Looking for quality and value in tax-time wine purchases

Sure, it's remarkable to taste fine and rare wines while attending press events and trade shows. But when it's our dime financing the nightly quaff, wine geeks like me troll the bottom retail shelves for low-cost/top-quality wines that express their regions' unique flavors and the bragging rights that come with our finds. And at tax time, it's even more essential to find a tasty deal. Here are two of my longtime favorites (maybe yours, too) and one discovery, all under $15.

Pinot Noir, 'Collezione del Barone' Monte Degli Angeli, 2020

From Piedmont, Italy. It tastes like Pinot; it tastes like Piedmont! This medium-bodied red offers silky entry, flavors of dried herbs, dark spices, wild berries and a craggy tannic finish, a unique alternative to the sun-drenched, cherry-licious (and sometimes sweetened) Pinot Noir currently in vogue.

Serve cool to the palate as an intriguing cocktail and complement to antipasti, including sun-dried tomatoes and cured meats. For main courses, serve with seafood, poultry and lighter meats. To aid your merchant in sourcing this wine, the importer is New York-based Monsieur Touton, a global resource for premium wines and spirits for 36 years. Since tasting it at In Fine Spirits, 5418 N. Clark St., Chicago, I've made it my house red. (Available at fine wine shops, under $15)

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Masciarelli, 2020

From Abruzzo, Italy. Ripe, round and gulpable, this soft red is the perfect pizza wine, be it Chicago-style or international.

Not to be confused with Montepulciano (a Tuscan region), the Montepulciano grape is the pride of Abruzzo, not to be confused with Abbruzzi (the region's long-retired name). Abruzzo lies 30 miles east of Rome, bounded by the Apennine Mountains to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east. It's a rugged region with 65% mountain terrain, 80 miles of coastline and 80,000 vineyard acres, primarily planted to Montepulciano. Masciarelli is family-owned, founded in 1981 by patriarch Gianni and currently helmed by mother-daughter team Marina Cvetic and Miriam Lee Masciarelli. They are the only producer to own vineyards throughout the region, with 741 acres planted from 660 feet to 1,650 feet altitude, in varying soils and exposures to the sea, all providing a wealth of flavor contributing to this great value red. It's a mouthful of berries, with accents of dried herbs and leather, outlined by pleasingly firm tannin, not unlike Abruzzo's motto "forte e gentile" (strong and kind).

Once among Italy's poorer regions, Abruzzo's traditional cuisine is hearty, flavorful and filling, with wines to match. Serve cool to the palate for a rich cocktail and complement to meats such as regional lamb dishes arrosticini (skewers), agnello cacio e oro (a rustic fricassee) and timballo alla teramana, the regional lasagna traditionally served for Easter. (Widely available, about $12.)

Riesling, Clean Slate 2021

From Mosel, Germany. Like biting into a perfectly ripe peach, this juicy white balances sweetness and acidity, accented with delicate minerality unique to the slate hillside vineyards of the Mosel Valley.

With only 10% alcohol and 22.4 grams of sugar (standard cola contains about 100 grams per liter), it's an easy sipper, whether on its own or topped with soda for a traditional Spritzer. It's also a versatile food complement satisfying several of my food guidelines: For "sugar and spice makes everything nice," Clean Slate balances the heat of barbecue, spicy Asian cuisine and the saltiness of blue cheese. For "Opposites attract," pair the wine's acidity with fatty dishes such as bratwurst. For "Sweeter for the sweets," the wine's delicate sweetness enhances sweet dishes like sushi, chicken salad with fruits and recipes with roasted red peppers, sweet corn and seasonal and Vidalia onions. (Available at chains and specialty grocers, about $12.)

To test my wine and food rules, join me at The Chopping Block, 4747 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, from 6:30-8 p.m. Friday, April 7, for Culinary Heaven: Wine and Cheese Pairing. We'll mix and match five kinds of cheese with five wines to explore exciting taste sensations. For details and to register, visit Class Calendar | The Chopping Block.

• Mary Ross is an Advanced Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), a Certified Wine Educator (Society of Wine Educators) and recipient of the Wine Spectator's "Grand Award of Excellence." Write to her at

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.