The Italian Avignonesi Cantaloro red blend is full of surprises, which makes it that much more enjoyable
The one thing about wine that bears repeating – and I repeat it here and to myself regularly – is that wine should always be surprising. If it’s not, then something is wrong. Case in point? The Avignonesi Cantaloro.
This is an Italian red wine, a blend from Tuscany, that tasted nothing like I expected. For one thing, it was heavier the mouth and had more ripe fruit than I thought it would, since it was an Italian red made mostly with sangovese. But know this, too: The wine was enjoyable and still tasted Italian – a wonderful surprise.
The Avignonesi Cantaloro ($12, purchased, 14%) displays the fresher New World style that’s not uncommon in many Tuscan red blends. But the style is more restrained, and it has retained some Italian herbalness, a touch of earthiness and enough acidity to balance the riper fruit.
It was so enjoyable that I wasn’t even annoyed to find out that the producer describes the wine as smooth. In fact, it’s not, and it does need food. It’s a bit heavy for porch sipping, but pair it with sausages or red sauce as the weather cools, and you’ll enjoy the combination.
• 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.