? Parlay The Bookmaker 2005 ($20, sample): Lots of sweet black fruit in the middle of this red blend, but very well made with a long chalky finish and sturdy tannins. Not my style of wine, but well done nonetheless.
The Wine Curmudgeon has always wondered how to approach Chianti, which is not only the one Italian red wine that most Americans know, but the one Italian red wine that wine snobs turn their noses up at. If I review it, I run the risk of alienating both groups — a neat trick, of course, but right up my alley. The former would think the wine was too obvious for them, and the latter would think I was naive.
But that hasn't stopped me before; there are handful of reviews and a variety of references to Chianti on the site (and, quickly, Chianti is the region in Tuscany where the wine is made, using mostly the sangiovese grape). And it won't stop me now, because the Coltibuono ($10, purchased) is well-made wine that offers lots of value.
In this, it's a simple, young, lighter Chianti with big dollop of cherry fruit (which apparently comes from a small percentage of the canaiolo grape, which also softens the wine). But there is still the telltale Italian acid, which means the wine cries out for tomatoes, pork and cheese. Or, in other words, pizza. I drank it with olive and tomato bruschetta, and that was terrific, too.
? Wine Guerrilla Rebel Cru 2009 ($25, sample): Powerful zinfandel red blend with massive fruit, almost 15 percent alcohol and very little subtlety. If you like that style of wine, you're going to love this. Excellent example of post-modern California winemaking.
? Embotellado Rioja 2010 ($12, sample): Lots of red fruit in the middle. Nothing really wrong with it if you want a fruit forward wine that tastes like Australia but comes from Spain.
One of the reasons why the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys cheap Italian wine so much — besides its quality, of course — is the sense of adventure that is part of tasting the wines. For one thing, the grapes aren't what we're used to in the U.S. For another, the Italians often seem baffled by marketing their wines in the U.S., which further complicates the grape problem.
The Li Veli ($11, purchased) is a prime example. Or, as one of the comments on CellarTracker (the Wine Curmudgeon's unofficial wine inventory software) noted, "Not sure what primonero means. …"
In fact, this wine is a 50-50 blend of two red grapes from the Salento region in Puglia — primitivo and negroamaro, or Primonero. Get it? Told you the Italians were often baffled by U.S. marketing techniques. It's not like a California winery would ever call a wine CabLo.
Nevertheless, the wine is well worth drinking. It's very dark, almost plummy, and very Italian — spicy, earthy, food-friendly acidity and low alcohol (13 percent). The negroamarao seems to dominate, providing the fruit and earthiness, while the primitivo balances the wine. This is winter dinner red wine — red sauces, stews, and the like — even if you're not sure what the name means.
White wines from Tuscany in Italy are not as rare as $10 Champagne, but they’re rare enough. And really well made Tuscan whites are even more rare. So rare, in fact, that this wine’s importer doesn’t even mention the wine on its website. Tuscany only produces red wine, dammit, and don’t you forget it.
So look for the Maremma ($10, sample) and enjoy the laugh you’ll have on the wine snobs. It’s made with the vermentino grape, which is best enjoyed young and usually with seafood. And the Maremma fits this mold: Very, very bright, with crisp acidity — almost too much, which is saying something given the Wine Curmudgeon’s preference for crisp white wines from Italy. It also had a little more fruit than I expected (limeish), but not in an unpleasant, let’s fool the Americans way.
As noted, drink it with seafood (grilled shrimp), but also grilled chicken and as something to enjoy after a long day of holiday shopping.
Thank you so much for the 2009 Neprica ($12, sample). It’s a different wine than past vintages — a little darker, a little earthier and a little more tannic. This is not to say that it still isn’t one of the best values in cheap red wine that the Wine Curmudgeon has found. It is, and it shouts, “I’m an Italian wine, damn it, and don’t you ever forget it.” Which we don’t hear enough of these days, unfortunately, in the quest to dumb down wines for the so-called American palate.
The 2009 is just different, and needs food more than some of the other vintages did. In fact, I kept thinking about sausages and tomato sauce as I drank it. With garlic bread and a green salad with a tart, garlicky dressing. And those differences are a treat in a wine at that this price. After all, how much $10 wine tastes numbingly the same, year after year after year?
The first time time the Wine Curmudgeon tasted the Tormaresca chardonnay, I knew two things. First, that Italian chardonnay was not something most people wanted to write about. The Italians had plenty of other white wine grapes; what were they doing messing around with chardonnay? The other thing I knew was that Tormaresca made really good cheap wine.
So I really wasn’t surprised at the quality. Tormaresca, as a producer, is that good. Somehow, on their property in Puglia in the Italian boot heel, they do things that other wineries can only dream about.
The current vintage of the chardonnay ($12, sample) is better than ever — bright, clean and crisp (almost too much crisp, actually, though that should not be a problem as the wine ages). There is lots of green apple fruit, enough oak to complement the fruit but not to overwhelm it, and only 12 1/2 percent alcohol. As always, I wonder why the Italians can make such a pleasant chardonnay while so many in California, where chardonnay is an important grape, stumble in the dark trying to do the same thing. Drink this chilled on its own, or pair it with a variety of white wine food — roast chicken, spaghetti carbonara or even Sunday brunch.
And, for those keeping track of these things, I’ll review the current vintage of the Tormaresca Neprica during the blog’s Birthday Week in November — and yes, we’ll once again give a bottle away of Neprica.