Tag Archives: Italian wine

Wine of the week: Farnese Fantini Trebbiano 2017

fantini trebbianoThe Fantini trebbiano is an $8 Italian white wine that’s perfect for keeping around the house

The Wine Curmudgeon has been looking for a white wine to keep around the house for a couple of years, since the new owner of the company that makes the Rene Babier white turned it into Spanish lemonade and the legendary Domaine du Tariquet lost its U.S. importer. The Fantini trebbiano may do the trick

The Fantini trebbiano ($8, purchased, $12) is an Italian white wine from the Abruzzi region in the east on the Adriatic coast. It’s made with trebbiano, the Italain version of ugni blanc, which is one of the grapes used in the Tariquet. As such, it produces a tart (lemon-lime-ish?) wine, and one that is clean, simple, and enjoyable. What more can you ask for at this price?

In this, the Fantini trebbiano is the white version of the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines that also offer varietal character at a fair price. These are basic, every day wines, the kind you drink when you want a glass when you get home from work or need something with takeout pizza or weeknight hamburgers. This is a very European approach to wine, where we don’t plan the meal so that it complements the wine, but we drink the wine because we’re eating dinner and glass of wine sounds good.

Imported by Empson USA

Wine for people who don’t drink much wine

people who don't drink much wineThree wines that offer quality and value when you’re serving wine to people who don’t drink much wine

The Wine Curmudgeon has entertained twice in the last month where the guests weren’t professional wine drinkers. That is, they were people who fit the profile of the typical U.S. wine drinker – someone who drinks a bottle of month and isn’t interested in the stuff that keeps wine geeks up at night.

The challenge then: How you buy wine to serve with dinner for people who don’t drink much wine? The goal is to pour something interesting that isn’t stupid or insipid, but won’t intimidate your guests. The key: Keep in mind that you want to serve wine other people will like, and not what you think they should like.

A few suggestions and guidelines:

• Try to stay away from tannins and their bitterness, which may be the most off-putting part of wine for those who don’t drink much of it. But what if you want to serve red wine? Then look for something made with sangiovese, gamay, or tempranillo, like the Capezzana Monna Nera 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This Italian blend is mostly sangiovese – fresh and well-made with soft cherry fruit. Imported by MW Imports.

• Chardonnay, and especially cheap ones with too much fake oak, can make typical wine drinkers grimace. So can overly tart sauvignon blanc. Hence, chenin blanc like the Ken Forester petit 2017 ($11, purchased, 13.5%). This South African white is a long-time favorite, offering crisp white fruit and a refreshing finish. Imported by USA Wine Imports

• One of the best things about the rose boom? It’s ideal for situations like this. The Moulin de Gassac Guilhem Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%) is a French pink, almost tart and strawberry, and a tad better made than most at this price. Imported by Pioneer Wine Co.

Wine of the week: Melini Chianti Borghi d’Elsa 2017

melini chiantiThe 2017 vintage of the Melini Chianti is as different as it is unexpected

Something odd is going on the current vintage of the Melini Chianti, an almost always dependable $6 red wine. Either the wine is genuinely softer and fruitier, or someone dumped many bags of sugar into the barrels.

The Wine Curmudgeon prefers to think it’s the former. If there is added sugar in a cheap wine as venerable as the Melini Chianti ($6, purchased, 13%), then it’s time to go back to sports writing. And who wants to do that?

Because this Italian red, made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany, is much rounder and less sour than it has been for years, with a sort of sweet cherry fruit and a kind of forest floor finish where it didn’t have much of a finish at all before. It’s about as far from the simple, tight-cornered, and tart cherry Melini as possible.

It still mostly tastes like Chianti, but more of a New World version. Again, I don’t know that this is a bad thing as much as it is unexpected. And the Melini still pairs with the usual sorts of red sauces, takeout pizza, and the like.

So chalk the change up to a vintage difference, and hope for the best next time.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Mini-reviews 177: Total Wine and Aldi private label, plus a gruner veltliner

Total WineReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Palma Real Verdejo 2017 ($10, purchased, 12%): This Spanish white blend is a Total Wine private label that tastes like it’s supposed to — tart and lemony, simple but not stupid. It looks to be some sort of knockoff of the Marques de Cacera verdejo, but is better made and more enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Provinco Bianco Grande Alberone 2017 ($9, purchased, 13%): This Italian white blend, which includes chardonnay, is more Aldi private label plonk. There is little varietal character, save for some chardonnay mouthfeel. Otherwise, it’s thin and bitter.

Weingut Berger Grüner Veltliner 2017 ($12/1 liter, purchased, 12%): Yet another Wine Curmudgeon attempt to understand why so many wine hipsters recommend gruner veltliner, an Austrian white. As my pal Jim Serroka said, and he doesn’t pay much attention to wine, “it’s thin and watery.” Look for a little citrus fruit and not much else.

Familia Bastida Tempranillo 2016 ($10, purchased, 13.5%): Another top-quality Total Wine private label – a Spanish tempranillo that is varietally correct with soft cherry fruit, a hint of spice, not too much oak, and all surprisingly integrated.

A tale of two Italian wines, one of which tastes like it came from New Zealand

Italian winesTwo Italian wines from a Big Wine company, but only one of them tastes like it came from Italy

This is where we are in the wine business in 2019 – two Italian wines from the same Big Wine company, one of which is varietally correct, terroir-driven, and a pleasure to drink, while the other tastes like it was put together by a marketing company and is about as Italian as a pair of panty hose. Why does anyone think this will advance the cause of wine?

The wines are from Zonin1821, which owns nine Italian producers (as well as one of the best wineries in the U.S., Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia). Zonin1821 is best known for its $13 Zonin Prosecco, a pleasant enough bottle for a $13 Prosecco. But many of its wines are interesting and well worth drinking, and there are many worse Big Wine companies.

The insolia white wine ($14, sample, 12.5%), made by Zonin1821’s Feudo Principi di Butera subsidiary in Sicily, is Big Wine done right. The insolia grape is native to Sicily, and it’s not necessarily easy to work with. But the Butera is all should be – tart green apple fruit, lots of spice and almond, an almost stony finish and even some green herbs. It’s Hall of Fame quality, a white wine that is neither chardonnay nor sauvignon blanc and a reminder of how much value Sicilian wines can deliver. This is seafood wine – risotto with shrimp, perhaps?

Which brings us to the panty hose. The second wine is a sauvignon blanc from Zonin1821’s Ca Bolani in northern Italy’s Fruili region. Italian sauvignon blanc has long taken a back seat to pinot grigio, which probably explains why the Ca Bolani ($14, sample, 12.5%) tastes the way it does. Or, as a friend said when she drank it, “Why did you open this wine? You know I don’t like New Zealand sauvignon blanc.”

Which is exactly what it tastes likes – big, huge smacking gobs of grapefruit. It’s a well made wine, and there is even a little something trying to peek out from behind the grapefruit. And $14 isn’t a bad price. But none of that really matters, since it raises a larger question: Why would I want to buy Italian sauvignon blanc that tastes like it came from New Zealand? Isn’t that what New Zealand sauvignon blanc is for? Shouldn’t Italian wine taste like it came from Italy?

Apparently not. These days, the goal seems to be to make all wine taste the same, so it will be easier to market. Because Big Wine. Hopefully, no one at Butera will realize this and turn the insolia into Paso Robles chardonnay. Because then I would have another reason to worry about the future of the wine business.

Wine of the week: Marchesi di Barolo Maràia 2016

Marchesi di Barolo MaràiaThe Marchesi di Barolo Maràia may not be as well known as its nebbiolo-based cousins, but it offers much in value and quality

One of the advantages of the quality independent retailer? That you can pick almost anything off the shelf, even if you don’t know much about the wine, and figure you have more than a decent chance of buying something you’ll enjoy. Which is exactly how I bought the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia.

Italian wine is probably the most difficult to understand in the world, what with an almost infinite number of grapes (many of which have different names in different parts of the country), a dizzying array of regions, and a mostly incomprehensible appellation system. So, when there is no one to ask (and on this day there wasn’t), even those of us who make our living from wine have to take potluck.

Which is how I found the Marchesi di Barolo Maràia ($10, purchased, 13.5%). This red, made with the barbera grape, is from the Monferrato region in Piedmont. That combination means it’s not as pricey or as respected as the nebbiolo wines from Piedmont’s Barolo and Barbaresco regions. (I told you this was complicated, didn’t I?)

But it doesn’t mean it’s not a quality bottle. Barbera makes bright, almost tart, red cherryish wines. The Maraia is more supple than that, and it wasn’t as taut as I expected. Still, the fresh fruit was there (more black cherry than red) and balanced with Italian-style acidity and soft tannins. In all, well made and enjoyable.

Drink this with winter roasts and stews, as well as sausage and red sauce.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons

Wine of the week: Cantia Cellaro Luma Grillo 2016

Cellaro Luma GrilloForget the the wine retailer foolishness: the Cellaro Luma Grillo is cheap and delicious

How deep is the abyss that the wine business has dug for cheap wine? Consider this, from a leading U.S. retailer’s description of the Cellaro Luma Grillo: “From the gorgeous hot landscape of Sicily. … approachably elegant. … a perfect partner to your favorite hot-weather dishes, like crab Louis salad. …”

Why does Sicily’s landscape matter to the quality of the wine? What does approachably elegant mean, anyway? And who knows what crab Louis salad is – let alone eats it? These days, it’s not enough to tell consumers that the Cellaro Luma Grillo ($10, purchased, 13%), an Italian white made with the grillo grape, offers quality and value, that it’s lemony and fresh, and that there’s a hint of minerality in the finish. And that we don’t need no stinkin’ crab Louis salad to pair with it; just whatever we want for dinner, and that is maybe made with olive oil, herbs, and garlic.

No, the marketers have to tart it up, make it something that it’s not – because who wants to buy a wine just because it’s cheap and tastes good?

Note to wine business: How about all of us?

The Cellaro Luma Grillo is highly recommended, one of the best wines I tasted in 2018. The only reason it’s not going in the 2019 $10 Hall of Fame in a couple of days is that availability is probably limited. It’s a previous vintage, for one thing, and the back label was in Italian. That’s hardly a sign there are thousands of cases waiting to flood U.S. supermarket shelves.

Imported by Gonzalez Bypass