Tag Archives: Chianti

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.

Winebits 271: Algerian wine, Michigan, Italian wine

? Even bigger than France: Those of us of a certain age will remember Algerian wine as really cheap and not very good ? sort of like Two-buck Chuck without any redeeming features. I once asked a French winemaker, who was working in Wisconsin, what that was like. His answer? Making wine in Algeria prepared him for anything. The point of this is a terrific piece by Beppi Crosariol in Toronto's Globe and Mail talking about the glory days of Algerian wine, when the French colony was the world's leading exporter.

? Another liquor law battle: This time in Michigan, which has one of the most restrictive three-tier systems in the country and was the defendant in the Supreme Court case that liberalized direct shipping. A bill has been introduced in the state ?s legislature, by a pro-business Republican, to allow increased retail sales and to lighten regulatory burdens on the state ?s winemakers. Needless to say, a spokesman for the state ?s distributors didn ?t miss a beat: ?There are proposals which threaten the licensed three-tier system which exists today as it relates to separation of manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Those provisions are what help bring about an orderly marketplace. Who knew Michigan ?s small wineries were so powerful?

? Cheap Italian wine: Another winner from the Italian Wine Guy, discussing how many wonderfully pleasant and inexpensive Chiantis are available: ?Anyone who has waited at a bar for a table in any number of Italian-American places knows there is a lot of crappy overpriced Chianti being poured. Probably one of the reasons why folks think the wine has seen better days. But this tasting, done blind, was different. The wines seemed to have a sense of place. Yeah, they were humble and every-day friendly. But they weren ?t pretending to be something they weren ?t. ? What more can we ask of cheap wine?

Mini-reviews 35: Anne Amie, Chianti, Raimat, Cline

Reviews 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:

? Anne Amie Estate Riesling 2009 ($19, purchased): Lots of petrol on the nose, acid and lime fruit to balance what sweetness there is, and a nice slate-y finish. It’s not what I expected — a little more sweet and not as honeyed, but that’s more my problem than the wine.

? Fattoria Montellori Chianti 2009 ($13, sample): Thin but adequate, with black pepper and some red fruit. But there are better examples of Chianti that cost less.

? Raimat Castell de Raimat Albarino 2011 ($8, purchased): Simple, basic wine with lemon and some varietal character, but won’t be confused with better examples of albarino. A decent value and something to keep on hand if you want a glass for dinner.

? Cline Pinot Noir Cool Climate 2010 ($18, sample): Lots of red fruit (cherry and strawberry?), but not overly sweet, with some pinot earthiness and character. Just not sure if it’s $18 worth of wine.