Tightening Our Belts

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Many of us are beginning the unpleasant task of examining our budget for the New Year. The job becomes even more tedious with the arrival in our daily mail of bills that remind us what a great time we had during the holidays.

Nobody likes to “cut back”. Foodies wrestle with the “diet” word during this first month of the year; oenophiles (it sounds better than “wino’) start analyzing their wine budget in light of the continuing decline of the value of the American dollar compared to the Euro.

The good news is that there is an abundant supply of good Italian wine at reasonable prices in the American marketplace. I would first suggest that you forget about Tuscany or the Piedmont for a few months. Concentrate on wine regions (i.e., Sicily, Le Marche, Puglia) that may not be as glamorous. Then find excellent producers in those regions; study the wines that they make. Don’t immediately buy their highest price wines. Experiment with wines at lower price points. Also experiment with grapes that are not so well known.

Let’s take a look at Sicily. Property values there are much less than in Tuscany and Piedmont. That translates into a winery owner being able to plant grapes at a lower cost. That savings is usually passed on to the consumer.

Lesser-known white grape varieties in Sicily would include Cataratto and Inzolia (sometimes spelled Insolia). Many times these grapes are used in blends. A few wines immediately come to mind that I have tasted over the last few months. The 2006 Colosi Bianco is a light, dry wine with floral aromas that goes well with all kinds of food. Also look for Tenuta Rapitala’s Casalj. Tenuta Principi di Butera makes a very nice Inzolia. All three of these white wines should be in the $9-$12 range.

Our red wine readers must remember that the red grape called Nero d’Avola is king in Sicily. The trick here is not to go looking for the blockbuster Tre Bicchieri award winners. Both Cusumano and Colosi can provide red wine in a budget category. Colosi’s Sicilia Rosso, made with 100% Nero d’Avola, and Cusumano’s Nero d’Avola will fit your budget and taste buds nicely.

You can also drink wine in these budget-minded times from the very famous Sicilian winery called Planeta. Although it is world-famous for its La Cometa, Santa Cecilia, and Chardonnay, they also make a wine called La Segreta Rosso. It is made from Nero d’Avola and Merlot. I have yet to find someone who doesn’t like this wine at less than $12 per bottle.

We may feel powerless as barrels of oil hover around the $100 level, and the American dollar continues to erode against the Euro. However, smart purchases at your local wine retailer will help keep you smiling at your nightly dinner table.

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