Category:Italian wine

Riccardo Cotarella is a genius

image And it’s not because the Italian winemaker makes high end wine that gets big scores from the wine magazines. Or that the wine is merlot, hardly an Italian mainstay. Or that he is renowned the world over for his talent.

No, it’s because Cotarella makes some of the best $10 wine in the world. The Wine Curmudgeon regularly raves about the Falesco Vitiano red, white and rose. And if I needed any reassurance about how well made they were, consider this.

One of my local retailers had a bottle of the 2004 Vitiano white, stuffed on a back shelf and in need of serious dusting. This retailer doesn’t usually carry the white, though they do have the red and sometimes the rose. (It’s one of those vagaries of retailing that the Wine Curmudgeon has never been able to understand.)

Know, too, that inexpensive white wine isn’t made to last this long. Most should be drunk within two years — in this case, by 2006, or the middle of 2007 at the latest.

So the retailer and I huddled, and we decided I would pay for the wine, take it home, and taste it. If it had turned, I would bring it back and she would refund my money and get rid of the other half-dozen bottles on the shelf.

What do I mean by turned? In this case, the wine would have changed color, from a clear, crisp white to an aging newspaper kind of yellow. It also might have started to oxidize, becoming brandy-like as the cork failed and oxygen seeped in. Or it might become vinegarish (there’s actually one of those angel on a head of pin arguments about whether wine can turn to vinegar) for many of the same reasons.

So what happened? I checked the color — a touch yellow, but nothing untoward. I sniffed — not quite as fruity as it should be, but nothing off about it. I tasted it– a little thin and not quite as crisp as a newer vintage, but not spoiled by any means. I drank it with dinner (home-made egg rolls, stuffed with cabbage, bean sprouts, and onions) and served with Thai peanut sauce.

In other words, Cotarella made a $10 white wine that lasted four years. How impressive is that? I have tasted wine at two and three times that price that doesn’t hold up for two years. Or taste as good as the Vitiano at any time, for that matter.

True story: I met Cotarella five or six years ago when he was in Dallas, and tasted through his wines. He asked me what I liked best. We had had the pricey stuff, but me being me, I didn’t pick the merlot. I picked the Vitiano red — apologetically, but I picked it. Cotarella didn’t miss a beat. He was as gracious and as charming as he could be, and thanked me for my opinion and my time. What a guy. How many Napa winemakers would have let me off the hook so easily?


Pinot grigio: What’s in a name?

image Much pinot grigio has a poor reputation ? and deservedly so. Some of it is badly made Italian wine that gets shipped to the U.S. and sold to people who think it ?s supposed to taste like turpentine. Some of it is badly made U.S. wine, sold by companies piggybacking on the Italian wave.

How has this happened, with consumers paying as much as $25 for bottles of wine that really aren ?t very good? Much of it comes from people who want white wine that isn ?t chardonnay, and don ?t understand sauvignon blanc. Much of it comes from restaurants, which sell pinot grigio aggressively by the glass to people who want something more sophisticated than white zinfandel. In fact, it ?s the second most popular white wine sold in the U.S. according to Nielsen, and in 2006 it was even more popular than white zinfandel.

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Wine of the week: Tormaresca Neprica 2006

image One of the rules of this business is that one should only write about wines that are locally available. After all, what’s the point in waxing poetic about a wine that no one can buy?

Which brings us to the Neprica, a sample of which arrived this week and which I tasted immediately. That’s because it’s a $10 Italian red blend from Tormaresca, a very reliable producer that understands how to combine quality and value.

In fact, this wine is so good that I’m going to break the availability rule. Since I just got the sample, the wine probably isn’t in most stores yet. Never mind. Go to your local retailer and tell them to order some.

The Neprica is made with a local grape called negroamaro, plus primitivo and cabernet sauvignon. It’s darker in flavor than chianti, but it’s still low in alcohol and it’s not aged in oak. The latter gives it a fresher favor. I drank this with spaghetti and tomato sauce with mushrooms, and my only regret was that I didn’t have another bottle.

Tuesday tidbits

? Beard award nominations: The James Beard awards, the food world’s equivalent of the Oscars, has announced its 2008 nominations.  What is most noticeable are the categories that didn’t include any Dallas-area restaurants, especially outstanding wine service. Many people here think this is one of the best restaurant cities in the country, but this does not seem to be the view elsewhere. Personally, I’m not surprised about the wine snub. Save for a couple of places like Pappas Bros. and Cafe on the Green, this is a lousy wine restaurant town. Prices are way too high and wine lists are predictable and unimaginative. They’re also sadly lacking in Texas wine, which is unacceptable in a town that prides itself on regional cuisine.

Bottle Image ? A $3 wine winner: Oak Leaf Vineyards, run by the negociant firm The Wine Group, has won a bunch of medals, including a gold for its chardonnay, at several recent wine competitions. It’s available only at Wal-Marts that sell wine for $1.97 in California and $2.97 elsewhere.  I have not tasted this brand, but will do so and report back. The Wine Group is best known for buying the Big House labels from Randall Grahm a couple of years ago.

? Italian wine class: Alfonso Cevola, who is extremely tolerant of the Wine Curmudgeon’s personality, knows more about Italian wine than almost anyone. So it’s a big deal that he is going to hold a three-part Italian wine class in Dallas, starting at the end of this month. It will cover northern Italy, central Italy, and the South and the islands. The sessions are a warm-up for more in-depth classes later this year for Intermediate and  advanced Italian wine lovers. You can register on line or contact Michelle Anderson (214-794-0978) for information.

Wine tasting season gets underway

The Wine Curmudgeon always makes people laugh when he tells them that the wine business is hard work. Well, get ready to laugh, because this is the beginning of the new release season.

That means that over the next three months or so, I will be at a lunch or a tasting three or four times a week, sampling various new vintages. It means paying careful attention when a very enthusiastic winemaker describes his harvesting techniques or her favorite clonal selections. (Are any readers bored yet?)

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Wine of the week: Ajello Bianca 2006

image Those of us who love cheap wine love to share cheap wine finds, which means I’ve been getting whispers about Sicilian wine for a couple of years.

The quality of Sicilian wine has improved dramatically in the past decade, while prices have stayed pretty much the same. That’s because Sicily gets very little respect from the wine snobs. In addition, most Sicilian wine is made with grapes only a master sommelier has ever heard of, which makes it more difficult to sell

The Ajello is a perfect example of all of that. It’s cheap (list price is $12, so it’s probably available for around $10 at some places) and it tastes great. Really, really great. It’s a white wine, but without any of the off-putting turpentine flavors in similarly priced pinot grigio. Instead, it’s clean, clear, and crisp, with a mineral-like finish. Don’t expect much fruit — just a bit of lemon (and you have to look for that). This wine is ideal for shellfish or grilled scallops, any kind of grilled chicken or even just drinking on a slow afternoon.

If the price holds up against the weak dollar, this is definitely a candidate for the 2009 $10 Wine Hall of Fame.

Wine review: Inama Soave Classico 2006

Those of us of a certain age will remember an Italian wine brand called Bolla, which was huge in the 1970s. Our parents drank it, and it lent an air of sophistication to an otherwise ordinary spaghetti and meatball dinner. My dad loved Bolla’s valpolicella

Bolla’s soave was one of the first white wines I remember drinking. Which means I have a soft spot in my heart for soave, and the Inama did nothing to change my mind. It was little tight out of the bottle, but opened up sufficiently to be a value at $14. It has good soave minerality, which means clear and crisp. It didn’t have quite the subtle lemon and apple fruit of great soaves, but I’m not complaining. Pair it with everything from takeout pizza to more formal fish and chicken dishes.