Budget Week: Pizza Night

Tempranillo, the next shooting star?

Tempranillo, the next shooting star?

*This week you’ll be getting the 411 on some inexpensive wines and their easy, every day pairings.

Lunch at my preferred mom-n-pop Thai noodle shop went from seeking advice from a younger, hipster friend about social media to the reciprocity that she needed some advice as well. What does the budget strapped, just starting out, young professional (or any of us savers of an extra buck) with plenty of bills do for finding inexpensive wines… say for a quick take-out pizza or other typical any-day fare?

I think I have your answer. When it comes to pizza, your wine search should probably begin with what not to drink. Unless your local wine steward really knows their wines and your tastes budget, avoid the go-to pairing of cheap Chianti. Cut-rate Chianti became overly acidic and fruitless about the same time Merlot become flabby and herbaceous – overnight. Both Chianti and Merlot were once shooting stars that streaked across the sky before getting lazy (quality plummeted) and flaming out. Something about laurel-sitting probably sums it up best.

Sure there’s still some fine Chianti finds for around $10; they’re just more rare and need some relationship building for you to get that introduction. In the meantime (of that wine steward romance), grab a bottle of Spanish Tempranillo. The Spanish juggernaut has an armada of choices that are unassumingly flavorsome and unashamedly economical.

I was in a local shop this weekend looking for some inspiration when finally I decided I was going to do what many wine initiates inevitably do (or at least what I did back in the 19$?’s) and that is to label shop. I could have dated myself here but that would’ve required some carbon.

Luckily, my shopping-by-label choice for “pizza wine” wasn’t all cover; it had some book to back it up. The Senda 66 may sound more like a Japanese filling station then a Spanish red wine, but it easily demonstrates both the quality and value that Tempranillo brings to the table. And although it’s not overly acidic, it still has enough to hold up to the tomatoes in a traditional red sauce pie.

Likewise, the Senda 66 Tempranillo manages to keep in line with the $10 budget conscious while offering plenty of red berry and cherry fruit. Something you’ll find magical with that star anise-studded Italian sausage, peppering your pie on pizza night.

Don’t let these outstanding sleeper values pass you by

Every year the Knoxville market is flooded with several values in red wine. Separating the wheat from the chaff is the only true way to find the sleeper values. These selections were able to rise above the competition without rising in price. They may not be on everyone’s radar, but they offer some of the best values in red wine. Here’s an easy shopping list of the best values in red wine to come along this year.

- Best Chianti Value of the Year: Campobello Chianti

Sometimes Italian Chianti can be a tad bit too tart or unpleasantly acidic. The softening of these characteristics is what makes the 2005 Campobello the best Chianti value of the year. Campobello is not only quintessential Chianti but it’s also a food lover’s wine. With refined tannins and a supple cherry flavor-profile, the Campobello may have the loose translation of a “beautiful life,” but it’s also a beautiful wine and a molto bello Chianti value. Unlike most of the European imports that are slowly creeping up in price, the Campobello Chianti is available for only $7.99.

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Stock your bar with reliable ‘house reds’

Wine is one of those communal dynamics that bring people together. Most wine drinkers I know like to share good food and wine with friends over a little lively banter. They are entertainers and instinctively know that having quality wines around the house (for those last-minute get-togethers) is just as important as having a well-stocked fridge or liquor bar.

When it comes to selecting a dependable house wine, simplicity is the best path to pursue. You probably don’t want to get caught with something that’s either excessively dry or cloyingly sweet. Likewise, you’ll want to avoid the trap of choosing an obnoxiously heavy wine or one that’s forgettable, mild and meek. Not knowing what any individual guest may enjoy from one moment to the next can be a daunting task, so it’s important to follow a three-step approach.

First, try and find something down the middle. If it’s an all-purpose “house red” that you seek, you may want to avoid big, bold Bordeaux or a watered-down California Pinot Noir. History can be a great guide for finding that middle-of-the-road compromise. Take, for example, the piedmont region in northern Italy. Piedmont makes great high-euro Barolos; however, what you’ll find on the everyday dinner table is typically a Barbera.

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Red wines & food pairings from Tuscany

When it comes to red wines from Italy’s Tuscan region, the essential thing to keep in mind is the Sangiovese grape. Most people either love it or hate it, but Sangiovese, or one of its numerous clones, constitutes the great majority of red wines from Tuscany.

Sangiovese is much different from a Merlot or a Cabernet, not only in how it tastes but also for the simple reason that it isn’t produced as successfully or as widely as it is in Italy. Maybe it’s no coincidence that other Italian works of perfection, like espresso, leather, hand-blown glass, opera, tailor-made suits, sleek cars, shoes and soccer, are as unique and masterful.

n 2004 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina ($22.99)

Recently, at the advice of counsel, I looked into a midtier Italian red from the Frescobaldi family. I was a little apprehensive because of the price and the fact that my counsel had been off the mark since blowing four straight bocce matches. But with one sip of the 2004 Frescobaldi Nipozzano Chianti Rufina, I knew that he was back to form. The Nipozzano demonstrates a successful attempt at creating a more international wine that is identified by a fruit-forward style, sleeker tannins and an all-around likability. With notes of soft oak and vanilla as well as black fruit flavors, the Frescobaldi Nipozzano is a great teammate for an American prime rib or a bistecca Roma.

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