Which of these two about $7 wines offer the best value in this cheap white wine face-off?
A variety of cheap white wines have served the Wine Curmudgeon well over the years, starting with the late and much lamented Hogue fume blanc. These are the kind of wines you buy in quantity, keep chilled, and know that when you drink it, the result will be quality, value, and enjoyment.
My current choice is the Farnese Fantini trebbiano, an Italian white that costs $8. But, with the appearance of Aldi’s Sunshine Bay, a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, that costs $7, is it time to make a change?
Hence, this cheap white wine face-off.
• Price. The Fantini is $7.99, less the 10 percent case discount. That works out to $7.19 a bottle. The Sunshine Bay is $6.95 at my local Aldi, so it’s cheaper – but probably not enough to make a difference.
• Screwcap. Yes to both. This matters a lot, because I don’t want to go through a ritual when all I want is couple of glasses for no particular reason. This kind of wine should be open it and forget it.
• Quality. Are the wines professional and well made? Yes to both. Frankly, I was surprised. For one thing, there is still a lot of cheap, crummy Italian white wine in the world, and so didn’t expect much from the Fantini. But it is clean and crisp, without any off flavors or residual sugar. The Sunshine Bay, given Aldi’s track record in the U.S., was even more surprising. It’s much better made than similarly-priced New Zealand sauvignon blancs.
• Style. Do they taste like they’re supposed to? Yes, again, to both. The Fantini is lemon-lime-ish, simple but not stupid. The Sunshine plays up the New Zealand grapefruit style, but there;s a hint of tropical fruit in the middle, and the citrus doesn’t overwhelm the wine.
My choice? I’ll probably stick with the Fantini, since it’s more food friendly. But for those who like the New Zealand style or want a little more heft in their white wine, the Sunshine Bay is an excellent alternative. And I will keep buying it.
These three Citra Italian wines deliver everything great cheap wine should – quality, value, and a more than fair price
When the wine world looks to be at its worst and the Wine Curmudgeon is contemplating something as depressing as a return to sportswriting, great cheap wine always saves the day. This time, it was three Citra Italian wines.
Citra is a co-op, buying grapes from nine growers in one of the less well known regions of Italy, Abruzzo. Which, to be honest, is not always a sign of great things. But its consulting winemaker is the legendary Riccardo Cotarella, and that changes everything.
Cotarella is the man behind Falesco’s Vitiano wines, as good a cheap wines as ever made. These are wines – red, white, and rose – that you can buy and not worry about vintage or varietal. They will always been worth the $10 or $12 or $14 they cost. In fact, they’ve been in the $10 Hall of Fame for as long as there has been one.
The Citra aren’t quite that well made yet. But the three wines I tasted could get there sooner rather than later. Each of the wines is about $10 and imported by Winebow:
• Citra Sangiovese 2017 (sample, 13%): This is what cheap Italian red wine should taste like — earthy, with tart red fruit and professionally made. It isn’t rough or amateurish, like a wine from the 1980s, and it hasn’t been focused group to take out the character and interest. Highly recommended.
• Citra Montepulciano 2017 (sample, 13%): This red is another example of a red wine made with the montepulciano grape from the Montepulciano d’Aburzzo region that offers value and consistency — some tart and peppery red fruit, a clean finish and competent all around. A touch thin, but these wines aren’t necessarily supposed to be rich and full.
• Citra Trebbiano 2017 (sample, 12%): Any review of this white is going to make it sound lacking, one of the perils of wine with the trebbiano grape. It’s not as lemony and as crisp as the Fantini trebbiano, and it doesn’t approach the grandeur of the Gascon Tariquet ugni blanc. But it’s not lacking when it comes time to drink it. Look for some tropical and soft citrus fruit, and buy a case to keep around.
The Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is legendary cheap wine, and the only reason that I don’t review it more often is because the only store in Dallas that carries it always sells out. (That no one else carries it speaks to how most retailers feel about cheap wine in Dallas).
What do you need to know about the Falesco Est ($8, sample, 12%)? That it’s made by the Cotarella family, which gives us Vitiano and so much other quality cheap and moderately-priced wine. That it’s a white blend made with trebbiano, the Italian version of my beloved ugni blanc and a grape that gets as much respect from wine geeks as I would at a Wine Spectator editorial meeting. That it’s tart and lemony with a little white fruit and quite refreshing, but not very complex and also not very demanding on the drinker.
In this, it’s exactly what cheap wine should be — well-made, affordable, and something you can drink without having to consult scores, pairing charts, or wine websites. Consider it the Italian equivalent of the Rene Barbier white — not quite Hall of Fame material, but dependable and enjoyable. Isn’t that what cheap wine should be?
One of the things that makes Italian wine so fascinating is its variety. You never know, literally, what you’ll find next. How else to explain the Zenato San Benedetto, a white wine made by a largish company that I had never heard of in more than 20 years of doing this?
That’s not unusual with Italian wine, where even the biggest companies are often little known. It’s also not unusual that their wines, like the Zenato ($12, sample, 13.1%), are worth knowing. This was a wonderfully pleasant surprise in what has been a spring of mosty dull, tiresome, and overpriced samples.
The wine is made with the trebbiano grape, the Italian version of the Gascon ugni blanc. But the flavors are different; none of the Gascon white grape, but white fruit (peaches?), a little citrus to flesh out the whole, and a soft, blossom-like aroma. It needs chilling, and an ice cube or two wouldn’t be out of place. If and when warm weather arrives in your part of the country, this is the perfect kind of wine.
It’s also an ideal wine to sip while contemplating this metaphysical question: Why do so many big wine companies in Europe making interesting cheap wine, while their counterparts in the states rarely do?