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Category Archives: Italian wine

Five cheap Chiantis

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cheap chiantiOne of the handful of real values left in wine is Chianti, the red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Italy. Why are cheap Chiantis so common? Maybe because there is so much in Chianti in the world, or that it’s not popular with wine drinkers who are not of a certain age, or because the Italians just do it that way.

Regardless, these five cheap Chiantis – four cost $8 or less – are varietally correct, with sour cherry fruit and that certain tartness that identifies the wine as Italian, and they offer as much value as other red wines costing twice as much. Plus, they’re low in alcohol, which makes them an ideal red wine as the weather warms and spring turns into summer.

Pair these with any food remotely associated with red sauce or sausage, as well as almost anything grilled outdoors, including chicken, and the odd meatloaf or hamburger. And I speak from personal experience – these wines have more than once rescued an evening where circumstances forced me to eat corporate takeout pizza.

Melini Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%). Look for berry fruit, more black than red, clean and fresh, and just enough character — some tannins and earthiness — to let you know this is wine from Italy. It’s a simple wine, but as I have noted before, simple does not have to mean stupid.

Benedetto Chianti ($5, purchased, 12.5%) from Aldi tastes like Chianti — not “this Chianti is so good it made me cry” Chianti, but “this Chianti is better than I thought it was going to be” Chianti, which is never a bad thing for $5. It’s simple and juicy, with a touch of cherry fruit, and softer than most of the rest of the wines in this post.

Straccali Chianti ($8, purchased, 12%) may be the best cheap Chianti of the bunch, with more depth than the Melini, some earthiness, black pepper, and grip that’s rare in an $8 wine. Plus, the sour cherry and tart acidity are spot on, making this wine almost certain to return to the $10 Hall of Fame in 2017.

Caposaldi Chianti ($10, purchased, 12.5%) is dark, earthy, funky, and full of delicious sour cherry fruit, yet it isn’t too heavy or too harsh in that old-fashioned and not missed way that made so many of the Italian wines of my youth undrinkable. Almost as well done as the Straccali,

Placido Chianti ($8, purchased, 12.5%) is very, very simple, but still tastes like Chianti, a winemaking approach that California gave up on years ago in favor of lots and lots of sweet fruit regardless of what the wine should taste like. The Placido doesn’t insult the drinker, and if you’re stuck on the road late at night with one of those sodium- and gimmick-laden corporate pizzas, you’re in luck with this wine.

Wine of the week: Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! 2014

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Falesco EstThe 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?

Wine of the week: Banfi CollePino 2014

wineofweek

Banfi CollePino 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.

Banfi is among the top 20 biggest producers in the U.S. which makes the Banfi CollePino ($9, sample, 13%) all that much more interesting. That’s because it shows what Big Wine can do when it aims for more then technical correctness — that is, boring wine made without any flaws. 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 the, bu that it it has almost no oak and yet what little oak there is has done its job. This is 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.

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