The 2017 vintage of the Melini Chianti is as different as it is unexpected
Something odd is going on the current vintage of the Melini Chianti, an almost always dependable $6 red wine. Either the wine is genuinely softer and fruitier, or someone dumped many bags of sugar into the barrels.
The Wine Curmudgeon prefers to think it’s the former. If there is added sugar in a cheap wine as venerable as the Melini Chianti ($6, purchased, 13%), then it’s time to go back to sports writing. And who wants to do that?
Because this Italian red, made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany, is much rounder and less sour than it has been for years, with a sort of sweet cherry fruit and a kind of forest floor finish where it didn’t have much of a finish at all before. It’s about as far from the simple, tight-cornered, and tart cherry Melini as possible.
It still mostly tastes like Chianti, but more of a New World version. Again, I don’t know that this is a bad thing as much as it is unexpected. And the Melini still pairs with the usual sorts of red sauces, takeout pizza, and the like.
So chalk the change up to a vintage difference, and hope for the best next time.
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.
• Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.
• Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.
• Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.
• Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.
Two Italian wines from a Big Wine company, but only one of them tastes like it came from Italy
This is where we are in the wine business in 2019 – two Italian wines from the same Big Wine company, one of which is varietally correct, terroir-driven, and a pleasure to drink, while the other tastes like it was put together by a marketing company and is about as Italian as a pair of panty hose. Why does anyone think this will advance the cause of wine?
The insolia white wine ($14, sample, 12.5%), made by Zonin1821’s Feudo Principi di Butera subsidiary in Sicily, is Big Wine done right. The insolia grape is native to Sicily, and it’s not necessarily easy to work with. But the Butera is all should be – tart green apple fruit, lots of spice and almond, an almost stony finish and even some green herbs. It’s Hall of Fame quality, a white wine that is neither chardonnay nor sauvignon blanc and a reminder of how much value Sicilian wines can deliver. This is seafood wine – risotto with shrimp, perhaps?
Which brings us to the panty hose. The second wine is a sauvignon blanc from Zonin1821’s Ca Bolani in northern Italy’s Fruili region. Italian sauvignon blanc has long taken a back seat to pinot grigio, which probably explains why the Ca Bolani ($14, sample, 12.5%) tastes the way it does. Or, as a friend said when she drank it, “Why did you open this wine? You know I don’t like New Zealand sauvignon blanc.”
Which is exactly what it tastes likes – big, huge smacking gobs of grapefruit. It’s a well made wine, and there is even a little something trying to peek out from behind the grapefruit. And $14 isn’t a bad price. But none of that really matters, since it raises a larger question: Why would I want to buy Italian sauvignon blanc that tastes like it came from New Zealand? Isn’t that what New Zealand sauvignon blanc is for? Shouldn’t Italian wine taste like it came from Italy?
Apparently not. These days, the goal seems to be to make all wine taste the same, so it will be easier to market. Because Big Wine. Hopefully, no one at Butera will realize this and turn the insolia into Paso Robles chardonnay. Because then I would have another reason to worry about the future of the wine business.
The Marchesi di Barolo Maràia may not be as well known as its nebbiolo-based cousins, but it offers much in value and quality
One of the advantages of the quality independent retailer? That you can pick almost anything off the shelf, even if you don’t know much about the wine, and figure you have more than a decent chance of buying something you’ll enjoy. Which is exactly how I bought the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia.
Italian wine is probably the most difficult to understand in the world, what with an almost infinite number of grapes (many of which have different names in different parts of the country), a dizzying array of regions, and a mostly incomprehensible appellation system. So, when there is no one to ask (and on this day there wasn’t), even those of us who make our living from wine have to take potluck.
Which is how I found the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This red, made with the barbera grape, is from the Monferrato region in Piedmont. That combination means it’s not as pricey or as respected as the nebbiolo wines from Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. (I told you this was complicated, didn’t I?)
But it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality bottle. Barbera makes bright, almost tart, red cherryish wines. The Maraia is more supple than that, and it wasn’t as taut as I expected. Still, the fresh fruit was there (more black cherry than red) and balanced with Italian-style acidity and soft tannins. In all, well made and enjoyable.
Drink this with winter roasts and stews, as well as sausage and red sauce.
Forget the the wine retailer foolishness: the Cellaro Luma Grillo is cheap and delicious
How deep is the abyss that the wine business has dug for cheap wine? Consider this, from a leading U.S. retailer’s description of the Cellaro Luma Grillo: “From the gorgeous hot landscape of Sicily. … approachably elegant. … a perfect partner to your favorite hot-weather dishes, like crab Louis salad. …”
Why does Sicily’s landscape matter to the quality of the wine? What does approachably elegant mean, anyway? And who knows what crab Louis salad is – let alone eats it? These days, it’s not enough to tell consumers that the Cellaro Luma Grillo ($10, purchased, 13%), an Italian white made with the grillo grape, offers quality and value, that it’s lemony and fresh, and that there’s a hint of minerality in the finish. And that we don’t need no stinkin’ crab Louis salad to pair with it; just whatever we want for dinner, and that is maybe made with olive oil, herbs, and garlic.
No, the marketers have to tart it up, make it something that it’s not – because who wants to buy a wine just because it’s cheap and tastes good?
Note to wine business: How about all of us?
The Cellaro Luma Grillo is highly recommended, one of the best wines I tasted in 2018. The only reason it’s not going in the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame in a couple of days is that availability is probably limited. It’s a previous vintage, for one thing, and the back label was in Italian. That’s hardly a sign there are thousands of cases waiting to flood U.S. supermarket shelves.
New Year’s sparkling wine 2018 recommendations for those of us who want value and quality
The one thing I was reminded of during the blog’s Champagne boycott? That Champagne, the sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France, is not the be all and end all when it comes to bubbly. Yes, it’s some of the finest wine in the world. But it’s also some of the most expensive. And we demand value on the blog, even when it comes to New Year’s sparkling wine 2018.
• Carpenè Malvolti Rosé Cuvée Brut NV ($17, sample, 12%): Nicely done Italian rose sparkling that’s not actually Prosecco — it’s a little sturdier in style and has firmer bubbles, though still made using the charmat method, Plus, pinot noir fruit (cherry? strawberry?), though $17 may be a bit much for some. Imported by Angelini Wine
• Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Cuvée No. 739 NV ($69, sample, 12%): Beautiful and fairly-priced Champagne that sits halfway between a more commercial yeasty, brioche cuvee and something that focuses more on fruit and acidity. Tight bubbles, a bracing finish, and tart green apple fruit. Highly recommended. Imported by Vintage 59
• Barcino Cava Brut NV ($15, sample, 11.5%): This Spanish bubbly is all one can ask for in a wine at this price, and then some. It’s taut, almost zesty, tart, and interesting. Look for lemon and apple fruit in wonderful balance. Highly recommended. Imported by Ole Imports
• Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, %): Quality $10 pink from the Languedoc, so it’s not quite as subtle as something from Provence. But the wine uses first-class grenache, so it’s not too jellyish. Hence a crisp, fresh, and enjoyable wine. Look for strawberry fruit and a stony kind of finish. Imported by Shaw-Ross International
• Château La Gravière Blanc 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white French Bordeaux is almost certainly the best cheap wine I tasted in 2018. It did everything cheap wine should do — offer value, be varietally correct, and taste delicious. Some lemon fruit with an almost grassiness, and old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t a New Zealand knockoff. Highly recommended. Imported by Luneau USA
• Rotari Trento Brut 2013 ($18, sample, 12.5%): Impeccably made Prosecco. the Italian sparkling wine. Look for berry fruit, plus more body and depth than in cheaper Proseccos, as well as deliciously tight bubbles. If there’s a catch, it’s the price. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports