The Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco is a $10 Sicilian white blend that reminds me why I like Sicilian wine
The pandemic has limited my ability to find terrific cheap Italian wine, since I don’t get to Jimmy’s, Dallas’ legendary Italian grocery, as often as I used to. Fortunately, I was able to find the Zirtari Sicilia Bianco white blend elsewhere; it has long been one of the world’s great cheap wine values.
And this vintage of the Feudo Zirtari Sicilia Bianco ($10, purchased, 13%) shows why that’s true. It’s made with a native Sicilian grape, insolia, and chardonnay, which leads to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. There’s some spice and a little green apple or pear fruit from the insolia, while the chardonnay fills up the background. This is kind of quality cheap wine I used to see a lot on store shelves, but that has slowly vanished. Not sure if it’s just more importer and distributor problems, or someone somewhere decided we’d rather buy $15 bottles of European wine designed by a focus group instead of $10 wine that tastes like it came from Europe.
Highly recommended. Chill this and drink it on its own (the spice is always a revelation) or pair it with grilled shrimp or chicken with lots of herbs.
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.
• Ava Grace Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): Light, almost riesling-y sauvignon blanc from California. It’s not bad if you prefer a less intense style, and it’s a fair value; it just tastes like there is a lot of winemaking going on in an attempt to make it less varietal.
• Tasca D’Almerita Nero d’Avola 2016 ($20, sample, 13.5%): Premiumized Italian red from Sicily made in an international style, which means it doesn’t taste like nero d’avola and it’s not very interesting. Imported by Winebow
• Château Malescasse 2016 ($25, sample, 14.5%): There are two ways to look at this French red Bordeaux blend. First, as a French wine that tastes French, with herbal notes, currant fruit, and that French mouth feel. Second, as an every day style of French wine that costs $25. Imported by Austruy Family Vineyard Import
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
• Domaine de la Rosière Rose 2018 ($13, purchased, 12%): Intriguing pink from the Savoie region in eastern France near Switzerland. There are green herbs, oddly enough, with a little red fruit and some spice. Made mostly with gamay, with some pinot noir and mondeuse, a local grape. Imported by Wines with Conviction
• Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2018 ($11, purchased, 13.5%): This Sicilian red, once a great cheap wine, is fine for what it is, but there are plenty of $8 and $10 simple Italian reds that more or less taste like this – almost unripe dark fruit and lots of acidity. Imported by Terlato Wines International
• Grand Louis Rouge 2016 ($11, purchased, 12.5%): This red Bordeaux blend (more merlot than cabernet sauvignon) is old-fashioned, but not in a good way — tart and and not very ripe fruit. Imported by Laird & Company
• A to Z Wineworks Rose Bubbles ($16, sample, 12.5%): Surprisingly disappointing spritzy rose from an otherwise reliable producer. It approaches white zinfandel sweet, without anything to balance the sweetness. And the price is problematic.
The Sicalia Terre Siciliane isn’t very Sicilian, but it’s still worthwhile when you need a red wine for a weeknight dinner
Italian wine producers, even though they have thousands of indigenous grapes to work with, are fascinated by what they call “international” grapes — those we know as cabernet sauvignon, melot, chardonnay, and the like. Their efforts can be uneven – for every great Super Tuscan, where international grapes are blended with sangiovese, there are dozens of $8 and $10 washouts. Which is where the Sicalia Terre Siciliane comes in.
On the one hand, the Sicalia Terre Siciliane ($8, purchased, 13%) doesn’t taste especially Sicilian. There is little earthiness or dark fruit or Old World complexity. And why should there be, since it’s a red blend, featuring the Sicilian nero d’avola and the and merlot?
On the other hand, it’s an enjoyable weeknight wine. Who knew? That certainly wasn’t the case the last time I tasted it: “ashy and unpleasant.” This time, though, the Sicalia Terre Siciliane was juicy, with enjoyably tart red fruit, a clean finish, and tremendous value.
No, it’s not very Sicilian, and yes, it needs food. But given the state of cheap wine these days, you could do a lot worse when you want a $10 red wine for a weeknight dinner.
The 2017 version of the Luma grillo, an Italian white, is just as enjoyable and as delicious as the 2016 – and that’s saying something
Vintage difference is a good thing. What isn’t good is inconsistency from vintage to vintage, when quality appears and disappears seemingly at random. This is something that happens to wine at every price, a function of our post-modern wine world and its focus on price instead of value. So when you find a wine that shows vintage differences, but doesn’t show inconsistency, buy as much of it as possible. Which is the case with the Luma grillo.
The Luma grillo ($11, purchased, 12.5%) is a Sicilian white, and grillo is one of my favorite grapes. Grillo is a Sicilian specialty, and offers a welcome change from chardonnay and sauvignon blanc – not as rich as the former and not as tart at the latter. This vintage shows lemon and green apple fruit, and even some almond and spice. It’s exactly what grillo should taste like – balanced, interesting, and light but food friendly.
Two 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 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.
The Feudo Zirtari Bianco is an astonishing $10 white wine, and especially given how old it is
This Italian white blend from Sicily is not supposed to be this enjoyable. First, it’s too old – who ever heard of a $10 white wine lasting more than a couple of vintages? Second, the producer’s wines are notoriously inconsistent, and my notes are littered with lines like “not as good as the last one.” Nevertheless, the Zirtari Bianco is $10 Hall of Fame quality cheap wine.
Which, of course, is one of the joys of doing this – finding a wine like the Zirtari Bianco ($10, purchased, 13.5%) when I don’t expect to find anything at all. It’s a blend of insolia, a native Sicilian grape, and chardonnay. Hence, the sum is far greater than its parts, given the usual quality of Sicilian chardonnay.
Look for spice (white pepper, nutmeg?), almonds, and pear fruit, which is a surprisingly delicious combination considering the two grapes that have been blended together. Plus, it’s not thin in the mouth or on the finish, which is what usually happens with a three-year-old cheap white wine.
Highly recommended, but there is a conundrum: Should you try to find this vintage, and hope it held up as well as my bottle did? Or should you buy the current vintage and hope that it’s as well made as this one? I don’t have an answer, though it’s almost certainly easier to find the current vintage.