chug this! bargain wine o’the week: 2014 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico

If you’re anything like me, I lived most of my winey life without knowing there was a difference between Chianti and Chianti Classico. Before we even start, though: I feel like I need to defend the oft-maligned, sometimes wicker-basketed former before singing the praises of the latter.

Over the past 40 or so years, as the American market started asking for ever more variety, there was a flood of table wine from all over the globe, much of it of not the highest quality. Chianti in particular would frequently taste cheap, or single-note, or maybe the bottles destined for the heathen shores of the new world weren’t the best examples. This is a known phenomenon, by the way. Would you send your best product to a market that doesn’t even know what it wants? A market that was, until only recently, drinking fortified sweet wines or rot-gut jug white Zinfandel?

If you answered, “yes” you’re a more generous soul than I. I’m with the Italians here: make sure the exported fine wines ended up in the hands of people who might actually appreciate them, and then if it seemed appropriate, branch out to a larger audience from there.

And that’s what happened. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t good Chianti on both sides of the Atlantic; you just had to be a bit of a sleuth to find it. Although this bargain of the week is a Chianti Classico (I’ll explain the difference in a minute, keep your hair on), I drink regular Chianti all the time- much of it below the $15 mark, and nearly always enjoy it. Continue reading “chug this! bargain wine o’the week: 2014 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico”

bargain wine of the week: Château la Grange Clinet 2014 Grande Réserve

This week’s budget wine comes from Bordeaux, the region at France’s seven o’clock: mostly south, very west.  While this chateau is not technically coastal, the entire area has “maritime influence”, especially as la Gironde cleaves the continent where it meets the Atlantic.

Bordeaux is known for its blends. Unlike, say, Burgundy, where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are likely to stand as single varietals in a bottle, les Bordelais are alchemists, painstakingly curating recipes to maximize signature styles and take advantage of whatever each vintage offers.

This sweetheart of a wine retails around $15, and it’s like a mini tour of what to expect from a Bordeaux. It’s balanced, elegant, with nothing standing out to make it a single note experience. This is not a particularly fruity wine, if you’re used to jammy or “fruit forward” stuff, but it is really satisfying to drink. It is also not a giant wine, and it stays interesting and enjoyable over the course of an evening. Or morning. 🙂

The exact proportions are a closely held secret, but le Clinet is a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc blend. 

The single caveat I maintain is that the taste changes after a few days open, even if you use a wine preserving system, which I do. Perhaps this is my own fault, after storing it cool, then taking it out to come to room temp, then cooling again, then bringing it back to room temp. Wines don’t like large or repeated swings in temperature, and maybe I tested la Grange Clinet too much.

Thirsty Cellist score: 8/10

Pros: Complexity, balance, subtlety. A little bit of everything in a very easy to access package. 

Cons: Gets a little weird after the third day open

Recommendation: buy it, try it, finish the bottle in one sitting (share with friends!), or save the remainder for deglazing a pan.  

intro to bargain wine of the week: Planeta La Segreta 2013 DOC Sicilia

Wine on a budget! Let’s do it.

The more I learn about viticulture and enology, the more I understand what drives prices. There are justifiable causes for exorbitant pricing: rarity, certain labor-intensive practices (some Grand Cru vintners select individual grapes during harvest, for instance), the vagaries of weather and climate. Other times, the justification is harder to come by: some chateaux are riding on name and legacy, Robert Parker Jr. (whose thoughts are enjoyable, but I won’t rely on his taste buds to be surrogates for mine) gives a high score and creates industry buzz, or worst of all, one of the Real Housewives orders something by name.

We’ve all been burned by a bottle of inexpensive wine that over promised and under delivered. So where does that leave the wine lover who can’t routinely shell out $30 and up? Continue reading “intro to bargain wine of the week: Planeta La Segreta 2013 DOC Sicilia”

The wine kit arrives!

I thought it might be fun to try and get a sense of the winemaking process by doing a batch of Chardonnay at home. After a little research, it seemed like most of the products from distributors in the US came from the Master Vintner company, so I ordered from them directly.

The box came and I was so excited! So many mysterious objects. Bummed that the bubble wrap didn’t pop, though. Whomever made the decision to change to un-poppable bubbles hates fun and probably doesn’t use turn signals or wave after someone lets them change lanes.

The kit comes with all kinds of bits and bobs! Before I read what they actually are, I shall make wildly inaccurate guesses as to the purpose of each. I promise I’ll do a serious post when I do step 1 and actually be informative. For now:

On top, we have a small box of wine. I assume this is to drink while you’re figuring out how to make wine with all of the other stuff in the kit. Below is the “big mouth bubbler”, which is some kind of artisanal fish tank to look at while you wait for the wine to undergo malolactic fermentation. There’s a beaker on the far right so you don’t have to drink the wine straight from the box on top. Continue reading “The wine kit arrives!”

Every day drinking

I drink wine every day, or nearly every day. Oh, I see you, Loki.

Saying that in many places (North America, much of northern Europe) seems like an admission of a serious problem. Yet, cultural attitudes and the science of drinking behavior and its ramifications tell a different story.

In places like France and Italy,  cultural tendencies mostly go like this: you can drink wine every day, but consumption to the point of inebriation is considered a huge no-no. Don’t be the guy/gal who is drunk at a wedding. Keep it together, chief. Wine is usually an adjunct to food.


In places like the US, drinking wine with lunch or every night with dinner raises eyebrows, but getting hammered from time to time is socially acceptable. Haha! He’s that guy who got drunk at the wedding! Many Americans slink home from work and self-medicate in semi-secret. We even joke about it because hey, you’re either laughing or you’re crying, right? There is a certain degree of shame associated with drinking, and a pronounced backlash against it, with the normalization of heavy consumption a sort of cultural trope. Continue reading “Every day drinking”