• Made in southern France, Italy, or Spain? Check.
• Not made with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or chardonnay? Check.
• An importer who specializes in quality and value? Check.
In other words, the Italian Tenuta Caparzo sangiovese ($12, purchased, 13.5%) is exactly what a weeknight wine should be — well-priced and professionally made, and it tastes like the grape that it’s made from and the region where the grape is grown.
Sigh. Why do we need a checklist to find wines like this?
This red from Tuscany in northern Italy is softer than a Chianti, though it’s made with the same grape. That’s a style choice (something to do with Italy’s zany appellation laws?), but it doesn’t make the wine too flabby. Look for red fruit, mostly ripe cherry, a burst of Tuscan acidity, and a little earth and spice.
Is this the best wine ever made? Or even the best cheap wine? No, but it’s not supposed to be. It’s enough to be fairly priced and enjoyable to drink on a cold Tuesday night when you’re home late and dinner is takeout pizza.
The Rocca di Montemassi Le Focaie is $10 Italian red wine you can buy and enjoy without a touch of worry
Why is it that I can pick a bottle of an Italian Tuscan red blend off the shelf blind and know there is a good chance it will be worth drinking? Because it has happened time and time again, as it happened again with the Montemassi Le Focaie.
There are probably a couple of reasons. First, wines like the Montemassi Le Focaie ($10, purchased, 13%) aren’t made to get scores. They’re part of Italy’s wine drinking culture, where people expect to find quality cheap wine to have with dinner. So someone makes it. Sadly, we’re still not at that point in the U.S. – from either the consumer or producer’s point of view.
Second, I buy many of these wines at an independent retailer, where the idea is to carry something that’s not going to be on the grocery store Great Wall of Wine. Hence, more of an emphasis on quality, like the Montemassi Le Focaie.
This wine, made with sangoviese, is a little rounder than many cheap Chiantis – it’s not quite as tart, and the cherry fruit, both aroma and flavor) is softer and more ripe. But it still tastes like sangiovese, and it tastes like it comes from Italy. It is, truly, the kind of wine to open for dinner without a touch of worry.
The Coltibuono Chianti is one more Italian red that combines quality and value for $10
One of the most surprising things about cheap wine in the second decade of the 21st century is how much quality Chianti exists for $10 or less. Maybe it’s because Chianti is passé among the wine geeks, given the popularity of pricey Super Tuscans. Maybe there’s so much of it that supply keeps prices down. And maybe it’s because so many Chianti producers are happy to make great $10 wine.
Regardless, the Coltibuono Chianti ($10, purchased, 13%) is one more terrific value. This Italian red wine, made with the sangiovese grape from the Chianti region of Tuscany, is more old fashioned than some of the others. That means it’s a little more rustic and earthy. Which, of course, isn’t a problem, but part of Chianti’s terroir. So no, it’s not like this.
Look for Chianti’s traditional tart, slightly cherry taste, a clean finish, and those wonderful red fruit aromas that make me think of sausage and garlic. There’s even a little baking spice somewhere in the mix.
Bring on the red sauce, especially as winter hangs around in much of the country.
The Yalumba Y series rose is a top-notch $10 wine that is just what Thanksgiving requires
Of all the best things about the rose boom, perhaps the best of the best is that roses that were difficult to find before aren’t anymore. I haven’t seen the Yalumba rose, a long-time favorite, in years. But there it was on the store shelf, just in time for Thanksgiving.
The Yalumba Y series rose ($10, purchased, 12%) has almost always been as well made as it has been difficult to find. I asked a Yalumba official about this a couple of years ago, and she said its availability in the U.S. was limited because of importer problems. But given rose’s surge in popularity, even that has apparently been surmounted.
The Australian-made Yalumba, composed of sangiovese, can be one of the world’s great roses when all comes together. The 2016, a previous vintage since it comes from the southern hemisphere, is close to that – still bracingly fresh, with unripe cherry fruit, a wonderful mouth feel, minerality on the back, and all in balance.
Highly recommended, and almost sure to join the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame. In a time when cheap wine quality seems to be a memory, Yalumba understands that $10 and quality are not contradictions.
So why do we do it for wine? Call it misguided if you’re being generous; greed comes to mind if you’re not. In either case, the Trambusti Benedetto ($5, purchased, 12.5%) is a testament to letting wine be wine.
This is cheap Chianti (the red wine from Italy’s Chianti region that is made with sangiovese) the way it should be. It’s not sort of soft, the way some enjoyable cheap Chianti can be, but fresh, sharp, on point, and with lots of tart cherry fruit and that certain Chianti earthy and herbal combination. In this, it’s different from the 2014, which I liked well enough; that there is a welcome vintage difference in a $5 wine speaks to the idea that the producer long ago left Wonder Bread behind.
Grocery store wine, and especially grocery store wine from the biggest companies, takes a lot of abuse on the blog (and deservedly so). So when Big Wine does grocery store wine right, it’s worth noting, and that’s why you’re reading about the Banfi CollePino.
In this, the CollePino is varietally correct, so that it’s made with sangiovese and tastes like sangiovese, with the telltale tart cherry fruit, a certain freshness, and soft tannins. It’s also worth noting that these wines need some oak to temper then, but the CollePino has almost no oak. What little oak there is has done its job — a testament to Big Wine’s technical ability.
But that may not be the CollePino’s greatest asset. It’s made with a bit of merlot, which softens the sangiovese and produces a wine that’s soft enough so that it won’t scare off the grocery store smooth wine drinkers who are, I assume, its target audience. But those of us who want more than smooth should also be happy, and especially if we drink it with anything with red sauce. Highly recommended, and candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame.
The retail market, despite years of producers wishing otherwise, is still awash in cheap Chianti, the Italian red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany. Most of it, save for a couple of brands like Melini, tastes like you’d expect: harsh and bitter, with little reason to drink even though it costs less than $10.
Add the Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) to the first group. It’s not just a better value than the Melini, which I love, but a well-made wine that embarrasses all those $15 grocery store red Italians with their cute names and shiny labels. One of the great questions in Italian wine: Why, if the country’s winemakers can do something like the Straccali Chianti, do they do so many dull, overpriced, Paso Robles-style wines on the theory Americans prefer them? Trust me — we want quality, not marketing.
Look for more depth than the Melini, so that you have to swallow twice to get a hint of everything that’s going on. It’s also less rustic, with black pepper, red cherry, a little more grip, and the acidity that Chianti is famous for. One key to this wine: a touch of merlot is blended with the traditional sangiovese and canaiolo grapes, which rounds out the flavors and mouth feel. Plus, no oak, which lends more freshness than you expect.
Highly recommended, and almost certain to be added to the 2016 $10 Hall of Fame. Drink this as the weather cools on its own if you want a glass of red, or with pork or beef that will complement the crisp red fruit, as well as red sauce.