Tag Archives: Chianti

Mini-reviews 92: 2016 closeout edition

2016 closeout editionReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month. This month, the 2016 closeout edition.

Kenwood Jack London Zinfandel 2014 ($25, sample, 14.5%): OK California zinfandel that isn’t what it once was, when it ranked with Ridge for quality. But it fits the parameters for what zinfandel is supposed to taste like today. Lots of sweet black fruit, though a bit of spice and earth on the back.

Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva 2013 ($25, sample, 13.5%): Not very interesting Italian red wine without much fruit but with a lot – and I mean a lot – of acidity. It was so out of whack I wondered it was flawed in some way.

Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville 2007 ($45, sample, 15.5%): No, not a typo, but a California red that I got as a sample when the blog started and has been sitting the wine fridge since then. It’s made to taste exactly the way it tastes to wow the Winestream Media. In other words, rich, elegant, not quite sweet grape juice with some oak. If you like that style, you’ll love this wine.

Bodegas Salentein Killka Malbec 2014 ($13, sample, 14%): Competent premiumized Argentine red wine, with less fruit than most. But in the end, it’s still sweetish and not very interesting – another in a long line of malbecs made to taste a certain way and do that one thing very well.

Wine of the week: Trambusti Benedetto Chianti 2015

Trambusti BenedettoThe Trambusti Benedetto Chianti is a $5 wine that puts $20 wines to shame

The idea that all wine should taste alike, that the International style is the goal that all wine should aspire to, makes the Wine Curmudgeon crazy. Imagine if we did that for bread – everything would be light, fluffy, and sweet, and the world would be stuck with Wonder Bread.

So why do we do it for wine? Call it misguided if you’re being generous; greed comes to mind if you’re not. In either case, the Trambusti Benedetto ($5, purchased, 12.5%) is a testament to letting wine be wine.

This is cheap Chianti (the red wine from Italy’s Chianti region that is made with sangiovese) the way it should be. It’s not sort of soft, the way some enjoyable cheap Chianti can be, but fresh, sharp, on point, and with lots of tart cherry fruit and that certain Chianti earthy and herbal combination. In this, it’s different from the 2014, which I liked well enough; that there is a welcome vintage difference in a $5 wine speaks to the idea that the producer long ago left Wonder Bread behind.

Compare it to the $18 so-called Sicilian red in this post, and you’ll be stunned at high much more interesting the Benedetto is. Highly recommended, and just the thing to keep on hand for take out pizza. It probably won’t make the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame, but I will think long and hard about it. Also, this is an Aldi wine, and if Aldi and its archrival Lidl focus on quality like this, they’ll change the U.S. grocery store wine world forever.

 

Five cheap Chiantis

cheap chiantiOne of the handful of real values left in wine is Chianti, the red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy. Why are cheap Chiantis so common? Maybe because there is so much in Chianti in the world, or that it’s not popular with wine drinkers who are not of a certain age, or because the Italians just do it that way.

Regardless, these five cheap Chiantis – four cost $8 or less – are varietally correct, with sour cherry fruit and that certain tartness that identifies the wine as Italian, and they offer as much value as other red wines costing twice as much. Plus, they’re low in alcohol, which makes them an ideal red wine as the weather warms and spring turns into summer.

Pair these with any food remotely associated with red sauce or sausage, as well as almost anything grilled outdoors, including chicken, and the odd meatloaf or hamburger. And I speak from personal experience – these wines have more than once rescued an evening where circumstances forced me to eat corporate takeout pizza.

Melini Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%). Look for berry fruit, more black than red, clean and fresh, and just enough character — some tannins and earthiness — to let you know this is wine from Italy. It’s a simple wine, but as I have noted before, simple does not have to mean stupid.

Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%) from Aldi tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but “this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5. It’s simple and juicy, with a touch of cherry fruit, and softer than most of the rest of the wines in this post.

Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) may be the best cheap Chianti of the bunch, with more depth than the Melini, some earthiness, black pepper, and grip that’s rare in an $8 wine. Plus, the sour cherry and tart acidity are spot on, making this wine almost certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2017.

Caposaldi Chianti ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way that made so many of the Italian wines of my youth undrinkable. Almost as well done as the Straccali,

Placido Chianti ($8, purchased, 12.5%) is very, very simple, but still tastes like Chianti, a winemaking approach that California gave up on years ago in favor of lots and lots of sweet fruit regardless of what the wine should taste like. The Placido doesn’t insult the drinker, and if you’re stuck on the road late at night with one of those sodium- and gimmick-laden corporate pizzas, you’re in luck with this wine.

Wine of the week: Straccali Chianti 2014

Straccali ChiantiThe retail market, despite years of producers wishing otherwise, is still awash in cheap Chianti, the Italian red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany. Most of it, save for a couple of brands like Melini, tastes like you’d expect: harsh and bitter, with little reason to drink even though it costs less than $10.

Add the Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) to the first group. It’s not just a better value than the Melini, which I love, but a well-made wine that embarrasses all those $15 grocery store red Italians with their cute names and shiny labels. One of the great questions in Italian wine: Why, if the country’s winemakers can do something like the Straccali Chianti, do they do so many dull, overpriced, Paso Robles-style wines on the theory Americans prefer them? Trust me — we want quality, not marketing.

Look for more depth than the Melini, so that you have to swallow twice to get a hint of everything that’s going on. It’s also less rustic, with black pepper, red cherry, a little more grip, and the acidity that Chianti is famous for. One key to this wine: a touch of merlot is blended with the traditional sangiovese and canaiolo grapes, which rounds out the flavors and mouth feel. Plus, no oak, which lends more freshness than you expect.

Highly recommended, and almost certain to be added to the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame. Drink this as the weather cools on its own if you want a glass of red, or with pork or beef that will complement the crisp red fruit, as well as red sauce.

Wine of the week: Caposaldo Chianti 2012

Caposaldo ChiantiWho thought the Wine Curmudgeon would ever have anything nice to say about an Italian wine made with merlot? But that was before I tasted the Caposaldi Chianti.

This Italian red from the Chianti region in Tuscany is a brilliant example of traditional Italian style combined with modern winemaking techniques. The Caposaldi ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way. And much of that is because it’s a blend, with the traditional sangiovese complemented with 10 percent cabernet sauvignon, 10 percent merlot and 5 percent malvasia, a white grape. The cabernet adds some heft, the merlot adds freshness to the fruit, and the malvasia softens the sangiovese. The result is amazing.

In one respect, this isn’t new, since blended Chianti, even with white grapes, has been allowed for decades. But this style of blend takes a different approach from those who use the cabernet and merlot to make a wine more New World in style — fruitier and less dark. Here, though, the two grapes reinforce the Caposaldo Chianti’s Italianness. This makes it perfect for any food that has pork, tomato sauce, beef, noodles, cheese, or any combination thereof.

Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame — another example of what a winemaker who wants to offer the best value can do when value and quality are what matter most.

Wine of the week: Melini Chianti Borghi d’Elsa 2013

Melini ChiantiThis summer, the Wine Curmudgeon attended a big-time Italian trade tasting, which included five Chiantis from the Melini producer. None of them cost more than $25 or $30, which is saying something for big-time Italian trade tastings.

All of which means that the 300-year-old Melini knows a thing or two about making quality cheap wine, and the Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%) amply demonstrates this expertise. It’s a red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Italy, and every time I taste it, I’m surprised by how well done it is. Look for berry fruit, more black than red, clean and fresh, and just enough character — some tannins and earthiness — to let you know this is wine from Italy. It’s a simple wine, but as I have noted before, simple does not have to mean stupid.

The other that impresses me about the Melini Chianti? The company doesn’t waste money on the bottle, which is lightweight and without much of a punt. Would that other cheap wine producers did the same thing.

This is winter red sauce wine, and braised pot roast wouldn’t be so bad, either. If it’s not quite a $10 Hall of Fame wine, it’s still better than most of the $10 wine on store shelves, and shows just how much great cheap wine there is in the world.

Wine of the week: Cecchi Chianti Natio 2011

cecchi-chiati-natio-362x630The joke in my corner of the wine world, which really isn ?t a joke, is that we call the Italian Wine Guy whenever we have an Italian wine question ? availability, recommendations, even what to order when we ?re in a restaurant (one of the best reasons ever for cell phones). That ?s because Italian wine is incredibly complicated, the most difficult subject in wine. Sicily has as little to do with Tuscany as it does with Paso Robles.

The wine guy, though, is always calm, always knowledgeable, always eager to help. I would not be as enthusiastic about Italian wine as I am without his wisdom ? the wine is out there, look for it, try it, don ?t be derailed or sidetracked by the hype and bluster.

The Cecchi ($13, sample, 13%) shows what I have learned. Frankly, it probably would have been exiled to the cases of sample wines that sit in the closet, never to be tasted, but for the wine guy ?s example.

It was an amazing wine, especially for the price, with layers and flavors I didn ?t expect. There was very little red fruit and an almost oregano herbal-ness when I opened it. Yes, it was balanced and interesting, but not quite there, almost too clean and austere. But then I had a sip after a bite of roasted pork shoulder with garlic and rosemary, and it did what every great wine is supposed to do ? give more of itself. The food brought out cherry fruit that hadn ?t been there before, as well as richness and complexity that made me almost gape in amazement.

Highly recommended, and another reason why Italian wine offers so much value for so little money.