Tag Archives: Italian wine

Did the Mafia take over one of Italy’s best cheap wine producers?

mafiaItalian anti-Mafia police raid Sicily’s Feudo Arancio in corruption probe

Feudo Arancia, whose wines have appeared on the blog more than once, may have been taken over by the Mafia. So say Italian police officials, whose financial police seized more than €70m (US$76 million) in assets from the Sicilian winery last week.

Details are still unclear, and it has been difficult to get anyone to talk about what has happened. I’ll update the post if I find out more.

Here’s what we know: The financial police, acting on a request from an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Trentino, seized 900 hectares of vineyards (about 2,200 acres) and several buildings at Feudo Arancio. Police say a Mafia group in Sicily was using Arancio to launder money; four people are reportedly being investigated.

Feudo Arancio is owned Trentino’s Groupo Mezzacorona, one of Italy’s biggest producers and whose $8 pinot grigio is ubiquitous in the U.S.. Mezzacorona executives have “strongly rejected the allegations.”

Feudo Arancio’s wines aren’t as consistently good as Falesco, but they’re worth the $10 they cost more often than not. I’ve reviewed three of them over the years, and the whites seem to be more interesting.

This Italian news report (use Google translate to make sense of it) reads like a pulp novel, complete with references to “men of honor,” the Cosa Nostra, “fugitive bosses,” and “a classic of fixing.”

The charges, if true, seem quite odd. A winery doesn’t appear to be the best place to launder money. It’s not a cash business, like a casino; cash flow, again, is limited; and there are extensive legal reporting requirements because alcohol is involved. But, given the success Italian police have had over the past couple of decades in combating the Mafia, this might have been the best the Mafia could do (assuming the charges are true).

Mini-reviews 130: Savoie rose, Cusumano, Grand Louis, A to Z Bubbles

savoie roseReviews 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

Domaine de la Rosière Rose 2018 ($13, purchased, 12%): Intriguing pink from the Savoie region in eastern France near Switzerland. There are green herbs, oddly enough, with a little red fruit and some spice. Made mostly with gamay, with some pinot noir and mondeuse, a local grape. Imported by Wines with Conviction

Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2018 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Sicilian red, once a great cheap wine, is fine for what it is, but there are plenty of $8 and $10 simple Italian reds that more or less taste like this – almost unripe dark fruit and lots of acidity. Imported by Terlato Wines International

Grand Louis Rouge 2016 ($11, purchased, 12.5%): This red Bordeaux blend (more merlot than cabernet sauvignon) is old-fashioned, but not in a good way — tart and and not very ripe fruit. Imported by Laird & Company

A to Z Wineworks Rose Bubbles ($16, sample, 12.5%): Surprisingly disappointing spritzy rose from an otherwise reliable producer. It approaches white zinfandel sweet, without anything to balance the sweetness. And the price is problematic.

Cheap white wine face-off: Sunshine Bay sauvignon blanc vs. Farnese Fantini trebbiano

cheap white wine face-off

Who needs Cage or Travolta? We have Sunshine Bay and Farnese Fantini.

Which of these two about $7 wines offer the best value in this cheap white wine face-off?

A variety of cheap white wines have served the Wine Curmudgeon well over the years, starting with the late and much lamented Hogue fume blanc. These are the kind of wines you buy in quantity, keep chilled, and know that when you drink it, the result will be quality, value, and enjoyment.

My current choice is the Farnese Fantini trebbiano, an Italian white that costs $8. But, with the appearance of Aldi’s Sunshine Bay, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, that costs $7, is it time to make a change?

Hence, this cheap white wine face-off.

• Price. The Fantini is $7.99, less the 10 percent case discount. That works out to $7.19 a bottle. The Sunshine Bay is $6.95 at my local Aldi, so it’s cheaper – but probably not enough to make a difference.

• Screwcap. Yes to both. This matters a lot, because I don’t want to go through a ritual when all I want is couple of glasses for no particular reason. This kind of wine should be open it and forget it.

• Quality. Are the wines professional and well made? Yes to both. Frankly, I was surprised. For one thing, there is still a lot of cheap, crummy Italian white wine in the world, and so didn’t expect much from the Fantini. But it is clean and crisp, without any off flavors or residual sugar. The Sunshine Bay, given Aldi’s track record in the U.S., was even more surprising. It’s much better made than similarly-priced New Zealand sauvignon blancs.

• Style. Do they taste like they’re supposed to? Yes, again, to both. The Fantini is lemon-lime-ish, simple but not stupid. The Sunshine plays up the New Zealand grapefruit style, but there;s a hint of tropical fruit in the middle, and the citrus doesn’t overwhelm the wine.

My choice? I’ll probably stick with the Fantini, since it’s more food friendly. But for those who like the New Zealand style or want a little more heft in their white wine, the Sunshine Bay is an excellent alternative. And I will keep buying it.

Wine of the week: Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo 2017

Cavaliere d'Oro PrimitivoThe Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo is an Italian red that tastes like an Italian red and not a California wannabe

Primitivo is an Italian red grape, usually identified as zinfandel even though they’re not exactly the same thing. But that hasn’t stopped countless Italian producers from hopping on the California zinfandel bandwagon, producing wines that don’t taste much Italian but do please a certain Baby Boomer palate. So where does the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo fit into this?

It tastes like primitivo.

Which, honestly, was the last thing I was counting on when I picked up the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo ($12, purchased, 13.5%). I bought the wine because I buy wine, even though I’m not sure I’m going to like it. Such are the demands of the blog.

But the Cavaliere d’Oro Primitivo was all it should be, and probably even a little more. It’s easily one of the best primitivos I’ve tasted, in that it didn’t taste like badly-made zinfandel. It was fruity (dark berries, plum), but there was much more – a touch of cocoa, some nicely done oak, tannins that offered just enough structure, and all in a well-rounded whole. Highly recommended.

Imported by TWE Imports

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariffs unless noted

Wine of the week: Cantina di Casteggio Barbera 2016

Cantina di Casteggio Barbera

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera offers much more than $9 worth of value in a tart, leathery style

Barbera grapes produce some of Italy’s best known and best expensive wines. So what’s a barbera doing as a wine of the week?

Because the Wine Curmudgeon can find value even in a grape that produces $80, $90, and $100 wines. The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera is the kind of wine that reminds us that one of Italian wine’s reasons for being is to produce affordable wine to drink with dinner.

The Cantina di Casteggio Barbera ($9, purchased, 13%) is wine for a cold winter night, a fire place, and a house full of rich tomato sauce aromas accentuated with a hint of garlic and the beef braising in the tomatoes. In this, it’s leathery, fruity (black cherry?), agreeably tart, and very Italian – and much more than $9 worth of wine for anyone who appreciates this style.

In fact, it needs food, and would be be a bit off putting without it, being so tart and leathery. But not to worry – it will also work in the summer with barbecue.

Pricing note: All prices are suggested retail or actual purchase price before the October 2019 tariff unless noted

Imported by Premium Brands

Wine of the week: Val D’Oca Prosecco Extra Dry NV

Val D'Oca ProseccoThe Val D’Oca Prosecco offers surprising quality and value for a New Year’s sparkling wine

Most Prosecco that costs less than $15 tastes mostly the same – a little sweet, not very sparkling, and kind of blah. There’s nothing really wrong with these version of the Italian sparkling wine, but it’s not something that you look forward to drinking. Enter the Val D’Oca Prosecco.

The Val D’Oca Prosecco ($12, purchased, 11%) has most of the things that the others don’t. Yes, it’s a little sweet, but the sweetness is balanced by a touch of citrus (lime?). Meanwhile, the bubbles are surprisingly tight and bubbly for a Prosecco, and the finish is actually clean and almost crisp. Again, that’s not common for a Proseocco at this price.

Finally, it’s also quite food friendly, whether to pair with something like grilled shrimp with with fried appetizers like frito misto. In this, it’s too well made to use for mimosas.

Rather, it’s exactly the kind of wine to toast the New Year with when you don’t want to spend $40. Highly recommended, and this comes from someone who doesn’t usually say that about Prosecco.

Imported by Prestige Wine Imports

Mini-reviews 128: Cleaning out the wine closet, but not finding much to drink

wine closet

I could have sworn there was something interesting to drink in here.

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. This month: Cleaning out the wine closet at the end of the year, but not finding much to drink

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau 2019 ($15, purchased, 12.5%): This French red is about as good as nouveau gets this days — soft and berryish. But the regular Dupeuble is much better and not that much more expensive. Imported by Kermit Lynch

Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 ($12, sample, 13%): The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region in Italy produces sound, value-driven red wines. This is not unpleasant, with some cherry fruit, but it is also a little green and rough, almost old-fashioned. There are better made examples of this kind of wine. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

Flat Top Hills Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%): Premiumization run amuck — $8 or $9 worth of a California red (some cabernet tannins and black fruit) but that looks and smells like it went through intensive winemaking to goose up the price.

Kin & Cascadia Pinot Noir 2017 ($15, purchased, 13.5%):  A pleasant, Oregon pinot noir that tastes like it came from Oregon (some brambly berry fruit, a hint of spice). But it costs $15 because that’s what entry level pinot noir costs these days.