Pennywise… and Poundwise, too

Warren en familleI was approached a month or so ago by my friend Jessica, whose co-worker Warren had been given a $100 gift certificate to Spec’s Wines, Spirits, & Finer Foods. Jessica reads my blog as regularly as her driving work schedule allows, and had spread the word about the Scamp around her workplace, so Warren now reads my blog. Friends are the very best publicity, I promise!

Jessica explained to me that Warren spent a couple of years studying in Italy, and thus has been exposed to good wine. As the father of two young children, however, he does not have the budget to spend much on wine, and the opportunity to spend $100 guilt-free dollars on himself is quite unusual and luxurious indeed. His desire was to spend it wisely, and so Jessica contacted me for advice.

I myself am quite familiar with the old conundrum of loving wine but being largely unable to spend much, if anything, on it. (I sat out “Show Us Your Rack” day because I simply don’t keep that much wine in the house, and I certainly don’t have the money to purchase bottles worthy of cellaring. The wine I have on hand, usually about 8-12 bottles, is kept in two Ikea bottle racks and a cardboard box.)

Add to my relative poverty the fact that I’m spoiled, and hate spending precious money on bad wine, and you find in me the perfect Scrooge, ready to take on the challenge of carefully and parsimoniously spending Warren’s c-note for him.

But how? As many bottles of plonk as possible? Three Great Wines that he could cellar and pull out for special occasions?

Upon questioning, it turns out that Warren hoped to get the most possible bottles out of his gift certificate, but also thought it would be good to have one nicer bottle for an occasion. He told me that during his time in Tuscany, he developed an affection for Chianti, Super Tuscans, Brunello, Negroamaro and Primitivo. He hasn’t tried any Barolo or Amarone, but is interested in them. He likes to experiment, but usually likes “heavier, earthy, rich, full-bodied wines.”

So, pad and pencil in hand, I hied myself off to Spec’s, to make notes. I chatted up the salesguys about wines I hadn’t tried, wrote down prices and vintages of a variety of bottles, and then went home to research the performance of the wines unknown to me. I consulted Parker and Tanzer on most of them, and after a couple more visits and opening a few bottles myself, I came up with this list:

Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto d’AlbaVina Antigua Sangiovese-Bonarda 2005, $4.98
Bulletin Place Shiraz 2006, $5.88
Monte Campo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2005, $5.99
Feudo Arancio Syrah 2005, $5.73
Falesco Est!Est!!Est!!! di Montefiascone 2006, $8.32
A Mano Primitivo 2005, $11.91
Masi Campofiorin Ripasso 2004, $12.59
Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico 2005, $12.42
Borsao Tres Picos Grenache 2005, $15.78
Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto D’Alba 2006, $18.78

Grand total: $102.38

Since Warren was Barolo-curious, I went with a Dolcetto by Signore Piemonte himself, Bruno Giacosa. After reading the reviews, it sounds like a steal at under $20. I know the Badia a Coltibuono CC is a steal at under $13 — that’s more like the price I’m used to for Cetamura! Badia a Coltibuono is one of the few Chianti producers that I can drink with pleasure and not from intellectual interest or duty.

Borsao Tres Picos is always a pleasure, though. Made from Garnacha (grenache) vines over 40 years old, this wine is a steal at $16, as is the Masi Campofiorin Ripasso for $13. Masi’s is one of the least expensive Ripassos I’ve found, and while I love me some Zenato and Allegrini, Masi is a class act all the way. Campofiorin can lay down for a couple of years or splash across your tonsils tonight, and what other $13 wine can you say that for?

Of course, A Mano Primitivo has a whole lotta shaking going on for the money, too. Californian Mark Shannon makes a juicy, intense Primitivo — though I admit I almost went with a Salice Salentino from Taurino instead. And that Falesco Est! Est!! Est!!! is what Pinot Grigio wants to grow up to be: fresh, fruity, with great acidity and enough body to stand up to chicken if you can’t afford shrimp. One never goes wrong with the wines of Mr. Cotarella, as I may have mentioned in the past. The Falesco Vitiano, one third each Cabernet/Merlot/Sangiovese, was on the list at first… but sacrifices had to be made.

The four wines in the $6 and under range are all kickin’ for the money, and I will be reviewing them separately for a January Budget Wines series. Yes, Viriginia, you can drink wine for under $6 a bottle!

Would you have chosen anything different? Tell the world about it in your comment!

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