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.
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:
? Los Vascos Chardonnay 2010 ($10, purchased): Not what it once was, and can’t be the same wine that several readers suggested I try. Some green apple, but heavy and oily — not good characteristics in a $10 chardonnay.
When the Wine Curmudgeon tastes this wine, he is not only enjoying one of the best $10 wines in the world, but remembering the day when he embarrassed himself in front of the legendary Riccardo Cotarella — not just once or twice, but three times.
The first instance has been documented, and the second I'll save for another day. The third came while tasting the rose, when I asked Cotarelli if the wine shouldn't be colder. It was at red wine temperature, and I had always been taught that roses, like whites, should be chilled 10 or 12 degrees more. No, no, no, he said. Don't drink it chilled. You'll never taste all of the flavors.
This was an amazing thing to say. First, how many $10 wines have more than one flavor? Second, it's not unusual for winemakers to want critics to taste their wines chilled, since that covers up most flaws. Third, Cotarella was correcting a critic, and while many, many winemakers would like to do that, most of them figure discretion is the better part of valor. Too many wine writers, secure in the knowledge that we already know everything, don't react well to criticism.
But Cotarella, secure in his talent and the quality of his wine, said what needed to be said. And I will always be grateful for that. This vintage ($10, purchased) is as well done as always, with some bone dry strawberry fruit and the nooks and crannies of quality that define the Cotarella style. Drink it over the Labor Day weekend on its own or with burgers or barbecued chicken, and you'll know why there is a special Falesco wing in the $10 Hall of Fame.
Where has this wine been all my life? It does everything a great cheap wine should — reflects its origins, pairs with food, and doesn't cost a lot of money. Make room in the Hall of Fame, as well as the wine closet, since I'm buying a case.
The basics, quickly, about the La Fiera ($8, purchased) before the Wine Curmudgeon goes into lyrical, wine writer overdrive: It's a red wine from the Abruzzo region east of Rome and is made with the montepulciano grape (and is not be confused with the pricer Montepulciano from Tuscany, which is made with sangiovese). Wine quality in Abruzzo has improved significantly over the past decade or so, but prices have remained more or less the same.
Which is one reason why this wine is so exciting. The La Fiera smells oh-so-Italian, and tastes of very sour cherries. Plus, it has that wonderful dark earth quality that isn't so much a flavor or an aroma, but more of a presence — something that so many wines, of all prices, aspire to but fail to deliver. One sip of this and you'll be thinking of your mom's spaghetti and meatballs. It's also perfect for grilled sausages and peppers over the Labor Day weekend. Highly recommended.
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.