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Category Archives: Red wine

Wine of the week: Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012

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Cusumano Nero d'Avola Two years ago, I wrote: “One day, perhaps, Sicily will take its place as one of the world’s great wine regions…” and then listed all the horrible things that would happen when it did. Which is mostly what has happened, and the Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012 ($10, purchased, 14%) demonstrates just that.

Six years ago, when I first tasted Cusumano, few people who weren’t the Italian Wine Guy knew about Sicilian wine. Today, it’s all over the wine magazines, the best Sicilian wines from the Mt. Etna region cost as much as $100, and there is even Sicilian wine made to taste like grocery store merlot.

The Cusumano Nero d’Avola, a red wine made with the nero d’avola grape, has gone down a similar path, from a wine rarely tasted in the U.S. to one imported by one of the most successful American wine marketers. Along the way, the price went up, the wine lost something that made it what it was, and I took it out of the $10 Hall of Fame. I’m not the Wine Curmudgeon for nothing.

But I’ve made my peace with these changes, and two recent tastings, this red and the white Insolia, have restored my faith in the brand. This version of the Cusumano Nero d’Avola isn’t as dark and plummy as previous vintages, but it isn’t as fruity as it was when I tasted it a year ago, either. Bottle age helped restore the balance between the red fruit and its Sicilian earthiness, and I enjoyed the wine. It’s red sauce, pizza with cheese and sausage, and maybe even chicken cacciatore.

It probably won’t return to the Hall of Fame when the 2013 vintage arrives this year, given the price increase, but I’ll buy it and no doubt enjoy it. And that will be enough.

Wine of the week: Zestos Old Vine Garnacha 2013

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Zestos garnachaOne of the Wine Curmudgeon’s battle cries is varietally correct — that is, does the wine taste like the grapes it came from, or has winemaking been used to make it taste a certain way? The latter approach, though useful in making certain kinds of cheap wine, is ultimately not very satisfying. The best wines, of whatever price, should be varietally correct.

Which is why the Zestos garnacha ($10, purchased, 13.5%) is so stunning. I rarely quote from producer websites, but this says it all, including the exclamation point: “This tremendous quality wine is made from old vine Garnacha and it sells for a song!” No less than Robert Parker — yes, that Robert Parker — calls the Zestos “a staggering value.” If Parker and I agree on quality and value, it’s time to buy a case and reserve a spot in the 2015 $10 Hall of Fame.

So what makes the Zestos so impressive? It combines the best parts of garnacha, its fresh and juicy red fruit, with the qualities added by using grapes from old vines, most 40 to 50 years old. That means rich, concentrated fruitiness (dark cherries?), an almost oak-like depth, though there is no oak, and layers of flavor rarely found in $10 wines. The tannins are soft, as they should be, and the finish is chalky, befitting the terroir.

All this is impressive enough. But the Zestos does it with normal alcohol; other wines with these attributes need to be 15 percent or more to taste this way. Hence, you can drink a bottle with dinner and not pass out. That Parker likes a wine that hasn’t been Parkerized is the Wine Curmudgeon’s holiday gift to his readers.

Wine of the week: Melini Chianti Borghi d’Elsa 2013

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Melini ChiantiThis summer, the Wine Curmudgeon attended a big-time Italian trade tasting, which included five Chiantis from the Melini producer. None of them cost more than $25 or $30, which is saying something for big-time Italian trade tastings.

All of which means that the 300-year-old Melini knows a thing or two about making quality cheap wine, and the Borghi d’Elsa ($7, purchased, 13%) amply demonstrates this expertise. It’s a red wine made with sangiovese from the Chianti region of Italy, and every time I taste it, I’m surprised by how well done it is. 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.

The other that impresses me about the Melini Chianti? The company doesn’t waste money on the bottle, which is lightweight and without much of a punt. Would that other cheap wine producers did the same thing.

This is winter red sauce wine, and braised pot roast wouldn’t be so bad, either. If it’s not quite a $10 Hall of Fame wine, it’s still better than most of the $10 wine on store shelves, and shows just how much great cheap wine there is in the world.

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