Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.
The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.
In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.
Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted
The Val D’Oca Prosecco offers surprising quality and value for a New Year’s sparkling wine
Most Prosecco that costs less than $15 tastes mostly the same – a little sweet, not very sparkling, and kind of blah. There’s nothing really wrong with these version of the Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not something that you look forward to drinking. Enter the Val D’Oca Prosecco.
The Val D’Oca Prosecco ($12, purchased, 11%) has most of the things that the others don’t. Yes, it’s a little sweet, but the sweetness is balanced by a touch of citrus (lime?). Meanwhile, the bubbles are surprisingly tight and bubbly for a Prosecco, and the finish is actually clean and almost crisp. Again, that’s not common for a Proseocco at this price.
Finally, it’s also quite food friendly, whether to pair with something like grilled shrimp with with fried appetizers like frito misto. In this, it’s too well made to use for mimosas.
Rather, it’s exactly the kind of wine to toast the New Year with when you don’t want to spend $40. Highly recommended, and this comes from someone who doesn’t usually say that about Prosecco.
I could have sworn there was something interesting to drink in here.
Reviews 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: Cleaning out the wine closet at the end of the year, but not finding much to drink
• Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($12, sample, 13%): The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region in Italy produces sound, value-driven red wines. This is not unpleasant, with some cherry fruit, but it is also a little green and rough, almost old-fashioned. There are better made examples of this kind of wine. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass
• Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Premiumization run amuck — $8 or $9 worth of a California red (some cabernet tannins and black fruit) but that looks and smells like it went through intensive winemaking to goose up the price.
• Kin & Cascadia Pinot Noir 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): A pleasant, Oregon pinot noir that tastes like it came from Oregon (some brambly berry fruit, a hint of spice). But it costs $15 because that’s what entry level pinot noir costs these days.
• La Granja 360 Cava Brut NV ($7, purchased, 11.5%): This Trader Joe’s Spanish bubbly, pleasant and sweetish, tastes more like Italian Prosecco than cava. But if you don’t mind the style (common for Trader Joe’s sparkling wines), than you’ll appreciate the soft fruit (less tart green apple and more red delicious) and a much softer mouth feel. But the bubbles are tight, and you can do a lot worse at this price. Imported by Evaki
• Da Luca Prosecco NV ($10, sample, 11%): Acceptable, fairly priced Italian sparkling wine. It’s not especially sweet, which surprised me, but it’s still soft, though the bubbles are tight and the lemon fruit holds the wine together. Imported by Accolade Wines North America
• Dellara Cava Brut NV ($6, sample, 12%): This Aldi Spanish sparkler is a step up from similarly priced supermarket wines like Freixenet. Look for tart lemon and green apple fruit, decent bubbles, and some minerality. Imported by Mack & Schuhle
• De Chanceny Crémant de Loire Brut NV ($17, sample, 12.5%): Professionally made bubbly from France’s Loire, with the telltale chenin blanc lemon fruit and hint of softness. Tight, poppy bubbles and just enough acidity. Imported by Signature Imports
• The Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir 2018 ($29) is the current vintage of one of the best wines I have tasted in almost three decades of doing this. It’s a California wine made with the gamay grape in a region far, far off the tourist track. There usually isn’t much of it, so when I saw it on wine.com, it moved to the top of the holiday wish list. Highly recommended, and marvel at how this wine reflects the berry fruit of the gamay, as well as its terroir.
• Italy’s white wines are too often overlooked, and especially those made with the arneis grape. The Vetti Roero Arneis 2018 ($22) is one such example — almost nutty, with wonderful floral aromas and the soft, citrusy flavors. Drink it on its own, or with holiday seafood or poultry. Highly recommended.
• The Repour Wine Saver ($9 for a 4-pack) is a single-use stopper that preserves leftover wine one bottle at a time. In this, I was surprised at how well it works, and it’s not as expensive as more complicated systems like the VacuVin.
• Wine-Opoly ($21), because why shouldn’t we try to take over the wine world just like Big Wine? No dog or iron playing pieces in this wine-centric version of Monopolyl rather, they are wine bottles.
Thanksgiving is the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite holiday. When else do we get to get to share lots of wine and good food for no other reason than wine and good food? Plus, there is cooking, and it doesn’t get much better than the way a roasting turkey in the oven makes the house feel. The blog’s guidelines for holiday wine buying are here.
These Thanksgiving wine 2019 suggestions should get you started:
• Maison Albert Bichot Chablis 2016 ($20, purchased, 12.5%): This French white wine, made with chardonnay, gets surprisingly low marks on CellarTracker, the blog’s unofficial wine inventory software. Which is just one example of how useless scores are. This is delicious white Burgundy at a price I can’t imagine, crisp and lemony and minerally. Highly recommended. Imported by European Wine Imports
• Georges Vigouroux Pigmentum Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This French pink from the always dependable Georges Vigouroux uses malbec to its best advantage, with not too much dark fruit and a clean and fresh wine. It’s a nice change from everyone making Provencal-style roses. Imported by AP Wine Imports
• Azienda Vitivinicola Tonnino Nero d’Avola 2017 ($14, purchased, 13%): Interesting Sicilian red that more resembles Oregon pinot noir than it does Sicilian nero. It’s more brambly, like berries, than the usual plummy fruit. It’s less earthy, and the acidity is more noticeable. Imported Bacco Wine & Spirits/em>
• Scharffenberger Brut Excellence NV ($20, sample, 12%): California sparkling that tastes like it’s supposed to at a fair value — creamy, yeasty, apple fruit, not too tart, and soft but persistent bubbles. In this, it’s a tremendous value.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with perhaps the most classic of all dishes, roast chicken.
When I taught wine to culinary students, they always asked what my favorite dinner was — no doubt expecting some over-complicated, over-sauced French haute cuisine adventure to pair with $300 wine. My answer always surprised them: Roast chicken served with a simple pan sauce, green noodles, a green salad with a mustardy vinaigrette, and crusty French bread.
Because when it’s a top quality chicken and the skin is brown and crisp, what else do you need but terrific cheap wine?
The catch, of course, is finding an affordable quality chicken. Most supermarket chickens don’t have any flavor to begin with, and they’ve often been frozen and defrosted and frozen again as they go through the supply chain. Hence, the meat gets almost crumbly after it’s cooked. Find a chicken that has avoided that, usually at a specialty grocer, and you’ll be stunned at the difference.
The other key: Finding the best roasting method. I’ve tried almost all of them, including smothering the skin with gobs of butter, roasting in a rack, and stuffing the cavity with lemons and herbs. But nothing seems to work as well as Jacques Pepin’s Chicken Roti. It’s simple and direct and delicious. You brown the chicken on each side in a hot oven, and then finish the bird on its back, basting with the pan juices occasionally. Yes, it can cause an undue amount of smoke in the kitchen, and flipping the chicken during roasting takes some getting used to. But it’s well worth the effort
• Zestos Old Vine Rosado 2018 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish pink is one of the world’s great cheap roses — bright and fresh and almost minerally, but with more fruit than a Provencal rose (strawberry?). Highly recommended. Imported by Ole & Obrigado
• La Cornada Crianza 2015 ($5, purchased, 13%): I bought this Spanish temprnaillo at Aldi in February, and it was enjoyable. I’ve since bought a half-dozen more, and it keeps improving with age — more Spanish in style, less oaky, and cherry fruit that stays in the background. There’s even a little earth.