It's more difficult to make quality cheap red wine than it is to make quality cheap white wine, which is always one of the challenges that the Wine Curmudgeon faces in finding a red to serve as the wine of the week. Complicating the issue this summer is Dallas' record-setting heat wave. I'm dedicated to what I do, but 14 1/2 percent red wines and 105-degree temperatures do not agree with each other, especially when I have to taste three of four wines at one time.
Thankfully, several wine regions still produce lighter and less alcoholic red wines, so I've been touring Spain and Italy this summer. Which, of course, I do a lot anyway, but I've been paying more attention over the last couple of months.
That's how I found the Berro ($10, purchased), stuffed on the shelf at what is probably Dallas' best Italian wine retailer (and wonderfully grungy and old-fashioned as well). It's from the Piedmont region and made with the barbera grape, which produces more rustic kinds of wines.
The Berro fits that description well. It was a little choppy toward the end, with too much oak showing (though that may eventually go away), but otherwise all was as it should be — sour cherry fruit, not especially heavy and low in alcohol at just 12 1/2 percent. The Berro needs food, like barbecue or burgers, and don't be afraid to chill it for 20 or 30 minutes. No, it's a not a fruity, New World-style merlot that you'll hardly notice going down, but that's not what I was looking for.
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. This month, in honor of the record-setting temperatures across much of the U.S., heat wave wines:
? Round Hill Chardonnay Oak Free 2010 ($12, sample): This wine deserves a real review, but I'm still waiting — after several calls and emails — to hear from the winery about availability, so it gets a mini-review. Lots of fresh pear and green apple with refreshing crispness. Highly recommended, assuming you can find it.
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. This month, a couple of roses to close out rose week.
? Mo t & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Ros 2002 ($80, sample): Classic in style, with lots of acid and fantastic bubbles. Could probably age for a couple of years more to give the fruit a chance to show. A fine gift for someone who appreciates Champagne.
? El Coto Rioja Rosado 2010 ($10, sample): Much more New World than Spanish in style, with lots more fruit (strawberry) than a Spanish rose would have. Having said that, it's still dry and a fine, simple, fresh rose for summer.
? Mart n C dax Albari o 2009 ($15, sample): Spanish white had lemon fruit and was a little fresher than usual, which was welcome. But it's still $2 or $3 more than similar wines.
? Cantina Tollo Pecorino 2009 ($16, purchased): This white was bright and Italian, which means not that much fruit (pears?), balanced acid, and long mineral finish. Highly recommended.
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.
? Shoofly The Freckle 2008 ($14, sample): This Australian white Rhone blend is starting to show its age, but does have pleasant honey floral aroma, sweet apple fruit at the back, and a peach pit finish.
? Stag's Leap Artemis 2003 ($40, sample): This is classic and elegant Napa cabernet sauvignon at a time when consumers expect trendy and pushy Napa cabernet. That those consumers don't appreciate it is their loss.
? Bella Sera Pinot Grigio 2009 ($8, sample): Simple, decent, and surprisingly pleasant Italian white wine. This won't offend anyone, which is saying a lot for pinot grigio at this price.
The Wine Curmudgeon is never quite sure what to make of the Layer Cake wines. A year-old review of the shiraz was one of the most popular posts on the blog in 2010, and it's still getting comments. Is it the quality of the wine that elicits so much enthusiasm, or the quality of the label, what with it featuring a chocolate cake?
For the primitivio ($12, sample) the answer is the quality of the wine. It's made in Italy, but done in a decidedly New World Style — lots of oak and lots of dark black fruit, with vanilla thrown in for good measure. But it also offers plenty of traditional zinfandel-style spice and brambliness, which helped balance the wine — and the alcohol is only 13 1/2 percent. Another point in its favor: I tasted the wine about a year ago, and it wasn't as interesting as this. Another year of bottle aging seems to have helped.
Why the zinfandel reference? Because primitivo is apparently the same grape, though there is still some debate about the subject. In this, too many Italian primitivos I've tasted, including one the other night to compare to the Layer Cake, go whole hog for the New World zinfandel style without understanding what's involved. It's not a pretty sight.
The Wine Curmudgeon does not approve of exclamation marks. If Hemingway didn’t need them, no one else does either. Which should give everyone an idea about the quality of this wine, since it has five exclamation points in its name.
The Est ($9, purchased) is a white blend of trebbiano, malvasia and roscetto (yet another obscure Italian grape, something that it seems all interesting Italian wines must have). In less capable hands, that grape combination can produce a wine that is all sweet and fruity. But Falesco, the producer behind Est, is one of the most capable hands in the world, and the Est lives up to Falesco’s long-standing tradition of cheap and well-made wine.
Look for a lemon/lime zest sort of flavor, more structure than a $9 wine should have, and some spice on the finish. Drink this chilled on its own, or with anything resembling fish. This wine would make even tuna casserole, made with cream of mushroom soup, taste better. And look for this in the 2012 $10 Hall of Fame, with Falesco’s Vitiano wines.
Gavi is one of those mysterious Italian wines that is made with one of those mysterious Italian grapes, the cortese. It's a white wine that comes from the Gavi region in a corner of Piedmont, there isn't a whole lot of it, what there is usually doesn't make it to the middle of the country, and it's often quite pricey. If I see Gavi at all, it's on restaurant wine lists, and even then it usually takes a back seat to the Super Tuscans and the rest of the publicity hounds.
So when I found the Araldica ($14, purchased) at a Dallas shop that specializes in Italian wine, and at a price about two-thirds of what most quality Gavis cost, I bought it. And I'm glad I did. The Araldica was much better than I had any right to expect, especially for the price. It had a bit of spice and some lemon fruit, and though it wasn't very sophisticated — no sun-drenched Italian beaches, which is what a great Gavi brings to mind — it was fresh and clean.
I took it to dinner with a wine rep friend of mine, and it was much better than the tired, chain-style Italian food that the restaurant served. Serve the Araldica with any seafood and especially shellfish, and I'm going to buy another bottle to have with spaghetti with clam sauce.