The Wine Cellar: Drinking well for less
You can drink quite well without breaking the bank. It takes persistent digging, though, to discover dedicated wine producers whose modest wines balance an authentic sense of place with reasonable pricing.
Some winegrowers enjoy natural advantages from the start. Mother Nature blesses Italy's eastern Abruzzo region near the Adriatic Sea and France's Roussillon and southern Rhône regions bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. Ideal temperatures combine with relatively dry conditions and complex soils. Persistent winds keep the vines naturally free from fungal molds and nettlesome pests. Overripening, in fact, becomes a big challenge.
Other regions, such as Beaujolais, have colder continental climates and experience more challenging, often damper growing conditions. Growers face nerveracking threats of early frosts, summer hailstorms and rain during harvest.
Starting conditions — whether favorable or challenging — do not, however, determine ultimate success in creating wines with a sense of place. Rather, the grower's philosophy in handling risks and challenges makes the difference.
Look for wines from dedicated winegrowers who, at a minimum, take a “sustainable” approach. Also known as the “reasoned struggle,” sustainable methods treat vines with chemicals and organic compounds only when absolutely necessary to save the vintage.
The method requires laborious plowing between rows to promote vital microbial activity in the soils. Vines then compete and sink deep roots, tapping complex nutrients from rocky layers below. Harvesting by hand followed by minimal interventions during fermentation and aging also contribute to rendering authentic, flavorful wines.
As for pricing, look for modest, authentic wines designed for ready enjoyment rather than overwrought monstrosities suited for fawning snobbery. Always ask yourself, “Will I enjoy this wine with a meal, instead of looking to brag about a bottle's numerical rating and hefty price tag?” Besides, you'll have more fun and attract better company.
Try these tasty gems:
The 2014Talamonti “Trebì” Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, Italy (Luxury 49654; $9.99) comes from a family winery in Loreto Aprutino in eastern Abruzzi. Situated in mountains near the sea, the estate's complex glacier soils include volcanic ash and rocks. Sustainably farmed, south-facing vineyards ripen the Trebbiano grapes beautifully. The estate uses a vine clone native to Loreto Aprutino for grapes with irresistible, intriguing personality.
Fresh aromas of white flowers and lemons greet the nose. Ripe grapefruit and peach flavors balance with crisp, rich mineral notes through the fruity, but dry, finish. Serve the wine well-chilled as an uplifting aperitif. Highly recommended.
Dedicated winegrower Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pégaü in Châteauneuf-du-Pape offers this terrific rosé, the 2015“Pink Pégaü” Vin de France, France (Luxury 47544; $16.99). The wine comes from Cinsault grapes with splashes of grenache and Clairette. The vines grow on rocky, clay vineyards covered by the iconic large, round “galet” stones that also cover Châteauneuf-du-Pape's vineyards a few miles away.
Direct pressing of the grapes avoids extended maceration of the juice on the skins. Fermentation occurs promptly in enameled temperature-controlled tanks to preserve freshness. The wine's pretty, pale pink color offers peach and red fruit aromas with floral notes. The rich, full-flavored texture balances with fresh acidity through a ripe and fruity, yet bone-dry, finish. Highly recommended.
The2014 Barbet “Beau!” Beaujolais, France (Luxury 49636; $12.99) provides a juicy, uplifting red from a terrific producer. Whole clusters of gamay grapes ferment in closed tanks to maximize fruitiness. The wine's purple color offers raspberry and light, brambly aromas. Juicy red-fruit flavors balance with refreshing acidity and mouthwatering mineral notes through the dry, fruity finish. Highly recommended.
The 2013 Domaine Piquemal Les Terres Grillées, Côtes du Roussillon Villages, France (Luxury 49563; $14.99) comes from a family-owned winery in the Roussillon region's Agly Valley in the foothills of the Corbières Mountains. The domaine's extensive vineyard work includes regular hoeing to aerate rocky subsoils encompassing mainly clay and limestone interspersed with layers of sedimentary shale.
Laborious pruning and “green” harvest also limit yields favorably. The wine relies on syrah, grenache and Carignan with the syrah aging briefly in oak barrels prior to blending.
The nose of ripe, red fruit and smoky, meaty notes opens to rich, juicy red- and black-fruit flavors with a deft touch of oak. Fresh acidity and soft tannins balance the fruity, dry finish. Highly recommended.
Dave DeSimone writes about wine for the Tribune-Review.