The Wine Curmudgeon does not like merlot, and I fight this prejudice every time I taste one. I’ve had too many poorly-made, fruit-charged merlots (yes, California, this means you) to have an open mind, and the blog has suffered for it. In the six-plus years I’ve been doing this, only two merlots have been a wine of the week. Given that they were from Bulgaria and Texas, that’s hardly representative.
It’s time to change that, and what better time than Birthday Week and what better wine to do it with than the Falesco ($15, sample, 13.5%)? After all, didn’t the blog’s readers choose Falesco as the best cheap wine brand?
The various Falesco wines have been a fixture here since I started the blog, and almost every single one I’ve tasted in the past decade has offered quality and value, enough for the Vitiano to make the $10 Hall of Fame every year. The merlot is no exception, and that it’s Italian just makes it more interesting. Look for typical merlot richness and subdued tannins, combined with black fruit and enough acidity to remind you this is an Italian wine. Highly recommended, and worth every bit of the five bucks more than $10 that it costs.
And I have mentioned that Falesco’s Riccardo Cotarella is a genius?
Reviews of wines that don ?t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month.
? Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! 2011 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): Not as bright and friendly as the previous vintage, but with white fruit (pear?) and nothing wrong with it. Simple, every day, well-made Italian table wine from one of my favorite producers.
? Casillero del Diablo Reserve Malbec 2011 ($12, sample, 13.5%): Chilean red is less showy than similarly priced Argentine malbecs, with more going on than just the black fruit. Lots of vanilla (almost too much), and even some spice and earthiness. I don’t know that I would buy it, but I would drink it without making a fuss.
? Duchman Trebbiano 2010 ($11, purchased, 12.2%): Nicely done Texas white, though it needs food. Lots of acid, some lemon fruit, and a short if noticeable finish. Very limited availability.
? Herdade do Espor o Monte Velho 2010 ($8, sample, 13.5%): Portuguese red tastes more like table wine than port, always a challenge for the country ?s winemakers. It ?s a value at this price, but not for all tastes — heavy, almost ashy, with black fruit that dominates.
When the Wine Curmudgeon tastes this wine, he is not only enjoying one of the best $10 wines in the world, but remembering the day when he embarrassed himself in front of the legendary Riccardo Cotarella — not just once or twice, but three times.
The first instance has been documented, and the second I'll save for another day. The third came while tasting the rose, when I asked Cotarelli if the wine shouldn't be colder. It was at red wine temperature, and I had always been taught that roses, like whites, should be chilled 10 or 12 degrees more. No, no, no, he said. Don't drink it chilled. You'll never taste all of the flavors.
This was an amazing thing to say. First, how many $10 wines have more than one flavor? Second, it's not unusual for winemakers to want critics to taste their wines chilled, since that covers up most flaws. Third, Cotarella was correcting a critic, and while many, many winemakers would like to do that, most of them figure discretion is the better part of valor. Too many wine writers, secure in the knowledge that we already know everything, don't react well to criticism.
But Cotarella, secure in his talent and the quality of his wine, said what needed to be said. And I will always be grateful for that. This vintage ($10, purchased) is as well done as always, with some bone dry strawberry fruit and the nooks and crannies of quality that define the Cotarella style. Drink it over the Labor Day weekend on its own or with burgers or barbecued chicken, and you'll know why there is a special Falesco wing in the $10 Hall of Fame.
The Wine Curmudgeon does not approve of exclamation marks. If Hemingway didn’t need them, no one else does either. Which should give everyone an idea about the quality of this wine, since it has five exclamation points in its name.
The Est ($9, purchased) is a white blend of trebbiano, malvasia and roscetto (yet another obscure Italian grape, something that it seems all interesting Italian wines must have). In less capable hands, that grape combination can produce a wine that is all sweet and fruity. But Falesco, the producer behind Est, is one of the most capable hands in the world, and the Est lives up to Falesco’s long-standing tradition of cheap and well-made wine.
Look for a lemon/lime zest sort of flavor, more structure than a $9 wine should have, and some spice on the finish. Drink this chilled on its own, or with anything resembling fish. This wine would make even tuna casserole, made with cream of mushroom soup, taste better. And look for this in the 2012 $10 Hall of Fame, with Falesco’s Vitiano wines.
Today's metaphysical question: How does Ricccardo Cotarella produce a wine of this quality, ship it to the U.S., overcome the high euro, and sell it for about $10? Most California wineries who do cheap wine can't even come close to this.
In other words, Riccardo Cotarella is still a genius.The Wine Curmudgeon has been drinking Falesco wines for almost 10 years, and I have never been disappointed, whether it's the red, white or pink. This vintage of the white, the Bianco ($10, purchased), is made with verdicchio and vermentino. They have produced a wine low in alcohol with tell-tale Italian acid and just enough fruit to appeal to American palates. Think of it as tart with a touch of lime, but fresh and clean and pretty close to fabulous. Highly recommended, and certainly in the $10 Hall of Fame.
Chill this and drink it on its own, with salads, or most any kind of chicken. Fried chicken, in fact, would be quite a nice pairing.