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?
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.
This is a red Rhone blend (mostly grenache and cinsault) from the Languedoc in southern France, and combines a modern, fruity style with solid, traditional French winemaking. That means it has the earthiness I love, but more red fruit from the grenache than I expected. The cinsualt, meanwhile, adds spiciness, and the whole combines for a surprisingly sophisticated wine with a longish finish and soft tannins that puts most $15 California grocery store plonk to shame.
It’s heavy enough to need food (roast chicken, roast lamb, or even hamburgers), but not in an old-fashioned, unpleasant way. Highly recommended; I bought the Lou Maset to see if it was worth reviewing and enjoyed it so much I bought another bottle a couple of days later. That I buy a second bottle of a $15 wine that quickly happens about as often as I find $15 California grocery store plonk to write about.
How impressive is the Cristalino Brut Rose? It has remained one of the best buys in the wine world despite corporate upset and a lawsuit that forced it to change its name; the arrival of more hip and expensive cavas, the Spanish sparkling wine; and the usual changing of wine tastes.
Somehow, though, the Cristalino Brut Rose ($10, purchased, 11.5%) is still the kind of wine you can buy without a second thought, knowing you’ll get value for money and that it will be fun to drink. I’m convinced that the secret, other than Cristalino’s commitment, is using the trepat grape, which tempers the wine’s fruitiness and adds a layer of Spanishness.
This is a clean and crisp wine with tight bubbles, some cranberry and cherry fruit, and even a little toastiness, which one usually doesn’t get in a $10 bubbly. Drink this chilled on its own, or with almost any kind of meal that isn’t beefy red meat. It’s terrific with takeout Chinese, fried chicken, or hamburgers. Highly recommended, and assured of its place in the $10 Hall of Fame for another year.
Buying pinot noir may be the most difficult thing in wine. It’s expensive, and since there are so many styles, you’re not sure if what you’re spending all that money for will be wine that you want to drink. Which is where the J. Christopher, an Oregon pinot nor from the Willamette Valley, comes in. It does everything an Orgeon pinot is supposed to do, and it’s fair value for the price.
The J. Christopher ($39, purchased, 13.8%) is, if not spectacular, well made and well put together. Look for fragrant black cherry fruit, some much welcome savory herbs, a bit of minerality toward the back, and just enough earthiness so you can say the earthiness is there. It’s not as fruity or rich as as California pinot noir, and it’s not as subtle as red Burgundy, but it is interesting and enjoyable.
During last week’s judging at the Texsom International Wine Awards, another judge and I were commiserating about how difficult it had to become to find value in California, and just not at my price range. Fortunately, the judge told me, there is always Spain and Italy.
Which is about the best way possible to introduce the Farnese Fantini sangiovese ($10, purchased, 12%), an Italian red wine from Abruzzo on the Adriatic coast west of Rome. Cheap wine doesn’t get much better than this; it’s as if the last couple of years of premiumization and dumbing down wine never happened. The Fantini (Farnese is the producer) is surprisingly layered and rich for a $10 sangiovese, with almost sour cherry fruit, black pepper, and what the tasting notes call a wood flavor, an intriguing way to describe how sort of oaky it is.
The other thing I liked? That it tasted like sangiovese, but didn’t taste like the $10 sangioveses from Umbria, about two hours north or Abruzzo, or those from Tuscany, another couple of hours north. In this, we get a chance to taste terroir for our $10, and how often does that happen with cheap wine?
Highly recommended, and a candidate for the 2017 $10 Hall of Fame. Pair the Fantini with red sauce, of course, but don’t be afraid to try it with grilled meats and beef stews.
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.
? Mateus Rose NV ($5, purchased, 11%): I don’t remember this wine, popular when I was in high school, tasting like raspberry 7 Up. But that was a long time ago. The wine has been repackaged since then, so that it’s in a clear glass bottle instead of the traditional green and doesn’t look quite the same as it did. And maybe it did taste like raspberry 7 Up all those years ago, which isn’t offensive — just odd.
? Chateau Graville-Lacoste Graves 2014 ($20, purchased, 12%): The legendary Kermit Lynch imports this French white Bordeaux, and it’s another example why you should buy any wine that has Lynch’s name on it. Look for freshness, minerality, and a clean sort of citrus flavor. Well worth every penny of the $20 it cost.
? Muga Rioja Reserva 2011 ($23, purchased, 13%): This Spanish tempranillo blend from one of my favorite producers was much lusher and fruitier than I expected, without as much of the tart cherry acidity and herbal appeal that I like about wines from the Rioja region. Having said that, it’s well worth drinking, and should age for close to forever. As it does, the fruit and oak will probably give way to more traditional flavors.
?Peter Yealands Pinot Gris 2014 ($12, purchased, 13%): Why grocery store wine makes me crazy. Yealands is a respected New Zealand producer, and this white should have been delicious. But the bottle I bought was a previous vintage that was bitter and pithy on the back, and much of the fruit, freshness and crispness — hallmarks of pinot gris — were gone. Who knows how long it was sitting and baking in some warehouse? Did anyone at Kroger care?