Tag Archives: Italian wine

Wine review: Bolla Valpolicella 2009

This is the first wine I ever drank. It is, in fact, the first wine I have any memory of. In the 1970s, if you were a “serious” wine drinker in the United States, you drank French Beaujolais, California burgundy or chablis (which were not necessarily pinot noir or chardonnay), German liebfraumilch, Lancers and Mateus rose, or the Italian Bolla. My father, an Italophile, drank the Bolla.

Which meant I did, too. I brought it with me with when I went to someone’s house for dinner. I bought it to impress girls (one of my first big dates, actually). I had no idea whether the wine was any good. I knew very little about wine 30 years ago; the Bolla was wine, and that was good enough.

Bolla, as a brand, mostly disappeared in the 1990s. It was bought and sold several times, and I had not seen it in years. And then, at the grocery store this week, there it was. I checked with my Italian wine expert, who told me, yes, the current owners dusted the brand off, changed the label, and are bringing it back.

Memory is part of wine, as much as the grapes or the soil. This is one of Alfonso Cevola’s favorite themes, that it’s not just what the wine tastes like now, but what we remember of the tasting — who we were with, where we were, what we were doing when we tasted it. So when I opened the Bolla ($6, purchased), I was thinking about my dad and Chicago in the 1970s and the girls I bought it for. The Wine Curmudgeon was sipping and analyzing, but Jeff Siegel was remembering.

So maybe this is memory talking. Maybe the Bolla isn’t what I tasted the other day — young and disjointed, yes, but fresh and clean, with a funky Italian nose and lots of sour cherry fruit. It’s an incredible value at this price, a wine for winter stews and red meat and tomato sauce. And, of course, for memory.

Wine of the week: Maremma Toscana Rosato 2009

I can hear the complaining now: "Not another rose, Wine Curmudgeon. Aren't you tired of them yet?"

Not at all. I've never understood the reluctance for rose among so many wine drinkers (and sparkling wine too, for that matter). It's cheap and it's food friendly. And, best of all, it's cheap. Some of the hesitation, certainly, comes from the wine drinker's reluctance to be caught drinking pink wine, since they are terrified this will bring stares and giggles from the wine snobs. Fortunately, I don't care about stuff like that. And, with Thanksgiving a couple of weeks away, roses like the Maremma are the kinds of wine that more people should consider.

So what about the Maremma ($11, purchased)? It's Italian, a blend of sangivoese and cabernet sauvignon from Tuscany. Look for  pleasant tart cherry and cranberry fruit, but nothing too extreme, and a bit of a mineral finish. In this, it's a very old fashioned kind of rose — dry and unassuming. I tasted it, put the glass down, and wasn't sure if I liked it. But the next thing I knew, the bottle was mostly empty and I was thinking about how pleasant it had been. Drink this chilled, but pair it with food. Hamburgers would be good, and so would many chicken dishes.

Sicilian wine: Value and quality

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.

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Wine of the week: Falesco Vitiano Bianco 2009

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.

Wine review: Bivio Tuscan Red 2007

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.