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Category Archives: Wine reviews

Wine of the week: Arrumaco Verdejo 2014

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Arrumaco Verdejo Want to find out what real verdejo tastes like? Want to strike a blow for quality, terroir and value? Then buy the Arrumaco Verdejo. Its importer, Handpicked Selections, is one of those well-run but too small companies that are being squeezed by consolidation and premiumization.

The Arrumaco Verdejo ($9, purchased, 12%) is a $10 Hall of Fame wine from a Spanish producer that also does a Hall of Fame quality rose. As such, it’s completely different from the grocery store plonk that we’re expected to drink; it has interest and character and exists to do more than to be smooth.

Look for white fruit flavors and aromas (apricot?), plus a certain rich feel in the mouth that I didn’t expect and the touch of almond and lemon peel that top-notch verdejo is supposed to have. I couldn’t believe how well done this wine was after the first bottle, and went back and bought a couple more just to be sure.

Highly recommended. Drink this chilled on its own or with grilled fish, and it would also match a summer salad with lots of fresh herbs.

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: Columbia Winery Composition NV

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Columbia Winery CompositionColumbia Winery’s Sean Hails is refreshingly honest, given that many winemakers aren’t always happy to answer the questions I like to ask: Why this oak level, why this alcohol level, and what was the thought behind putting this wine together?

Hails, though, had no qualms about any of that. He said he makes this non-vintage red blend from Washington state for one of E&J Gallo’s recent acquisitions within the framework that Gallo sets, but also with an eye to what he thinks the wine should be.

And the two are not contradictory. The Columbia Winery Composition ($14, sample, 13.8%) includes the softness that is a Gallo hallmark, but it also tastes like it came from Washington state. The blend is mostly merlot and syrah, with sweet cherry and blackberry fruit, a little pepper and spice, and surprising structural acidity. The softness is mostly in the tannins, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Pair the Composition with grilled meat and chicken — a Sunday spring afternoon on the back porch, perhaps?

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