Italian Reds Smackdown – 9 Italian Red Wines Blind Tasted

I can hardly believe it, but our community wine tasting club – The Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC”) is entering its fifth year, and going stronger than ever. Our most recent gathering had an Italian theme.  Since we’ve previously tasted Chianti, and Barbera those were not options.  But with over 500 different Italian grape varieties, including at least 10 major grape varieties, there were still plenty of options. We settled any Italian Reds, and folks were encouraged think beyond Sangiovese!

Our tastings alway start with a “Happy Hour” where we get a chance to catch up with each other, and grab a bite to eat (we do a themed potluck).  Since we had an Italian theme, there was plenty of Italian food (click to enlarge)

Here’s how our blind-tasting went down:

  • Italian red priced between $15-$25
  • Maximum of 9 bottles tasted
  • There were 19 tasters, with a diverse range of experience with wine
  • Tasters are required to score all wines
  • Both average and median scores are calculated.  The winner determined by highest median score.  Average score used as tie breaker.

photo 1 (10)

We had a nice selection of wines that showcased some of the diversity of Italian wines. Geographically speaking, Tuscany was the most well represented, but there were also wines representing Veneto, Piedmont, Sicily, and Campania.  From a grape variety standpoint, Sangiovese was the most well represented, but we also had wines made from Aglianico, Corvino, Corvino blends, Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

The wines tasted were:

  • 2010 Poderi Foglia Aglianico Gallucio Concarosso (Aglianico) – $20
  • 2010 Montechiara Amarone della Valpolicella (Corvino Blend) – $25
  • 2011 Luisi Barbera d’Asti (Barbera) – ($17)
  • 2007 Rubbia al Colle Toscana IGT (61% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 11% Cabernet Franc, 9% Syrah) – ($13)
  • 2012 Rocche di Cusa Cabernet Sauvignon (Cab + Nero D’Avola) – ($15)
  • 2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (Sangiovese) – ($19)
  • 2009 Castello Banfi Chianti Classico (Sangiovese) – $17)
  • 2010 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT (Corvino Blend) – ($21)
  • 2011 Straccali Chianti Classico (Sangiovese) – ($21)

The wines were scored based on 4 criteria (aroma, body, taste, and finish) - each on a scale of 1-5 (1-low; 5-high). Therefore minimum score = 4 point and maximum = 20 points

Italian Wine night score Sheet

Image courtesy of Jojo Ong

The Winner:

Italian wine night winner

Photo courtesy of Jojo Ong

With a median score of 13.5pts

The runners-up were and scores in descending order were:

  • 2012 Rocche di Cusa Cabernet Sauvignon (12.5 pts)
  • 2011 Straccali Chianti Classico (12.3 pts)
  • 2010 Montechiara Amarone della Valpolicella  (12.0 pts)
  • 2011 Luisi Barbera d’Asti (11 pts)
  • 2010 Poderi Foglia Aglianico Gallucio Concarosso (10 pts)
  • 2010 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre Veronese IGT (10 pts)
  • 2009 Fattoria del Cerro Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva (10 pts)
  • 2009 Castello Banfi Chianti Classico (9.8 pts)

Blind tastings are always fun, and there’s almost always a surprise of some sort.  More often than not, it’s a $10 wine beating our a $25 wine.  Not only did the lowest priced wine, but it was made from a blend of mostly (91%) Bordeaux grape varieties – definitely non-traditional Italian grapes.

Likewise for the second place wine, which was the second lowest price and made primarily from Cabernet Sauvignon.

I think the obvious answer is that our tasters prefer the “New World”, rather than “Old World” style wines.  Speaking from personal experience the more rustically styled Italian wine can take some getting used to.

Regardless of which style one prefers, I think everyone found a wine or two they really enjoyed, and got a chance to try something new (it was my first Amarone, and Aglianico) while expanding their wine knowledge.  And isn’t that what a wine tasting club experience is all about?

Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club Blind Tasting – Chianti

It was our wine club’s first time tasting a wine produced solely outside the US.  We tasted a nice variety of Chiantis – three from Chianti Classico, reputed to be the best Chianti, and one each from Rufina, and Chianti (the grapes were sourced from various subzones within the Chianti DOCG).  There was also a variety of vintages. Additionally, there were three “Riserva” level wines, which were aged a minimum of 24 months.  All wines were between$10 – $20.

We tasted the following five wines:

  1. 2005  Incanto Chianti Classico Riserva – $10/100% Sangiovese /13% ABV
  2. 2006 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Rufina Chianti Riserva – $17/ Blend of Sangiovese, Malavasia, Canaiolo, Merlot, and Cab/ 13.5% ABV
  3. 2007 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva – $17/Almost exclusively Sangiovese/13% ABV
  4. 2007  Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico – $13; At least 80% Sangiovese plus Canaiolo, and Merlot/13% ABV
  5. 2008 Malenchini Chianti – $11/100% Sangiovese/14% ABV

Chianti Night Blind Tasting - The Wines

And the winner was…

2005 Malenchini Chianti (purchased at Whole Foods). Click here for Cellartracker reviews.

Malenchini Chianti - The Winner!

As always seems to be the case…”The last shall be first”.  While the winner wasn’t the least expensive (It was the second least expensive), it was the least in that it was neither produced in the most prestigious Chianti Classic0 DOCG, nor was it a “Riserva” aged for at least 24 months in oak barrels.  In fact, it wasn’t even aged in oak. It was aged in stainless steel!

So if you’re looking for a good Chianti, at a good price….try a bottle!


Sunday Italian Gravy – Wine Pairing Smackdown!

We invited some friends over for dinner and decided to make the classic Italian-American dish Sunday Italian Gravy (Hearty Italian Meat Sauce) from Cook’s Illustrated (click “Watch the video” at this link) .  Its a dish I made earlier this year in February for Open That Bottle Night.  We enjoyed it with a bottle of  2005 Rosenblum Cellars Kick Ranch Reserve Syrah.  It was a fabulous pairing (click  here for my blog post)

Though the Syrah was fabulous with Sunday Italian Gravy, I wondered if an Italian wine might pair even better with this hearty Italian Meat-A-Palooza comprised of six different types of meats simmered slowly in a robust tomato sauce for a few hours.   Ah yes…time for a wine pairing smack-down!

The smack-down contestants were the reigning champ – the 2005 Rosenblum Kick Ranch Reserve Syrah, and two Italian challengers  – the 2004 Pio Cesare Barolo, and 2008 Gabbiano Chianti (a last minute entry courtesy of a friend who doesn’t like to come to a dinner party empty handed – my favorite kind of friend!)

It took me about 3 hours to prepare the dish (about half the time that’s typically spent making the dish), and it turned out wonderfully! We served the hearty meat sauce with spaghetti, an Italian salad, and homemade garlic bread.

Sunday Gravy

The rules for the smack-down were simple:

  1. Get the wines ready to drink (i.e. decant the wines – 7 hours in the case of the Barolo, and 3 hours for the Syrah).
  2. Sip, savor, and tell me which you like best with the dish.

We started with the exalted Italian challenger, Barolo.  Breathing therapy seemed to help sooth the surly tannins of the brooding Italian, as the Barolo wooed the judges with its seductive aromas, complexity, balance, full body, and a staying power.  The judges were duly impressed and several asked for an encore performance all the while commenting about how well it harmonized with the Sunday Italian Gravy, and its remarkable balance.   Next up was the reigning champ hailing from California, the Kick Ranch Syrah.  Unfazed by the impressive showing of the Italian Barolo, and knowing its strengths, it quickly pounced on the judges with more vivid, though overall less complex aromas, gobs of extracted, dark, rich Sonoma fruit, sultry spiciness, and matched the body of the Italian challenger. While it didn’t have the staying power of the Barolo, it too flaunted its pairing proclivity with Sunday Italian Gravy.  Lastly, and sadly least, was the Chianti.  It should have sat out this competition of heavyweights. It was clearly the 98 pound weakling of the bunch, and the judges politely, but swiftly bounced the Chianti from the competition.

The judges conferred, and in a close, but unanimous decision avowed their preference for the… (drum roll please)

- Pio Cesare Barolo!! (clickhere for my review).

Related stuff you might find interesting:

Sunday Gravy with Ween (Benito’s Wine Reviews)