Sunday, November 2, 2008

Reliable Reds

We've all been there. You're travelling and you need to locate a decent bottle of wine in a tiny convenience store or grocery. Or you find yourself in a chain restaurant with the same desire, but are faced with a generic, corporate wine list. What should you do? Sure, there's always beer, but generally those options are similarly uninspired. Mixed drinks rarely go well with anything beyond snacks. So, water it is. Go ahead, nothing wrong with water, but there are wines that sometimes appear in these places that are actually worth drinking even though there are precious few of them. These are wines I will also drink willingly from time to time and in some cases have even bought by the case.

In no particular order, here are some of the reds :

La Vieille Ferme Rouge - The winery is run by the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel (my favorite Chateauneuf du Pape producer) fame. The red comes from a region east of the more famous Cotes du Rhone appellation and offers a very similar style for a lower price. The grapes allowed are the same and the wines are almost always predominantly Grenache, just like most Cotes du Rhones. Red fruits dominate, little or no oak is noticeable and there is usually a pepper note, more or less pronounced depending on vintage. A versatile wine, this will pair well with anything from chicken to steak. Heavy sauces, especially BBQ, will overwhlem this wine. The easy access screwcap closure will be a welcome relief if you're travelling and some airport screener is now the proud owner of your corkscrew. Retail cost approx. $8, imported by Vineyard Brands.

Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Cetamura - From a venerable Tuscan estate that recently converted to organic farming, comes this very well made, traditional Chianti. A small percentage of Canaiolo is added to the Sangiovese to produce their entry level wine. Canaiolo is mostly used for color but is one of the traditional grapes that is no longer needed for a wine to be labeled Chianti. Cetamura is a lovely, consistent wine with the classic Sangiovese cherry fruit and plenty of fresh, food-friendly acidity. To my recollection this wine used to spend some minimal time in old oak, but the current release apparently is aged only in stainless steel and bottle. Either way, the purity of the fruit is unburdened by wood influence and will pair with any red sauce dishes as well as hamburgers, pork chops and harder cheeses. Ignore the drawing on the new label that looks like a crude sketch from a Children of the Corn storyboard. Price varies, but expect to pay $9-$11 retail, imported by Dalla Terra.

Di Majo Norante Sangiovese - From Molise in the southern half of Italy, this wine is 100% Sangiovese. A warmer region than Tuscany helps to produced a more deeply colored and slightly bigger fruited red wine. The acidity is less pronounced and the wine is a bit softer and more crowd pleasing than the Cetamura, due at least in part to six months spent in oak. Still works with red sauces, but opens up to creamy sauces, grilled meats and is fun to drink without food. The label is distinct and memorable. St. Christopher slaying a dragon is unmistakable although I have no idea what it has to do with Sangiovese...perhaps it pairs well with grilled dragon? Find it for $8-$10, imported by Winebow.

The next post will bring three more red options and then we'll take a look at some whites.


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