Saturday, April 9, 2016

Good, Cheap Italian Wine is an Awesome Thing

$12 Italian wines — it’s a minefield I rarely enter on my own choosing. See, as a 21-year-old, I spent way too much of my hard-earned dough searching for good Chianti and Pinot Grigio for $10 to $15.

I was living in Brooklyn and, having grown up on the Jersey Shore, random bottles of cheap Italian wine was the natural place to go. Now that I was pulling down decent cash at Kinko’s, and saving money by sleeping in an illegally-rented basement in Brighton Beach, I had some extra money for the first time in my life. So I spent a lot of it on cheap Italian wine. Surely those classy-looking bottles at the corner store would be delicious and pair well with my homemade eggplant parm — right?

For a while, I wondered if something was wrong with me. Why were these wines so lifeless?

Look, there are plenty of decent, inexpensive Italian wines. But the bottles you see on every shelf and grocery store (with the kitschy labels and castles and Renaissance sketches) these wines can be so boring you’ll wish you bought grain alcohol and grape juice.

But, like in most every wine-producing country, someone, somewhere is producing wine on the cheap worth getting excited about. These usually hail from the lesser-heralded regions, from grapes you may not be familiar with, and — damnit — Safeway may not carry them.

But if you find the good ones, it’s worth the effort. Trust me.

I was recently impressed with the overall quality of this Vento Di Mare brand of wines from Sicily. For $12 a pop, I’d gladly buy up any of these wines to open at big family gatherings.

Actually, I tested these wines out on my family. I tasted through the Vento Di Mare lineup before my Ma was passing through town on her way to a sister’s weekend in PA. After tasting and writing about these wines, I sent the bottles with her so she and my four aunts could enjoy them. They drank these wines with charcuterie, cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, baked ziti, ravioli — you get the idea. The next week, I got a postcard, signed from all of my aunties. “We loved those wines! They made the food and fellowship so much better!”

See? This is what I was looking for when I was scouring shelves for cheap-o-vino. Wines that cost little money, but were delicious with food and enjoyed by everyone at the table. 

If you’re looking for something like that, you may want to seek out Vento Di Mare.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted.

2014 Vento Di Mare Grillo Organic Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Smells of lemon, green apple, green melon and slight grassy note. Medium bodied, moderate acid, a freshness to the wine with a bit of creaminess to go along. Sliced green apples mix with a bit of pineapple. Hints of green grass and cut floral stems as well. (85 points)

2014 Vento Di Mare Grillo Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Lime, sliced apple, a bit richer melon notes with a hint of chalk. Fresh and vibrant with a salty aspect to the lime, green apple and pineapple notes. Slight spice and grass note on a fresh finish. A bright and clean, easy-sipping wine that’s good for the price. (85 points)

2014 Vento Di Mare Pinot Grigio Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Bright, floral and peach aromatics, some honeysuckle as well. Smooth, slightly creamy but some bright acid. Tart green apples mix with creamy peaches, and the wine shows some floral spice and honeyed tea. Not super complex, but quite balanced and impressive for the price. (85 points)

SRP: $12
Slightly brighter aromatics than the regular bottling, still peachy and full of honeysuckle, but some lime and chalky elements as well. Clean and crisp with lively acid. Limes, green apples and white peaches topped with honeysuckle, lemon zinger tea and a hint of chalk. Interesting comparison to the regular bottling, this one shows a bit more zip. What a value for $12, more interesting than the vast majority of Veneto Pinog Grigios at this price point. (87 points)

2013 Vento Di Mare Nerello Mascalese Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Medium ruby colored. Smells of red plums and raspberries with a hefty dose of pepper, leather and bloody steak. Juicy texture on the palate, light tannic structure, moderate acid. A good introduction to this variety, with simple flavors of strawberry, raspberry and red plum, backed up by notes of smoke, roasted chestnut and black pepper. Drink now. (85 points)

2013 Vento Di Mare Terre Siciliane IGT - Italy, Sicily, Terre Siciliane IGT
SRP: $12
Deep ruby colored. Juicy red cherries raspberries, along with a fun mix of tobacco, black pepper and roses. Fleshy red fruits, medium-dusty tannins, bright acid. Juicy raspberries and strawberries mixed in with black pepper, roasted chestnut and coffee. It’s a bright and approachable wine but showing some good structure. (86 points)

SRP: $12
Deep ruby colored. Smells of tart red currants and bright raspberries, along with spiced coffee and rose hips. Medium-bodied with some moderate tannic structure and medium acid. Juicy blackberry and tart raspberry fruit, which is tossed together with some pepper, tobacco and roasted coffee. An interesting floral and earthy note lingering on the finish. Great pizza wine for the price, that’s for sure. (87 points)

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