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Category Archives: Italian wine

Wine of the week: Astoria Prosecco NV

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Astoria ProseccoThe Wine Curmudgeon, slowly but surely, is understanding Prosecco, the Italian sparkling wine. First, because I’m making an effort to appreciate it, and not to dismiss Prosecco because it doesn’t taste the way I want it to taste. Second, because Prosecco winemaking has improved, so the wines are not just sweet and fizzy; also, that it’s possible to find these better quality wines on store shelves because the wine has improved so much.

Case in point is the Astoria ($13, sample, 11%), one of the best Proseccos I’ve had in a long while. It wasn’t just sweet, which made it wine and not the product of a focus group. In fact, it was interesting, with all sorts of things going on, and that’s not something I usually get to write when I write about Prosecco.

Look for lemon and apple fruit, enough sweetness to make you wonder if it is sweet, and soft but long-lasting bubbles. Another problem with too many Proseccos is that the bubbles are sometimes like a flat soft drink. There is even a sort of minerally finish, which is again unexpected. Highly recommended, and the kind of wine to keep on hand as the holidays approach. This would pair well with Thanksgiving — light enough for a long meal, but well made enough so that it complements and doesn’t overwhelm the food.

Wine of the week: Feudo Zirtari Nero d’Avola-Syrah 2011

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Feudo Zirtari Nero d'Avola-Syrah One more reason that Sicilian wine deserves to enter the mainstream — the Zirtari ($12, purchased, 14%), a funky wine that is delicious yet does not seem especially Sicilian. One knows a wine region has found its niche when you can write that about one of its wines.

First, the Zirtari is almost one-half syrah, hardly a grape indigenous to the island. Second, the syrah gives it an almost Rhone-like character, richer (almost fatty) than similarly-priced Sicilian reds. Plus, there isn’t much earthiness, but there is well-balanced black fruit and the particular character that the Sicilian nero d’avola grape adds to a well-made wine.

In all, a wine that is enjoyable, dark, and almost brooding. It’s intense enough for summer barbecue and red meat, but not so heavy, with its 14 percent alcohol, to be be off-putting in hot weather. It was a most pleasant surprise to find when I was looking for something else.

Wine of the week: Sara Bee Moscato NV

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sara bee moscato Sweet wine is not easy to review, and this doesn’t even take into account that a lot of sweet wine isn’t worth reviewing — poorly made, sweeter than Coke, and as cynical as a carnival barker. Many of the Wine Curmudgeon’s readers — half? more? — will skip this review in annoyance and some will even cancel their email subscription in disgust.

But let it not be said that I am easily intimidated.

The Italian Sara Bee Moscato ($7, purchased, 5.5%) is one of the best sweet wines I’ve tasted in years, and especially at this price. Yes, it’s sweet — probably somewhere around a high-end soft drink like Jones Soda — but there is plenty of orange fruit aroma, common to the moscato grape, apricot, some wonderful “fermentato,” which translates into light, fun bubbles, and even a bit of crispness (usually missing in most sweet wines at this price).

I drank it with some delicately-spiced Indian takeout, and the sweetness correctly played off the spice. It would also work as a dessert wine; something with chocolate, perhaps? Sweet wine drinkers, of course, won’t bother with any of that. Chill it well, add an ice cube or two if you want, and enjoy.

So what’s the catch? The Sara Bee is made by Santero, a dependable producer of grocery-store priced Italian sparkling wine, but this is a private label for the Trader Joe’s chain. This means two things: Trying to get information about the wine is almost impossible, since Trader Joe’s doesn’t like to return phone calls, and you can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re in a state without a Trader Joe’s or one that doesn’t sell wine — in New York and Pennsylvania, for instance — you’re out of luck.

This is a $10 Hall of Fame wine, but because of the availability problems, I probably won’t add it next year. But if you have $7, are near a Trader Joe’s that sells wine, and are curious about the Sara Bee, don’t hesitate to try it.

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