The Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco is a $10 Sicilian white blend that reminds me why I like Sicilian wine
The pandemic has limited my ability to find terrific cheap Italian wine, since I don’t get to Jimmy’s, Dallas’ legendary Italian grocery, as often as I used to. Fortunately, I was able to find the Zirtari Sicilia Bianco white blend elsewhere; it has long been one of the world’s great cheap wine values.
And this vintage of the Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco ($10, purchased, 13%) shows why that’s true. It’s made with a native Sicilian grape, insolia, and chardonnay, which leads to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. There’s some spice and a little green apple or pear fruit from the insolia, while the chardonnay fills up the background. This is kind of quality cheap wine I used to see a lot on store shelves, but that has slowly vanished. Not sure if it’s just more importer and distributor problems, or someone somewhere decided we’d rather buy $15 bottles of European wine designed by a focus group instead of $10 wine that tastes like it came from Europe.
Highly recommended. Chill this and drink it on its own (the spice is always a revelation) or pair it with grilled shrimp or chicken with lots of herbs.
“Damn, look at that review. The WC is in a foul mood this month.”
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, four wines you probably don’t want to buy, because I’m really, really tired of tasting wine that is so unpleasant.
• Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhone 2019 ($15, purchased, 14.5%): This French red used to be one of the most dependable $15 wines in the world. But this vintage is almost undrinkable. That’s not because it’s flawed or off, but because it has been manipulated to taste like it comes from a second-tier producer in Paso Robles – lots of sweet fruit, not a lick of tannins, and this hideous violet candy smell. Imported by Winebow
• Avalon Pinot Noir 2018 ($11, sample, 13.5%): This California red is the sort of pinot noir people buy because it’s cheap, and not especially because it tastes like anything. Think grape juice flavored with fake vanilla oak, in case any of you enjoy that.
• Jadix Picpoul de Pinet 2019 ($12, purchased, 14.5%): This French white is heavy and hot, and not anything picpoul should be – fruity, tart, and refreshing. Why would anyone make picpoul like this? Imported by Aquitane Wine Company
• Montalto Pinot Grigio 2019 ($12, sample, 12%): Someone, somewhere thought that Americans would love sweet Italian pinot grigio, and this is the result. My question? Why — isn’t there enough dry pinot grigio in the world? Imported by Mack & Schuhle
The former is a lovely $15 wine, while the latter is a $40 Prosecco. How can Italy be going in two completely different directions?
Premiumization has done horrible things to the wine business, so horrible that they go beyond cutting sales and alienating younger consumers. Thanks to premiumization, wine is becoming something not to drink and enjoy, but for collecting and for showing off. Case in point: these two Italian wines.
The Boffa Carlo Arneis 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%) is a beautiful, almost elegant white wine, with subtle lemon and stone fruit, nuanced minerality, and a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a tremendous value for arneis, a lesser-known grape where prices can top out at $30.
The Mionetto is a $40 Prosecco (sample, 11%). It’s a well-made and enjoyable sparkling wine, but in the end, it’s a $40 Prosecco, not all that different or better than the legions of $12 Proseccos cluttering supermarket aisles.
So how did Italy, a country with thousands of years of winemaking chops, go from the more or less traditional approach that gave us the arneis to one based on premiumization and a $40 Prosecco? Because decisions are increasingly made based on marketing and category management, and not on wine.
My guess? Someone, somewhere decided Mionetto needed a product to compete with Champagne and high-end California sparkling wine. So we got a $40 Prosecco – not because the world was demanding a $40 Prosecco or because the grapes were of such high quality that they would produce a wine worth $40. We got it so an Italian wine would be able to sit on a store shelf next to Champagne and grab some of that market share. Because if a wine costs $40, it must be worth it, right?
The same thing has happened with rose, where the marketplace has been flooded with $25 pink wine that is almost no different from $10 and $12 rose in anything other than retail price. The reason? Because people who buy $25 red and white wines have been taught that cheap wine is crap, so why not sell them $10 rose that costs $25? A rose producer I know can launch into a rant on that subject even more quickly than I can, which should tell you how widespread the practice is.
Finally, remember that this post is not about price, but about value, and that expensive wines can offer, value, too. That’s the Wine Curmudgeon’s mantra. The wine business will have you believe that value is no different from price, because that’s how it makes its money. Because, $40 Prosecco. But we know better, don’t we?
Fourth of July wine 2020: Four bottles to enjoy for the United States’ 244th birthday
The Unites States celebrates its 244th birthday on Saturday, which means a need for quality cheap wine. Hence, these suggestions from the Wine Curmudgeon. As always, keep our summer wine and porch wine guidelines in mind: Lighter, fresher wines, even for red, since lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s 98 degrees outside (which is the forecast for Dallas).
Consider these Fourth of July wine 2020 suggestions:
• MAN Sauvignon Blanc 2019 ($10, purchased, 13%): This South African white is well-made and enjoyable — citrus (softer lemon?), but fruitier than France though not as tart as New Zealand. Simple, but enjoyable and a fine value. Imported by Vineyard Brands
• Olivares Altos de la Hoya 2017 ($12, purchased, 14.5%): This Spanish red, mostly monastrell, is a heavy, more Parker-style effort that is mostly balanced. There’s lots of dark fruit, and though it’s a bit hot, there is a surprisingly clean finish. Imported by Rare Wine Co.
• Masciarelli Rosato 2019 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This Italian pink is a revelation: Barely ripe strawberry fruit, an almost chalky finish, and so much else going on it’s difficult to believe that it doesn’t cost $18 and have a too cute label. Highly recommended. Imported by Vintus, LLC
• Princesa Brut Nature Cava NV ($12, purchased, 11.5%): Brut nature is the driest sparkling wine, and this Spanish bubbly doesn’t disappoint. It’s crisp, very dry, and has cava’s trademark apple and pear fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Quintessential
The Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a brilliant, well-made, and delicious $10 Italian red wine
Some things, fortunately, haven’t changed for the worse during the duration. One of them is the Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
I first tasted this wine at the beginning of 2019 and loved it. My notes ask, “Where has this wine been all my life?” But, somehow, I neglected to use it on the blog. So when I saw a bottle of the Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($10, purchased, 13%) on wine.com, I bought it again, and this review is the result.
It’s not too much to call this wine brilliant, well-made, and delicious — everything $10 wine should be. The fruit this time wasn’t quite as dark and plummy as it was in 2019 (more tart and zippy, actually), but it was still earthy and still had all that bright Italian acidity. Mushroom ragu, anyone?
Highly recommended, and it should join the 2021 $10 Hall of Fame in January, as well as make the short list for 2021 Cheap Wine of the Year.
The Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with a mushroom ragu
The Wine Curmudgeon buys dried mushrooms, and then they sit on a back shelf, almost forgotten. So, when I found a package while rummaging through the pantry, I thought: Why not use them to make a mushroom ragu, a dish ideal for dinner at time when even ground beef is in short supply?
In fact, almost everything in this recipe can be substituted for what’s on hand. I like spinach noodles, but almost any noodle or spaghetti will work. Less expensive dried mushrooms will work just as well as pricey shitakes. Don’t have dried mushrooms? Then just use more fresh and substitute vegetable stock for the mushroom soaking liquid.
The other thing about this recipe? No tomatoes or tomato sauce. You can certainly add them if you want, but given how many of us are eating spaghetti with red sauce with regularity these days, a pasta recipe without tomatoes is likely most welcome.
• Santa Julia Reserva Mountain Blend 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): I bought this Argentine blend of malbec and cabernet franc when the European wine tariff was wine’s biggest problem, but not because I wanted to drink it. Once again, don’t judge the wine until you taste it. There is sweet berry fruit (but the wine isn’t sweet), as well as some grit and body from the cabernet franc. Very well done for this style, and people who appreciate this approach will want to buy a case. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• Badenhorst The Curator Red 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): Nicely done Rhone-style blend from South Africa, with rich dark fruit, soft tannins, and a pleasant mouth feel, There’s not a trace of the pinotage in the mostly shiraz mix, which is not easy to do. Imported by Broadbent Selections
• Cheap Chianti: This post, featuring five Chiantis costing $10 or less, speaks to pairing wine with food from the region. Each of them show why this is such a terrific idea.
Check out these six roses — cheap and delicious — for the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose celebration
There is lots and lots of quality rose out there at terrific prices as we continue the blog’s 13th annual Memorial Day and rose extravaganza with today’s post. But given the surreal way wine works these days, that’s both good news and bad.
Good because there is lots and lots of rose in the marketplace, keeping prices down. Case in point: I got a California rose sample this month that cost $2 less this year, and it was the exact same wine the producer sent me last year. Yes, a price cut in the wine business – as hard as it is to believe.
Bad because there is lots and lots of rose in the marketplace, much of it unsold from last year. That’s almost unprecedented for rose. But pink wine’s sales have slowed thanks to the general wine sales slowdown and the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t helped. In this, many producers have delayed release of the 2019 until they sell out. Bota Box, whose 3-liter rose is one of the best values in the world, isn’t releasing its 2019 until August. And I haven’t seen the 2019 Angels & Cowboys rose, always well-done, though there is lots of 2018 on store shelves.
Complicating matters is the 25 percent tariff on French and Spanish wine, which accounts for some of the best cheap rose in the world. It’s not so much that the tariff bumped up prices; in fact, I’m surprised so many producers didn’t increase prices more. Rather, importers cut their orders because they were unsure what they could sell given the general slowdown in wine. So there is still lots of great cheap Spanish and French rose, but there isn’t necessarily a lot from each producer.
Not to fear, though: The Wine Curmudgeon has found cheap, delicious, and honest roses (not sweet, not high in alcohol and not tannic). And don’t overlook the blog’s rose primer and the rose category (from the dropdown menu on the lower right), which lists 13 years of rose reviews.
Today, six standout roses – each highly recommended. Tomorrow, six more roses worth writing about:
• Bielet Pere et Fils Sabine Rose 2019 ($12, sample, 13%): This French pink is one of the world’s best roses every year, regardless of price. In this vintage, the cabernet sauvignon in the blend gives the wine a little more structure, depth, and body, plus a little darker flavor (blackberry instead of strawberry?). As it ages, the cabernet should go to the back and more red fruit will come to the front. Imported by Bieler et Fils
• Santa Julia Organica Rose 2019 ($6/375 ml can, sample, 13%): This is the same high-quality Zuccardi family rose that shows up under a variety of labels – this time, in a half-bottle sized can. Look for some not too ripe berry fruit, a bit of structure, and a fresh finish. Let it open up, and it’s even better in a glass. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.
• MontGras Rose 2019 ($15, sample, 12.5%): This Chilean pink made with zinfandel is quite fruity, with lots and lots of red berries. But it’s not sweet. Quite interesting, in fact, and perfect for anyone tired of the taut, crisp, Provencal style. Imported by Guarachi Wine Partners
• Banfi Centine Rose 2018 ($10, purchased, 13%): Banfi’s Italian Centine line offers some of the best cheap wine in the world today, and the rose is no exception. It tastes Italian, with a well-done crispness and soft cherry fruit. A touch short on the finish, but that’s not a problem. Imported by Banfi Vintners
• Mont Gravet Rose 2019 ($10, sample, 12%): This French label is all a $10 rose should be — a little bit of not quite ripe berry fruit, crisp, clean and fresh. It’s not fancy or flashy; rather, it’s wine for people who care more about what’s in the bottle than the marketing campaign. (And the 2018 is still yummy, too – I’ve got six bottles in the wine closet). Imported by Winesellers, Ltd.
• Charles & Charles Rose 2019 ($12, sample, 11.4%): Winemakers Charles Bieler and Charles Smith combine on this Washington state rose, which shows up on this list every year. The 2019 is stunning – low alcohol, bone dry, with pleasingly crisp and tart strawberry fruit.