Buying Wines is a Sport

By Martin Mendiola….
To find a good $100 bottle of wine easy, finding a good $20 bottle of wine is a sport.  We celebrate as much, give as many high fives and brag as much when we find a good priced wine as in any other sport.  We may even brag more, for we call our friends and tell them about our find which we may not do when scoring a goal or touchdown.  The only other time we may do as much, is if we score a hole in one.

There are many ways and a few secrets to finding a good $20 bottle of wine.  We have friends who use the shotgun approach where they buy and try all the wines they can get for under $15.  What happens most of the time is that they have become experts at finding the less bad wines among the bad.  They can tell you which one is better than the other bad ones, but rarely find a good one.

Buying winemakers’ second label is not much of a secret anymore.  This is when a winery has a real top brand and uses those grapes that were not bad, just not good enough for their top brand to produce another label.  You may end up getting a high quality wine for a good price.  A little bit of research will yield great results.

One of our favorite systems for finding good values as well as making new discoveries is what we call the similar method.  This is where you find similarities in grape varieties, terroir, winemaker, etc. and try the different products available under the premise that if one is good, the other one could or should also be.

As an example, when looking at a map of Italy you will find that Toscana covers the same latitude to the west as the Le Marche region to the east.  A bit of research told us about the beautiful sites, the pristine beaches, the fact that Raphael was born in the region as well as the famous poet/philosopher Giacomo Leopardi.  More of a contemporary and in some circles better known, Cesare Mondavi was originally from the area and lived there until coming to the United States where he became one of the best-known wine makers in the world.

These facts made it interesting, but what really caught our eyes was when someone called Le Marche the “New Tuscany” claiming that it had many similarities with its neighbor to the west.  Since the terrain and climate were similar, we figured the wines had to be similar.

The calcareous soils at Le Marche are excellent for growing Sangiovese, Verdicchio and Montepulciano grapes.  (Please note that Montepulciano is an indigenous black grape varietal that excels in the local terroir and it is not related to the Tuscan wine region known for making the Vino Nobile)  There is also a native grape rarely found outside the town of Morro D’Alba called Lacrima with a shape similar to a tear and therefore the name.  This varietal makes the Lacrima di Morro D’Alba wine, one of the most aromatic wines we have ever tried.  The Monte Schiavo Panse’ Lacrima di Morro D’Alba has a most enticing floral bouquet and we are told by Daniel Dobboloni from Monte Schiavo that if a glass is left in a room, before long the aroma will permeate and the whole room will smell like flowers.   The versatility of the grape is shown when used 100% to make the Gran Lasco Brut Rose also by Monte Schiavo.

The most prolific appellations for red wine in Le Marche are the Rosso Conero and the Rosso Piceno.  According to the DOC regulations, the Rosso Conero must be made with at least 85% Montepulciano and Sangiovese makes up the other 15%.  The Rosso Piceno is a good competitor for Chianti made with at least 60% Sangiovese, the Chianti grape.

Le Marche is the land of Verdicchio, the grape that supposedly makes the best wine to have with seafood.  When we recently had a Pallio di San Floriano 100% Verdicchio with a brodetto, a fish and everything else from the sea soup, it really was the best pairing.  As much as we like Albariño, in this case the Verdicchio was better.

Some claim that Le Marche and its Verdicchios are the source of one of the most enduring images on Italian wine, the fish shaped bottle.  When these bottles first came out there was so much wine produced and sold, that greed by the producers along with lack of control “stripped Verdicchio of its personality.”  It has taken a very long time for it to regain its rightful position as the best wine for seafood.

There is one more wine from Le Marche that we find fascinating, the Vernaccia di Serrapetrona.  This is a unique red sparkling wine produced from a local grape variety named Vernacchia Nera, found only in the Serrapetrona area.  It is as unique as it is rare due to a very limited production.  It is also ancient, mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy.

The most interesting thing about the wines from Le Marche is that you will find some very good values and specifically the ones from Monte Schiavo mentioned here, are all under $20.

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