I’m not a vinophile in the strict sense of the word. But I did cut my teeth on Sicilian red wines and that’s something you can take quite literally. It would probably get you arrested and hauled into court if you did it now, but it was common for Sicilian grandmothers and mothers to treat teething babies by dabbing their gums with red wine. The trick was to dip a crust of Italian bread into a cup of red wine and then let the rug rat gnaw on it to ease those raw and aching gums.
I can’t remember how well it worked but my mother says it did. An additional benefit for me was that I developed a preference for wine of a particular type. I can drink a dry Chardonnay once in a while, or other common white wines, but I’ll take a good red “table wine” any day over an evening dress party wine.
Mostly, I tend to look for robust and hearty wines in the 8 to 16 dollar range. There are several old standbys that serve me well when I don’t feel like trying something new. The Pennsylvania state liquor stores often carry labels showing mark-offs from regular price-usually one to four dollars, depending on regular price.
Red Zinfandel wines are varietal, and they are considered one of California’s oldest wines, established during the Gold Rush. However, they originated in Italy, where they are often called “Primitivo.” Some people believe that, while Primitivo has the same genetic characteristics as California Zinfandel, it is a different wine.
Francis Ford Coppola makes a great red California Zinfandel which costs about $16.00 here. I avoided it at first because of the famous name brand, but it’s really excellent, as are some of Coppola’s other wines. Apparently, Coppola knows what he’s doing in the vineyards, as he does in the film cutting room.
A-Mano Primitivo is a very good Italian imported wine and it’s often available at a discount for $7.99. Having chronic sinus trouble, I can’t describe what wine writers call the “bouquet” but, like most hearty Zinfandels, it is typically robust, with earthy flavors, peppery and reminiscent of blackberries. Those flowery descriptive phrases are purposefully pretentious, and are the commonly employed language in describing Zinfandels. Suffice it to say that my description of the four wines mentioned here will be exactly the same, as that’s reflective of the extent of my refinement.
Arancia Nero D’Avola is another good Sicilian import, and can be had for $10 or $11 dollars at the regular price. I try to buy it at discount, also, but it’s not expensive at regular price. I think wine prices are much like fine art prices. It’s hard to match a dollar amount to a painting, and one of lower price is often better than one of higher price.
My next red Zinfandel favorite may sound like it comes from the Middle East, but actually comes from Rosenblum’s California vineyards. My Italian grandmother wouldn’t have been unable to pronounce it if she were alive; she would probably have called it “Roseblumicino” or something like that.
Rosenblum Zinfandel costs about $11.00 here, and is perhaps slightly more refined and smoother than some rougher, earthier Zinfandels. It’s an excellent choice within that price range.
These are plebian, earthy wines, and may not appeal to all palates. It has also been my experience that some women and some men prefer lighter, sipping wines. For people of such taste, I would recommend the Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the 1997 vintage at the discount price of $249.00. The wine.com website describes it as “….pearlescent – a pale, lustrous gold with a fine, lively mousse. The nose is complex yet ethereal.” I have no idea what that means or why anyone would want that. The “fine, lively mousse” might spread to other parts of the body.