Category:Italian wine

Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken

roast chickenThe 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

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. These three wines will do justice to the chicken — and not a chardonnay in sight:

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

Terre del Fohn Muller-Thurgau 2017 ($14, purchased, 12.5%): A beautiful white Italian wine that is made from muller-thurgau, an uncommon grape. It’s almost spicy, a little oily, and offers some light lime fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Tricana.

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.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 6: Louisiana-style shrimp boil
• Wine and food pairings 5: America’s Test Kitchen pizza
• Wine and food pairings 4: Oven-friend chicken and gravy

Wine of the week: Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! 2017

Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!!The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! remains a classic Italian cheap white wine

The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is one of the Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite cheap wines. So why have I reviewed it just three times in 12 years?

Availability, of course. What other reason could there be?

The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is the kind of cheap wine that Europeans understand implicitly – you buy it, you drink it with dinner, and you enjoy it. No posturing about scores and no fretting about pairings.

So why isn’t it regularly available? Your guess is as good as mine, and probably has something to do with changes in its importer and distributor over the past decade.

But when the Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is available, it’s always a treat (even at $10, as opposed to $8 the last vintage). It’s a white blend made with trebbiano and malvasia, plus an even more rare grape called roscetto. The result is a tart, lemony wine, and some years it can be really tart. The 2017 is comparatively subtle – less tart, more balanced, and even a bit of minerality.

I don’t know that I enjoyed this vintage quite as much, but that’s a personal preference and not about the quality of the wine. It remains as it has always been – enjoyable and well worth buying and drinking.

Imported by Winebow

Wine of the week: Sicalia Terre Siciliane 2016

Sicalia Terre SicilianeThe Sicalia Terre Siciliane isn’t very Sicilian, but it’s still worthwhile when you need a red wine for a weeknight dinner

Italian wine producers, even though they have thousands of indigenous grapes to work with, are fascinated by what they call “international” grapes — those we know as cabernet sauvignon, melot, chardonnay, and the like. Their efforts can be uneven – for every great Super Tuscan, where international grapes are blended with sangiovese, there are dozens of $8 and $10 washouts. Which is where the Sicalia Terre Siciliane comes in.

On the one hand, the Sicalia Terre Siciliane ($8, purchased, 13%) doesn’t taste especially Sicilian. There is little earthiness or dark fruit or Old World complexity. And why should there be, since it’s a red blend, featuring the Sicilian nero d’avola and the and merlot?

On the other hand, it’s an enjoyable weeknight wine. Who knew? That certainly wasn’t the case the last time I tasted it: “ashy and unpleasant.” This time, though, the Sicalia Terre Siciliane was juicy, with enjoyably tart red fruit, a clean finish, and tremendous value.

No, it’s not very Sicilian, and yes, it needs food. But given the state of cheap wine these days, you could do a lot worse when you want a $10 red wine for a weeknight dinner.

Imported by Enovation Brands

Mini-reviews 125: Guimaro, Castle Rock, Silverado, Bibi Graetz

guimaroReviews 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.

Guimaro Vino Tinto 2017 ($20, purchased, 13%): Solid, well-made, and very fruity (black cherry?) Spanish red made with the mencia grape. I wish it had had a little more earth and interest, but it’s young and should get some of that as it ages. Imported by Llaurador Wines

Castle Rock Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Napa Valley 2017 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Not a bad value for $18 – mostly a typical, ripe black fruit, rich and oaky Napa cabernet. But it’s not overdone, and you can drink it without feeling you’re eating Raisinets at the movies. The catch is that the suggested price is $25 (though it may be available at a lower price at some retailers).

Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato 2018 ($25, sample, 14.5%): Polished, New World- style rose (lots of berry fruit) with a bit of zip and a touch of heaviness from the alcohol. But it isn’t appreciably better or more interesting than a quality $10 rose.

Bibi Graetz Casamatta Bianco 2018 ($12, purchased, 12%): Italian white blend, mostly made with vermentino, that has tart lemon fruit, some floral aromas, and a crisp and rewarding finish. Very food-friendly; one of those wines to sip on the porch as summer ends. Imported by Folio Fine Wine Partners

Wine review: Three Citra Italian wines

Citra Italian winesThese three Citra Italian wines deliver everything great cheap wine should – quality, value, and a more than fair price

When the wine world looks to be at its worst and the Wine Curmudgeon is contemplating something as depressing as a return to sportswriting, great cheap wine always saves the day. This time, it was three Citra Italian wines.

Citra is a co-op, buying grapes from nine growers in one of the less well known regions of Italy, Abruzzo. Which, to be honest, is not always a sign of great things. But its consulting winemaker is the legendary Riccardo Cotarella, and that changes everything.

Cotarella is the man behind Falesco’s Vitiano wines, as good a cheap wines as ever made. These are wines – red, white, and rose – that you can buy and not worry about vintage or varietal. They will always been worth the $10 or $12 or $14 they cost. In fact, they’ve been in the $10 Hall of Fame for as long as there has been one.

The Citra aren’t quite that well made yet. But the three wines I tasted could get there sooner rather than later. Each of the wines is about $10 and imported by Winebow:

Citra Sangiovese 2017 (sample, 13%): This is what cheap Italian red wine should taste like — earthy, with tart red fruit and professionally made. It isn’t rough or amateurish, like a wine from the 1980s, and it hasn’t been focused group to take out the character and interest. Highly recommended.

Citra Montepulciano 2017 (sample, 13%): This red is another example of a red wine made with the montepulciano grape from the Montepulciano d’Aburzzo region that offers value and consistency — some tart and peppery red fruit, a clean finish and competent all around. A touch thin, but these wines aren’t necessarily supposed to be rich and full.

Citra Trebbiano 2017 (sample, 12%): Any review of this white is going to make it sound lacking, one of the perils of wine with the trebbiano grape. It’s not as lemony and as crisp as the Fantini trebbiano, and it doesn’t approach the grandeur of the Gascon Tariquet ugni blanc. But it’s not lacking when it comes time to drink it. Look for some tropical and soft citrus fruit, and buy a case to keep around.

Wine of the week: Cantia Cellaro Luma Grillo 2017

luma grilloThe 2017 version of the Luma grillo, an Italian white, is just as enjoyable and as delicious as the 2016 – and that’s saying something

Vintage difference is a good thing. What isn’t good is inconsistency from vintage to vintage, when quality appears and disappears seemingly at random. This is something that happens to wine at every price, a function of our post-modern wine world and its focus on price instead of value. So when you find a wine that shows vintage differences, but doesn’t show inconsistency, buy as much of it as possible. Which is the case with the Luma grillo.

The Luma grillo ($11, purchased, 12.5%) is a Sicilian white, and grillo is one of my favorite grapes. Grillo is a Sicilian specialty, and offers a welcome change from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc – not as rich as the former and not as tart at the latter. This vintage shows lemon and green apple fruit, and even some almond and spice. It’s exactly what grillo should taste like – balanced, interesting, and light but food friendly.

Highly recommended. This is a Hall of Fame wine and a candidate for the 2020 Cheap Wine of the Year, assuming availability isn’t a problem like it was with the equally wonderful 2016.

Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

 

Premiumization be damned: $139.36 for 14 ½ bottles of cheap wine

cheap wine

Look at all those bargains at Jimmy’s just waiting for us to buy.

It’s still possible to buy quality cheap wine for $10 a bottle

So what if the cheap wine news these days is about failure? The Wine Curmudgeon, undaunted by the obstacles of premiumization, perseveres. The result? 14 ½ bottles of quality cheap wine for less than $10 a bottle.

How is this possible? I followed the blog’s cheap wine checklist. It’s even more valuable today, when $15 plonk is passed off as inexpensive. So look for wine from less pricey parts of the world, wine made with less common grapes, and shop at an independent retailer who cares about long term success and not short term markups.

The retailer was Jimmy’s, Dallas’ top-notch Italian grocer – so the wines are all Italian. Here are the highlights of what I bought for less than $140, which includes a case discount but doesn’t include sales tax.

• A couple of bottles of the Falesco Est Est Est, $10 each. This white blend used to be $7 or $8, but it’s still a value at $10.

• A 350 ml can of the Tiamo rose for $5 – hence, the half bottle in the headline. There wouldn’t be an onus about canned wine if all canned wine was this well done, . Highly recommended.

• Banfi’s Centine red Tuscan blend, $10. The Centines (there is also a white and rose) are some of the best values in the world. This vintage, the 2017, was a little softer than I like, but still well worth $10.

Principi di Butera’s Sicilian nero d’avola, $10. This was the 2016, but it was still dark and plummy and earthy, the way Sicilian nero should be. Highly recommended.

• A couple of roses – a corvina blend from Recchia, $8, and the Bertani Bertarose, a $15 wine marked down to $8. Because who is going to buy a $15 Italian rose made with molinara and merlot? They were in similar in style – fresh and clean, with varying degrees of cherry fruit.

More about buying cheap wine:
Cheap wine checklist: $82.67 for a case of wine
Once more: A case of quality wine for less than $10 a bottle
Nine bottles of wine for $96.91