Screaming good deal – Zardetto Private Cuvee NV Italy

A perfectly nice bubbly at a fantastic price!    What makes this bottle interesting to me is a combination of what it is and what it is not… So let’s start with what it is not: it is not Champagne, but at only $7.99 it is not priced like Champagne which would typically cost $35 for an entry level example.   Nor does the Private Cuvee taste like Champagne, but it IS a nice tasting bubbly  – and in my mind tastes better than any other super-value bubbly. Typically I would encourage saving the super value sparklers for mixing and climb up-market to the $10-$20 range and find a Cremant de Bourgogne or something of the sort.  But not this time – the Zardetto Private Cuvee is perfectly nice – with a fresh, soft fruity nose reminiscent of its Prosecco roots followed by pleasant apple (the addition of chardonnay in the blend helps) and peach flavors and a relatively dry finish (not the driest, but not sweet for sure).   Complex it is not, but pleasing it is!   If I were in need of a party wine I would not hesitate to buy the $7.99 Zardetto Private Cuvee by the case!  (PA code 32247)

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Ca’Stella Pinot Grigio, Friuli Italy 2009

Ca’Stella Pinot Grigio, Friuli Italy 2009 ($13) – Hailing from Italy’s most North-East Region of Friuli, an area well known for white wines, this affordable Pinot Grigio embodies everything I look for and expect in an Italian Pinot Grigio – the wine-makers (I believe wisely) ferment their fruit only in stainless steel tanks to maintain freshness, which allows the citrus and fruity aromas to be followed by a crisp and fresh wine that is light and pleasing in all aspects.   The light, slightly tart stone fruit flavors, with slight minerality and generally light body, follow through to a crisp, clean finish.   While many contemporary Pinot Grigio wines are becoming rich and heavy, this competitively priced Ca’Stella Pinot Grigio delivers a simple, fresh, clean and traditional Pinot Grigio experience.

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Tenuta del Priore, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2008 DOC

Tenuta del Priore, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, 2008 DOC ($13)  This red wine from the red clay soils of Central Italy’s Eastern Abruzzo region flows into the glass with strong dark red color, the nose expresses some red and dark fruit aromas.   All flavors of savory, rustic red fruits and underlying notes of raspberry come through with a cleanness (and noted absence of oak) that I always look forward to when tasting food-centric Italian wines.   This Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is clean yet well concentrated for this price point, with a fine and balanced finish – a great wine to pair with rich and/or savory pastas.

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Need a food wine? Try the Ascheri Barbera D’Alba Fontanelle 2008

Some very impressive wines are best enjoyed by themselves – but some wines, when presented with food, actually seem to make both the food and the wine improve and Italian wines are traditionally favorites of the wine+food crowd.   Here is a wine that fills the requirement of “must go well with food”.   The Ascheri Barbera D’Alba Fontanelle 2008 (approximately $18 www.ascherivini.it) tastes great with food, and for those who find Italian wines difficult or confusing because they aren’t like a California Cabernet – please take a chance on this Northern Italian 100% Barbera red.   Located 25 miles south of Turin in Northern Italy’s gorgeous Piedmont Region, Ascheri claims to be focused on making wines that express the vineyard and the grapes, rather than producing a wines that rely on particular technology, oak or winemaking techniques.   While unwilling to draw philosophical conclusions, I do conclude that in the case of this wine, the aim was true and the goal achieved.   As is traditional for Barbera wines, this wine is light bodied with a clean, dark ruby color.  Like many Italian reds, breathing helped the Ascheri open up and reveal concentrated red berry flavors with some black cherry undercurrents, all nicely balanced in a bright and fresh package including a nice grip of well integrated acidity at the finish.  This is a wine that will agree with, and nicely balance, many types of food, from pizza to pasta to strong cheeses.

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Wine and Cheese – Great Combinations!

Just back from another fun Wine and Cheese Cruise – had some very interesting wine and cheese combinations with a diverse and interesting group of people.  The Spanish Cava and Fluer Verte was a wonderful surprise and the Shiraz and King Island “Roaring 40s” Blue was stunning.  As the saying goes:  “What grows together goes together” and in the case of the Australian Blue Cheese combined with the Australian Peter Lehmann Shiraz – this idea is an understatement.  Here are the wines and cheeses we had tonight – the wine comments are mine and the cheese notes, as usual, are from my favorite cheese expert David Bennett.

Codorniu Brut Reserva Cuvee Raventos NV – Spain   Made with same process as Champagne, The grapes for this sparkler are the traditional Cava blend (50% Xarel-lo and Macabeo grapes) with the addition of Champagne white grape Chardonnay (50%).   Fleur Verte Cheese– Elegant, fresh, herbed goat’s milk cheese from France.  The  tarragon & juniper berries promote a visually stunning holiday theme and fill the nose with wonderful scents.  The fresh goat’s milk cheese is slightly tangy and delicious. Paired with our sparkling wine, this is sure to make a thrilling start for our cruise.     

De Chanceny Brut Rose NV – France  Light pinkish-red color delicate fresh red fruit aromas.  Flavors are crisp with hints of strawberry finishing dry with slight mineral at the end – a luxurious French sparkling rose.   Brillat Savarin Cheese– “Decadent” is the best word to describe this fabulous triple cream cheeses from France.  The taste is delicious, complex, and compelling.  Visually, it’s beautiful and the texture is silky/gooey/marvelous.  Named for the influential French gastronomic writer, Brillat-Savarin, who once said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are”  (“Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es”)

Frattina Pinot Grigio – Italy   From a few miles north of Venice.  Fresh and bright, this wine is immediately juicy mouthful of citrus and tropical fruit flavors.  The finish is clean and dry with toasty and nutty elements.   Robiola Bosina Cheese– Remarkable mixed milk (cow and sheep’s) from  Langhe region of northern Italy.  Creamy, satisfying, and delightful. The inside is gooey and satisfying.  Mixing 2 different kinds of milk lends a subtle complexity to this luscious cheese.    

Peter Lehmann Shiraz – Australia  A dark wine with deep garnet color, this Shiraz is a serious wine with generous dark fruit flavors within a fine tannin structure.   The finish lingers but never turns bitter – a great example of Aussie Shiraz.   Roaring 40’s Blue Cheese – Fabulous blue cheese from King Island Dairy, Tasmania. Sweet cow’s milk, produced in a pristine environment, is used in creating one of the world’s great blue cheeses.  This handcrafted cheese is full flavored with an amazing finish.  We pair it with a bold Australian red but a dessert wine would also work well.

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