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Category Archives: Italian wine

Wine of the week: Benedetto Chianti 2014

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Benedetto ChiantiOne of the problems with really cheap wine — the $3, $4, and $5 labels like Trader Joe’s Two-buck Chuck and Whole Foods’ Three Wishes — is that they don’t always taste like the grapes they’re made with. That is, they’re not varietally correct. The merlot tastes like the pinot noir, the pinot tastes like the cabernet sauvignon, and so on and so forth.

Which is not the case with the Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%), a really cheap Italian red wine from Aldi. It tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but that’s true of wines that cost three or four times as much as the Benedetto. Call this the “man, this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5.

The Benedetto Chianti is simple and juicy, with a little tart cherry fruit. It’s softer than many Chiantis and doesn’t have the burst of telltale acidity, but there’s enough of the latter so that you can tell it’s Chianti if you’re forced to do a blind tasting. In this, it’s fairly priced at $5 — just enough less interesting than the $8 Melini, and obviously not as interesting as the $10 Caposaldo and Straccali.

And, for those of you who want to tweak the wine snob in your life, the Benedetto Chianti is DOCG, the second highest rung in the Italian appellation system. That it can be DOCG and only cost $5 says a lot about how the Italian wine business works, and why it’s as well made as it is.

Wine of the week: Pio Cesare Gavi 2014

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Pio Cesare GaviIn those long ago days before pinot grigio, we drank Soave or maybe Frascati and Gavi when we wanted Italian white wine. Not that we drank much Italian white wine; it was a novelty for a wine drinking culture that assumed all Italian wine was red and came in a wicker-covered bottle.

These days, Italian white wine, mostly pinot grigio, ranks as one of the biggest imports in the country, and wines like the Pio Cesare Gavi ($15, purchased, 12.5%) are something most of us don’t drink. Which is too bad, because the Cesare is well worth drinking, an example of what happens when a top producer puts care and effort into an affordable wine made with a grape, cortese, that is not well regarded.

Look for minerality and a little lemon and dash of herbs in a wine that is so subdued and understated that it takes almost a glass before you understand what is going on. It’s also a stunning value for the price; most quality Gavis cost more than $20, and those at this price are usually too simple for a $15 wine.

Highly recommended, and just the thing for spaghetti with clam sauce with garlic and parsley.

Wine of the week: Tormaresca Neprica 2012

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tormaresca nepricaOnce, the Tormaresca Neprica was among the greatest cheap wines in the world. It was the best-loved wine on the blog, getting the most visitors for any review, and its popularity here even translated into better sales and distribution (or so I was told).

And then one of those things happened that happens in wine, and the Neprica ($12, sample, 13.5%), an Italian red blend, was never the same. Where it had been dark and plummy and even a little earthy, it became soft and too fruity and a little ashy in the middle. Who knows why? Did the grapes come from a different place? Did the winemaker decide to do something different? Was the brand sold (which, apparently, is sort of what happened)?

The result was just another $12 grocery store red wine that tasted like every other grocery store wine. The Neprica dropped out of the Hall of Fame, the number of people who read the reviewed dwindled to insignificance, and the world moved on. I’d taste the wine every year or so to see if anything had changed, and it hadn’t.

Until this one. The Tormaresca Neprica still isn’t what it was, but it is more than another grocery store wine. Look for lots of red fruit, but not so much that there isn’t anything else in the wine. The ashy taste in the middle is mostly gone, and the finish is pleasant if not long. Pair this with red sauce and winter dishes, and be glad it’s worth drinking again.

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