It was a rainy Thursday afternoon in early October, a gloomy dose of bona fide fall weather. Frank and I found ourselves, thankfully, dry and warm, in a dim, suburban hotel ballroom, sampling a selection of upcoming Chairman’s Selections with buyer Steve Pollack and a plethora of PLCB wine specialists. Though normally we like to spend more than a few minutes with a bottle, this was a good opportunity to try a wide variety the upcoming wines. (It’s a hard knock life, but we persevere for your benefit.)
Though we tasted many other wines (and address those separately), the vowels at the end of each of our names encouraged heavy focus to the vini italiani on display. Below are some paisans we found noteworthy:
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Coli 2010 Chianti Classico ($9.99)
Frank: In the always confusing world of Italian wine regulations, this old school blend of red (Sangiovese) with a touch of white (Trebbiano, Malvasia) doesn’t taste or feel traditional. The expected leather and herbs are absent, and it’s a little too soft on the palate – but at less than $10, it’s a suitable “why not” wine.
Mike: Though not a disaster for the price, I’ll pass. For few bucks more, instead grab the Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico Riserva ($13.99). A riserva made in the traditional style, it features bright cherry notes, great acidity and restrained touches of tobacco and vanilla. This wine’ll go well with a wide variety of foods, especially mid-weight Italian cuisine.
Coli 2010 “Pratale” ($10.99)
Frank: Sangiovese and Merlot, but not quite Super Tuscan. Given some time, green, astringent tannins may evolve to allow the blackberry and red fruit flavors room to maneuver, but at $11, it may just be a wine to decant, drink, and not dwell on.
Mike: Tobacco, Tobacco, Tobacco! A note of chocolate adds intrigue. Nothing special here, but it’ll pair well with a hearty meal, a crackling fire, and your sweetie on a cold winter night.
Carpineto 2011 Rosso di Montepulciano ($12.99)
Frank: A well-made example of Montepulciano’s Prugnolo Gentile (a Sangiovese clone) and Canaiolo. Aromas and flavors are focused and fresh. In fact, this is more ripe and fruity than usual for this area of Tuscany, with well-balanced acidity and tannin. For $13, a worthwhile dalliance with Vino Nobile’s ”little brother”.
Mike: Considering my soft spot for wines of the Montepulciano region (not the grape) fueled by memories of time spent there, it’s no surprise I too liked it. A simple, delicious, everyday wine, perfect for casual fare and happy times. I’d even consider serving it for Thanksgiving, especially with a sage & sausage stuffing.
Sassello Bolgheri ($13.99)
Mike: I’m often skeptical of Italian wines made without indigenous grapes, but this odd blend of Cab Franc, Merlot, Syrah and Petit Verdot ensnared me with its complexity. Notes of earth, tobacco, vegetables and minerals combine with brooding fruit and deft use of oak to hit way above its weight. Good now, it should evolve nicely with a few years in the cellar.
Frank: Though there is loads of fruit, a touch of macchia (Italian wild herbs) adds balance and creates a savory mouthfeel. A wine that improves with a bit of contemplation.
Frank: Age has enhanced the depth and character, producing earthy and rough sensations usually associated with Monferrato Barbera. Well integrated tannins form a solid, balanced platform for mouth-filling dark cherry and plums. This is an expressive, flavorful wine at an almost too good to be true $15… For me it’ll be some for now, plus a few more to cellar 2-4 years.
Mike: I too loved the funky, herbal nose and big cherry flavor, but at the tasting I was mildly concerned about the amount of oak. I picked up a bottle right when it hit stores, and my concerns were validated, unfortunately. A lot of potential is overwhelmed by the barrel.
Jermann Pinot Grigio 2012 ($19.99)
Mike: Pollack calls Jermann “the greatest white wine producer in Italy,” and based on reputation alone, I’d have to agree. This probably won’t convert Grigio-haters, but it’s a good opportunity to try the best of the best and see what the fuss is all about. Subtle, but lemony and crisp.
Terre da Vino Essenze Barolo 2008 ($29.99)
Mike: Not inexpensive in the traditional sense, but about as low as you’ll find in Baroloville. And this is a delicious one! Nose shows that classic Barolo tar and roses, especially as it opens. Explodes onto the palate with tart cherry fruit and finishes with huge tannins. Drinkable now with a long decant, or give it a few years to mellow.