One of the biggest changes in the wine business over the past couple of decades or so has been in cheap wine. When I started doing this, cheap wine was mostly French, and we drank a lot of Beaujolais. Then, in the late ’90s, the Australians arrived, and we started drinking $10 shiraz with cute labels.
In the last 10 years or so, Chile (cabernet sauvignon and sauvignon blanc) and Argentina (malbec) have become known for their cheap wine. Meanwhile, the French are stuck with warehouses of lousy cheap wine that they can’t sell, and the Australians have their own crisis — too many vines and not enough demand, with important producers on the cusp of bankruptcy. Which would seem to mean that the Chileans and Argentines will have cheap wine to themselves for the foreseeable future.
But that’s not necessarily true. Slowly — practically in stealth mode, in fact — Sicilian wine has arrived in the U.S., and it offers better value and better quality than almost any other cheap wine in the world. So why haven’t you heard about Sicilian wine? First, because it’s Italian, and the Italians may be the worst wine marketers in the world. Second, because the wines are made with grapes like nero d’avola and grillo, which most of us have never heard of. Third, most of the island’s grape production was traditionally used to make wine in other parts of Italy, and it’s only in the last couple of decades that the grapes were used to make wine for export.
But the wines are worth looking for, despite those obstacles. After the jump, a few suggestions about what’s available.
Today's metaphysical question: How does Ricccardo Cotarella produce a wine of this quality, ship it to the U.S., overcome the high euro, and sell it for about $10? Most California wineries who do cheap wine can't even come close to this.
In other words, Riccardo Cotarella is still a genius.The Wine Curmudgeon has been drinking Falesco wines for almost 10 years, and I have never been disappointed, whether it's the red, white or pink. This vintage of the white, the Bianco ($10, purchased), is made with verdicchio and vermentino. They have produced a wine low in alcohol with tell-tale Italian acid and just enough fruit to appeal to American palates. Think of it as tart with a touch of lime, but fresh and clean and pretty close to fabulous. Highly recommended, and certainly in the $10 Hall of Fame.
Chill this and drink it on its own, with salads, or most any kind of chicken. Fried chicken, in fact, would be quite a nice pairing.
The most difficult thing to do as a wine writer is to keep an open mind. It's essential not to judge wines before you taste them, and it's even more important not to let a wine's pedigree — who made it, the size of the company, and the like — influence your opinion.
Which is the polite way way of saying that I didn't want to taste the Bivio ($12, sample), which had all the earmarks of an overpriced, poorly made corporate wine. The press materials used the term "refreshingly modern style," something that scared the hell out of me. In fact, the Bivio sat in the wine closet for eight months before I was brave enough to taste it. Stupid me.
The Bivio was much better than I thought it would be (which, again, is my fault, and not the wine's). It's a solid, dependable, inexpensive red blend (mostly sangiovese, with some cabernet sauvignon and merlot) with a bit more red fruit in the middle than traditional Italian wines. I'd drink it again. Yes, it's not quite up to the Tormareca Neprica or Faleseco Rosso, but how many wines are? Pair this with any red sauce kind of food, and even something like roast chicken. And don't let your prejudices get in the way of enjoying it.