Affordable quality wines

Looking for an interesting, quality wine that's affordable? Here are a couple of proven treats featuring varietals that are well-known and user-friendly.

Alido 2007 Chianti, Tuscany. I happen to be a Sangiovese nut and am quite picky when it comes to Chianti, which prominently features the Sangiovese grape. Thankfully, Chianti has come a long way over the past 20 years.

Years ago, you had to be careful selecting a Chianti, whether Classico or Reserva, which were uneven in quality. Some wineries were far above others in what they were doing in the vineyard and the cellar. But many producers had an "if it ain't broke" attitude toward Chianti production and the entire region suffered as a consequence.

Enormous amounts of very poor-quality Chianti hit the American palate prior to the late 1970s. The straw-covered Chianti bottles, which were a common sight on retail shelves years ago, are now mostly a thing of the past and so is the junk that came out of them.

The Chianti region woke up and when it did, the quality factor went through the roof and Chianti became an international red wine on its own. No longer are we seeing over-cropped vineyards or unclean cellars. Today's offerings are light years ahead of what was produced even 20 years ago. In fact, when I attended a Chianti tasting recently, I found not a hint of microbial action in any of the 20 wines being served. The use of oak was judicious in most of them, and taste sensations were all pronounced and very lovely. The best part was that none of the wines tasted were more than $15 per bottle.

The Alido Chianti 2007, for under $15, remains one of the great little wine treats available today. I remember the previous vintages being also very nice but there is something about this gem that really lights the palate. Drawn with unctuous fruit and balanced oak, the wine dances nicely on the palate. The finish is warm but not hot and seemingly goes on forever. We had this wine with a wonderful Bolognese pasta and it integrated perfectly. Amazingly, after being open for a full day, the wine showed beautifully the next evening as well. This tells me that it is well-balanced and has great staying power.

Ca' Del Sarto Barbera d'Alba, $15.95 per bottle. I cut my wine teeth on barbera, a red wine from my parent's native region of Piemonte, Italy. Barbera is my wine of choice for good value, power and flavor in a red wine. It also was the varietal of choice in my home growing up, and I will say that whenever in doubt on a red wine for a weekday dinner, I will fall back on barbera more times than not.

Barbera has that wonderful attribute of giving one rusticity as well as polish in the same mouthful of juice. Barberas come in a variety of flavor components, but the one thing to remember is that it rarely disappoints in value for dollar spent. I cannot remember when I have had a "bad" bottle of this lovely varietal.

The Ca' Del Sarto is a lovely offering. Spicy, light and fresh on the palate with a hint of raspberry, this is really a nice wine for the money. Unlike some barberas, it is very lively on the palate. I like the change and it went really well with lamb stew by marrying well with the spices without tromping the dish with new oak and overripe fruit. A friend brought a bottle of Amador County zinfandel as a gift, which we opened at the same time. It was the consensus at the table that the more subtle barbera was the hit of the evening, being nuance-driven as opposed to overpowering.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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