes — is that they don’t always taste like the grapes they’re made with. That is, they’re not varietally correct. The merlot tastes like the pinot noir, the pinot tastes like the cabernet sauvignon, and so on and so forth.

Which is not the case with the Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%), a really cheap Italian red wine from Aldi. It tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but that’s true of wines that cost three or four times as much as the Benedetto. Call this the “man, this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5.

The Benedetto Chianti is simple and juicy, with a little tart cherry fruit. It’s softer than many Chiantis and doesn’t have the burst of telltale acidity, but there’s enough of the latter so that you can tell it’s Chianti if you’re forced to do a blind tasting. In this, it’s fairly priced at $5 — just enough less interesting than the $8 Melini, and obviously not as interesting as the $10 Caposaldo and Straccali.

And, for those of you who want to tweak the wine snob in your life, the Benedetto Chianti is DOCG, the second highest rung in the Italian appellation system. That it can be DOCG and only cost $5 says a lot about how the Italian wine business works, and why it’s as well made as it is.