The 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.
The Hedges La Haute Cuvee is top-notch Washington state cabernet sauvignon
Hedges Family Estate has been part of the good fight for quality wine, transparency, and fair value for years. Its $13 CMS red and whites are well made and almost always worth buying, and the Wine Curmudgeon enjoys tasting its more expensive wines, like the Hedges La Haute Cuvee whenever I get a chance.
Hence, my anticipation when I opened the Hedges La Haute Cuvee ($50, sample, 13.5%). It’s Washington state caberent sauvignon that speaks to terroir and the difference between the state’s Red Mountain appellation and those in California and France. It’s not as rich and opulent as a Napa Valley caberent, nor as taut and firm as a great red Bordeaux. It’s different – and that’s the joy, for all wine is not supposed to taste the same.
Look for lots of black fruit (blackberry?), though aging has mellowed the fruit’s power a bit; some baking spices (cinnamon?) and even a intimation of cocoa; beautifully soft and integrated tannins, and a fine balance. One key to this wine: aging in older oak, to complement the fruit instead of overwhelming it. This is a wine that has aged magnificently, and should continue to do so for at least another five to seven years.
Pair this with red meat (I drank it with homemade mushroom and pecan sausage), and enjoy what Washington state has learned about making top-notch red wine.
Reviews 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.
Our Daily Red is an enjoyable $10 California red blend
The wine world may be convinced that the only way to sell dry red wine is to sweeten it, but that’s not a problem for the company that makes Our Daily Red, a California red blend.
In fact, Our Daily Red ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is so dry it’s almost old-fashioned – tart, rustic, and fruity, the kind of red wine that was common until improved winemaking technology made it possible to fix those “flaws” with a nod and wink. Plus, the blend includes the legendary ruby caberent grape, once common in California wine but today mostly interesting only to wine geeks.
In this, Our Daily Red will make some people shake their head and wonder at its inclusion as a wine of the week. But understand that it’s not a cocktail, but a food wine – red sauce, pizza, cheeses, sausages and any combination thereof. Look for lots of dark red fruit and just enough tannins peeking through the tartness.
One other note: The producer says it doesn’t add sulfites to its wine; take that as you will. It’s a surprisingly acidic wine if that’s the case, though I have a feeling unripe grapes are used to make up the difference.
The 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.
Reviews 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. This month: Maybe New Year’s wine, maybe not
• Mumm Napa Brut Reserve NV ($18, purchased, 12.5%): How the mighty have fallen, and how sad it is to taste. This used to be one of the best affordable California sparklers, with fresh fruit and lots of interest. These days, it’s soft and almost flabby, with gassy bubbles — just one more focus group wine.
• Boordy Vineyards Landmark Reserve 2014 ($44, purchased, 12%): Maryland red blend speaks to terroir and how distinctive regional wine can be when it’s not trying to imitate French or California wine. Soft tannins and a long finish, plus a little spice and ripe, but not sweet black fruit.
• Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau 2018 ($10, purchased, 14%): This French red is better than what has passed for Beaujolais Nouveau over the past decade, with a little more acidity and not nearly as much banana fruit. But it’s still softish and too bubble gummy. Imported by Boisset America
• Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc Viognier 2017 ($12, purchased, 13.5%): This California white used to be one of the world’s great cheap wines, combining chenin blanc’s crispness with viognier’s stone fruit. Now, it’s just overpriced plonk, with acidity added to counterbalance all of that residual sugar. It’s awkward, unbalanced, and oh so disappointing.
• Sacha Lichine Single Blend Rose 2017 ($10, purchased, %): Quality $10 pink from the Languedoc, so it’s not quite as subtle as something from Provence. But the wine uses first-class grenache, so it’s not too jellyish. Hence a crisp, fresh, and enjoyable wine. Look for strawberry fruit and a stony kind of finish. Imported by Shaw-Ross International
• Château La Gravière Blanc 2017 ($10, purchased, 12.5%): This white French Bordeaux is almost certainly the best cheap wine I tasted in 2018. It did everything cheap wine should do — offer value, be varietally correct, and taste delicious. Some lemon fruit with an almost grassiness, and old-fashioned white Bordeaux minerality. The difference may be more semillion in the blend than sauvignon blanc, so the wine isn’t a New Zealand knockoff. Highly recommended. Imported by Luneau USA
• Rotari Trento Brut 2013 ($18, sample, 12.5%): Impeccably made Prosecco. the Italian sparkling wine. Look for berry fruit, plus more body and depth than in cheaper Proseccos, as well as deliciously tight bubbles. If there’s a catch, it’s the price. Imported by Prestige Wine Imports