Category:Italian wine

Wine of the week: Marchesi di Barolo Maràia 2016

Marchesi di Barolo MaràiaThe Marchesi di Barolo Maràia may not be as well known as its nebbiolo-based cousins, but it offers much in value and quality

One of the advantages of the quality independent retailer? That you can pick almost anything off the shelf, even if you don’t know much about the wine, and figure you have more than a decent chance of buying something you’ll enjoy. Which is exactly how I bought the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia.

Italian wine is probably the most difficult to understand in the world, what with an almost infinite number of grapes (many of which have different names in different parts of the country), a dizzying array of regions, and a mostly incomprehensible appellation system. So, when there is no one to ask (and on this day there wasn’t), even those of us who make our living from wine have to take potluck.

Which is how I found the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This red, made with the barbera grape, is from the Monferrato region in Piedmont. That combination means it’s not as pricey or as respected as the nebbiolo wines from Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. (I told you this was complicated, didn’t I?)

But it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality bottle. Barbera makes bright, almost tart, red cherryish wines. The Maraia is more supple than that, and it wasn’t as taut as I expected. Still, the fresh fruit was there (more black cherry than red) and balanced with Italian-style acidity and soft tannins. In all, well made and enjoyable.

Drink this with winter roasts and stews, as well as sausage and red sauce.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Wine of the week: Cantia Cellaro Luma Grillo 2016

Cellaro Luma GrilloForget the the wine retailer foolishness: the Cellaro Luma Grillo is cheap and delicious

How deep is the abyss that the wine business has dug for cheap wine? Consider this, from a leading U.S. retailer’s description of the Cellaro Luma Grillo: “From the gorgeous hot landscape of Sicily. … approachably elegant. … a perfect partner to your favorite hot-weather dishes, like crab Louis salad. …”

Why does Sicily’s landscape matter to the quality of the wine? What does approachably elegant mean, anyway? And who knows what crab Louis salad is – let alone eats it? These days, it’s not enough to tell consumers that the Cellaro Luma Grillo ($10, purchased, 13%), an Italian white made with the grillo grape, offers quality and value, that it’s lemony and fresh, and that there’s a hint of minerality in the finish. And that we don’t need no stinkin’ crab Louis salad to pair with it; just whatever we want for dinner, and that is maybe made with olive oil, herbs, and garlic.

No, the marketers have to tart it up, make it something that it’s not – because who wants to buy a wine just because it’s cheap and tastes good?

Note to wine business: How about all of us?

The Cellaro Luma Grillo is highly recommended, one of the best wines I tasted in 2018. The only reason it’s not going in the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame in a couple of days is that availability is probably limited. It’s a previous vintage, for one thing, and the back label was in Italian. That’s hardly a sign there are thousands of cases waiting to flood U.S. supermarket shelves.

Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

New Year’s sparkling wine 2018

new year's sparkling wine 2018

New Year’s sparkling wine 2018 recommendations for those of us who want value and quality

The one thing I was reminded of during the blog’s Champagne boycott? That Champagne, the sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, is not the be all and end all when it comes to bubbly. Yes, it’s some of the finest wine in the world. But it’s also some of the most expensive. And we demand value on the blog, even when it comes to New Year’s sparkling wine 2018.

Consider these wines for your New Year’s sparkling wine 2018 celebrations. Also handy: The blog’s annual wine gift guidelines and the sparkling wine primer.

Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut NV ($17, sample, 12%): Nicely done Italian rose sparkling that’s not actually Prosecco — it’s a little sturdier in style and has firmer bubbles, though still made using the charmat method, Plus, pinot noir fruit (cherry? strawberry?), though $17 may be a bit much for some. Imported by Angelini Wine

Vibraciones Cava Brut Rose NV ($10, purchased, 11.5%): A Hall of Fame quality Spanish sparker made with the traditional trepat grape; no pinot noir foolishness here. Look for freshness, bright red berry fruit,  and top-notch bubbles. Highly recommended.  Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Cuvée No. 739 NV ($69, sample, 12%): Beautiful and fairly-priced Champagne that sits halfway between a more commercial yeasty, brioche cuvee and something that focuses more on fruit and acidity. Tight bubbles, a bracing finish, and tart green apple fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Vintage 59

Barcino Cava Brut NV ($15, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish bubbly is all one can ask for in a wine at this price, and then some. It’s taut, almost zesty, tart, and interesting. Look for lemon and apple fruit in wonderful balance. Highly recommended. Imported by Ole Imports

More on New Year’s sparkling wine
New Year’s sparkling wine 2017
New Year’s sparkling wine 2016
New Year’s sparkling wine 2015
Wine of the week: De Chanceny Cremant de Loire Brut NV
Happiness through cava and bratwurst

Christmas wine 2018

christmas wine 2018Four recommendations for Christmas wine 2018

Suggestions for Christmas wine 2018, whether for a last minute gift or for a holiday dinner. As always, keep our wine gift giving tips in mind — don’t overlook the blog’s 2018 holiday gift guide.

These will get you started:

Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, %): Quality $10 pink from the Languedoc, so it’s not quite as subtle as something from Provence. But the wine uses first-class grenache, so it’s not too jellyish. Hence a crisp, fresh, and enjoyable wine. Look for strawberry fruit and a stony kind of finish. Imported by Shaw-Ross International

Château La Gravière Blanc 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white French Bordeaux is almost certainly the best cheap wine I tasted in 2018. It did everything cheap wine should do — offer value, be varietally correct, and taste delicious. Some lemon fruit with an almost grassiness, and old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t a New Zealand knockoff. Highly recommended. Imported by Luneau USA

Rotari Trento Brut 2013 ($18, sample, 12.5%): Impeccably made Prosecco. the Italian sparkling wine. Look for berry fruit, plus more body and depth than in cheaper Proseccos, as well as deliciously tight bubbles. If there’s a catch, it’s the price. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports

Librandi Rosso Classico 2015 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Italian red is made with the almost unknown gaglioppo grape, which may or may not be related to sangiovese. That means quite Italian in style (earthiness and grip), but more ripe red fruit than a Chianti. Interesting and very well done. Imported by Winebow

More about Christmas wine:
Christmas wine 2017
Christmas wine 2016
Christmas wine 2015
Wine of the week: CVNE Rioja Cune Crianza 2014
Expensive wine 114: Alberto Nanclares Dandelion Albarino 2016

 

Holiday wine gift guide 2018

holiday wine gift guide 2018The Wine Curmudgeon holiday wine gift guide 2018 — because no one wants to give the wine equivalent of a fruitcake

• Holiday wine trends 2018

How to avoid giving tacky wine gift bags — “for the wine lover on your lists” — or overpriced, celebrity-endorsed wine accessories (because if an A lister likes it, we should buy it)? The Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday wine gift guide out 2018, of course. Because why waste money on bad gifts when you can use it for quality wine?

Keep in mind two must-haves for anyone who drinks wine regularly – the Rabbit wine preserver ($10), cheap and effective, and a top-notch waiter’s corkscrew from Murano ($10). Both have passed the WC’s lengthy, real-life testing process — which means I use them over and over and over. And over.

Plus:

• Kevin Zraly’s new edition of the “Windows on the World” wine course (Sterling Epicure, $18) is probably the best one-volume wine book available. That means it’s worth buying, whether for beginning wine drinker or cranky wine critic. Plus, Zraly’s memoir is scheduled to be published in the next year or so, chronicling his 40 years in the wine business.

Chateau La Tour Carnet ($38) is a red Bordeaux that offers quality but doesn’t cost a fortune, given the prices of red Bordeaux. This French blend, more cabernet sauvignon than merlot, combines modern winemaking with traditional Bordeaux style and terroir. Older vintages like the 2010, which may be more expensive, will especially show that combination. This is the red wine for someone who thinks cabernet begins and ends in the Napa Valley.

The L’Conti Blanquette ($15) is sparkling wine from the Limoux region of France, and tastes nothing like any other French sparkling wine. It’s probably closer to Spanish cava, with lemon and green apple fruit. Plus, you can tell people you tasted a wine made with the mauzac grape. Highly recommended.

• Those who know Italian wine find refosco, a red from northern Italy, to be an acquired tasted. I’ve acquired it, and you’l find quality in refosco from $10 to $20. The Tenuta Luisa ($20) is dark but also bright; a little savory but also a little spicy. It’s more interesting than the less expensive versions, and surprisingly available.

• My new weakness is white wine from Spain’s Basque region made with the hondarrabi zuri grape, most costing around $20. The labels include the phrase “Getariako Txakolina,” which is the name of the region. I haven’t had one yet that wasn’t well-made — almost herbal, with citrus and stone fruit, a little fizz, and some minerality — but not sweet. This is about as far from chardonnay as you can get.

More holiday wine gift guides:
• Holiday wine gift guide 2017
• Holiday wine gift guide 2016
• Holiday wine gift guide 2015

Wine of the week: Feudo Zirtari Bianco 2015

Zirtari BiancoThe Feudo Zirtari Bianco is an astonishing $10 white wine, and especially given how old it is

This Italian white blend from Sicily is not supposed to be this enjoyable. First, it’s too old – who ever heard of a $10 white wine lasting more than a couple of vintages? Second, the producer’s wines are notoriously inconsistent, and my notes are littered with lines like “not as good as the last one.” Nevertheless, the Zirtari Bianco is $10 Hall of Fame quality cheap wine.

Which, of course, is one of the joys of doing this – finding a wine like the Zirtari Bianco ($10, purchased, 13.5%) when I don’t expect to find anything at all. It’s a blend of insolia, a native Sicilian grape, and chardonnay. Hence, the sum is far greater than its parts, given the usual quality of Sicilian chardonnay.

Look for spice (white pepper, nutmeg?), almonds, and pear fruit, which is a surprisingly delicious combination considering the two grapes that have been blended together. Plus, it’s not thin in the mouth or on the finish, which is what usually happens with a three-year-old cheap white wine.

Highly recommended, but there is a conundrum: Should you try to find this vintage, and hope it held up as well as my bottle did? Or should you buy the current vintage and hope that it’s as well made as this one? I don’t have an answer, though it’s almost certainly easier to find the current vintage.

Imported by Santa Margherita USA

Mini-reviews 115: Rioja, German rose, Youngberg, Umani Rochi

german roseReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month: a German rose, plus Oregon pinot noir, a Rioja, and an Italian white for Black Friday 2018

Vallobera Rioja Crianza 2015 ($15, purchased, 14%): Heavy, old-fashioned Spanish red that isn’t very interesting – sweet cherry fruit, not much orange peel or earth, and almost flabby. Very disappointing. Imported by Evaki

Villa Wolf Pinot Noir Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 11.5%): This German pink is sweet (not quite white zinfandel, but noticeable) and fizzy, with almost crisp cherry fruit. Neither sweet nor fizzy is a bad thing, and there will be people who will like it. But not for anyone expecting a dry rose. Imported by Loosen Bros. USA

Youngberg Hill Pinot Noir Jordan Block 2014 ($49, sample, 14%): This is a well-made wine, and the winemakers apparently accomplished what they were trying to do – an Oregon pinot noir that is heavier and more California in style than Oregon. It doesn’t have any brambly fruit, but more concentrated, rich black fruit.

Umani Rochi Villa Bianchi 2016 ($9, purchased, 12%): This Italian white is not quite $9 worth of wine – very tart (citrus fruit?), too simple, and not crisp or fresh enough to balance the tartness.