Taking it down a few $ pegs: Ipsus, Pantelleria, Passito 2011 dessert wine

Trying wines under $10 from different parts of the world (translation: outside of the world of California) is a no brainer for me. A cheap tasting will easily take the place of movie night, happy hour in Minnesota in January (translation: I don’t have to go outside) and doing work at home.
Ipsus, Pantelleria, Passito 2011 dessert wine (15% abv) was one of these $9 picks from Trader Joe’s. Great color (that of a bronzed sunset) and exotic location (the island of Pantelleria is in the middle of the MediterraneanDSC_0018 between Sicily and Africa), its name was reminiscent of Icarus, the boy from Greek mythology, who flew too close to the sun.

This wine does not exhibit same hubris as the boy–it’s not that aspiring or far reaching, but because of the lack of ambition, it doesn’t fully crash and burn, either.

On the plus side, this affordable wine had great notes of raisiny apricots, honey, and nuts; but on the reverse, it possessed a thick, lingering taste that was a few steps away from a Mr. Clean cousin (it didn’t taste of cleaner, but tasted thick-necked and as if it could rough you up in a dark alley.)

Perhaps I was ultimately swayed by my sweet tooth (the same one that likes Twinkies) but there was a flavor and sweetness combination I enjoyed, as if this was the wine version of “trail mix”—there was a little something of the earth to take the sweetness down a couple of pegs.

If you like sweet wines and are adventurous, I say give this a whirl! It adds a nice finish to dinner, without breaking the bank, and it’s nice to have a small glass to transition to night.  I may not serve it at a dinner party with wine connoisseurs, however.  You will crash and burn.


Tiny Bubbles for Big People of the Midwest: Botter’s Prosecco

Some days call for a celebration, even in a stunted, inexpensive way.  August 30th of this year was one of them.

I had a bottle of Prosecco, given to me by a former colleague in DC.  It was the last day of my 10-year stint in DC, and he handed me a bottle of Botter Prosecco. Tim, a foodie and wine-lover’s advice to me was simple, “Don’t mix this with OJ.” So, a year later, this non-lover of sparkling opened the bottle (that to me, signaled endings–and beginnings) on a waning Summer day in Minnesota.  It fit.

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The Wine: Hailing from NE Italy and the Veneto region, Botter’s Prosecco was a nice, simple surprise. Made from what I understand is the grape behind Prosecco’s name, Glera, it is a neutral, medium plus acid, lightly-bubbled sparkling wine. Wine-makers use a technique that brings the wine through a second fermentation in a tank, a very different method than that which makes Champagne Champagne (among other reasons, of course!)

The fruit of green apple and honey is subtle.  The fun part of the bottle is that it is corked like a still-wine, each cork hand-wrapped by string, bringing to mind the sealed letters of historic European royalty. Retailing around $13 (listed at Total Wine should you be near one), there is nothing surprising about the wine.  It was a pleasant drink on the same occasion as it was given-the end of the summer, and the beginning of new adventures.   For the price and the enjoyment, I would definitely pick up a bottle if I were you and it was on the shelf in front of me. Salute!

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Lambrusco, the other white grape: Le Grotte’s Dell’Emilia Bianco

DSC_0010“I’ll try anything once”–and–“I rarely read the fine print” are phrases I have used many times to describe my adventurous self.  Right before I get myself into trouble due to the aforementioned attributes.This includes camping, when I should have been hoteling, on a 1000 mile bike ride (the ground is not anyone’s friend); saying yes to the job in Minnesota before the coldest winter ever (more than two months of sub-zero temps); and driving 18 hours to said job the night before I started it after competing in my last Ironman race (there is not enough coffee in the world).

This wine, again, is one of those times. Sadly,  I have tried–and liked–it before.

The wine: Le Grotte’s Dell’Emilia Bianco Lambrusco (Dolce, 8%) purchased at Trader Joe’s for $4.99.

I had thought this wine a steal last year in DC during the final heat wave I seemingly would ever experience.  In 2013, it was light, refreshing, bubbly.


In 2014, it was green-grapey alcoholic, fizzy.  (But the temps started out at 57 degrees this August morning, so there is a slight defense in it’s favor).

Truth be told, I have had worse wines in dive bars, at parties and in my own house.  After a few more sips,  it became palatable, in the way that I start to crave banana-flavored Laffy Taffy when the sugar sets in.  My guess is the recommended pairing should be a nice, hot still summer evening devoid of other wine in the house.

Alfred Lloyd Tennyson sums up my experience with this wine: “‘Tis better to have love and lost than to never have loved at all.”  Arrivederci, sweet Lambrusco.  Arrevederci.

Italian wine you might like: Villa Cerrina, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012

Big. Bold. Earthy. Tannins. Dry.

These are the words I often hear and associate with Italian wines, and a good one (like an I-live-in-Italy Italian man who doesn’t live at home) is hard to find. And these words have often been quickly followed up by, “I’ll have a French wine, please. Or maybe a Pinot”  in my experience. Many consumers don’t often like a side of WWF red wine with their dinner–you know, the kind that might beat you up with a developing palette bruise as you sip it?

It’s true that in some circles Italian wines that you might want to drink within the decade they are bottled are hard to find.  During the past month, I’ve tried about five different Italian reds, ranging from $24.99 to $49.99.  I consider myself an expert-in-training, or at least an advanced novice, but I have to say–I was disappointed in my recent red italiano picks (My whites have been spectacular! More in a later post).   As such, I hate to say it, but one of my favorite Italian reds and the topic of this post was given to me by a co-worker.  The twist? It’s from Trader Joe’s.   While not a two-buck chuck, I knew it was not going to be super spendy, as my co-worker somewhat giggled when describing it.

The day before this bottle, I had thrown away a Chilean wine after first sip. I don’t do bad (those calories add up, and why should my face look like an overcooked baked potato when “enjoying” a glass after work?)  As is common practice, I was alone (again) on a wintry Minnesota night (this description is way too kind this 2014), so I thought, why  not? Let’s open the gift bottle now–my frozen pizza deserves some spruce.  So, I waited a couple months for the right moment.  This was it.

The wine: Villa Cerrina Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012.  Montepulciano is one of the most plaphoto-101nted grapes in Italy, grown in regions such as Abruzzo (shocker, I know), Marche, Molise and Puglia.  Because of overproduction in recent history, many have shied away from the wine because of a perceived dip in quality.  However, I would say like other Italian varietals that are undergoing careful planting, this wine is on the rebound.

The nose was pleasant off the bat: fruity with some hints of spice and oak, it was fruit-forward more than the 13% alcohol in a 2012 Italian wine led me to believe.  The first sip? Surprising! It was fresh, fruit-filled and accessible, with notes and flavors of red berries, blackberries a little more into the sip, and lightly dusted in oak, spice and earth notes (I would hazard a guess at vanilla, too).  Medium in tannins and acid, I found this wine delightful on its own, and even fun and fruity with food.  Two days later, I’m still drinking this wine, and find it as good on this day as the first.

The kicker? If you look up the price, this wine comes in at a whopping $4.99.  And yet, like it’s earlier cousin, there was no throwing away of this wine.  I say, Bravo!, and please pick up a few bottles to have on hand for a wintry night, party night, loner night or a night that you want to share something enjoyable with a friend.

Prego.  E mille grazie, Pamela.




Easing the Pain: Ca’DiPian

I often say I want to run away to Italy to live on a vineyard in Piedmont.

Today, I ran away to a wine from the region, the Barbera D’Asti. You know it’s a “day” when the Italians living in Minnesota start to open Italian wine. I had to look twice to see that DiPian really wasn’t “of pain.”  It was a tough week of moving culture shock and of bottling all workouts into this weekend. Pain seemed appros pos.

I’ve often shied away from opening Italian wine just for drinking–the high acids and tannins often leave me feeling like tumbleweeds-have-blown-through-my-mouth dry.  This wine: La Spinetta Ca’Di Pian Barbera D’Asti 2008 was really well balanced and fruit forward of red and black berries, balanced with vanilla, oak and earthy undertones, coupled with a nice medium finish.  Although the label came in at 14% alcohol, it felt much like a younger version of its big, bold Italian sister, balancing the high acid with the low tannin. It was lovely, as if a young Al Pacino came to my apartment to wish me a good night.


After Sangiovese and Montepulciano, the Barbera grape is the third most planted grape in Italy.  And if the interwebs is accurate, the wine must be made by March 1, immediately following the harvest.  Who knew?

This bottle averages $23.  Go buy one.  The beautiful part of this hard week is that I get to share it with my first friend in life (outside of the family, as we say).

Godere! (I think, or hope rather, the interwebs helped me translate this correctly).  Enjoy!

I am still going to make a workout in the morning, but wanted to celebrate the 4 workouts in 3 days I did make.  To the Pain!