These great reds are also great values
When I read accounts of wines that are "great values around $30," I know the author isn't paying their own money for the wine they drink. In our dynamic Chicagoland market, you don't have to part with more than $15 -- including tax! -- for well-made, delicious wine for everyday enjoyment, mass gatherings or to up the flavor profile of your favorite winter soup, stew or roast. The standard recipe: one part for pot, one part for Chef. Here are some of my go-to reds:
• Sangiovese di Toscana, Il Bastardo (Italy): From the most-planted grape (Sangiovese) grown in the world's top-producing wine country (Italy) and one of its finest regions (Tuscany) comes this fleshy, firm and fun red, with nonetheless top winemaking cred: Grapes are sourced from finest growers throughout Rufina, one of the most respected Chianti zones and harvested just as fruit flavors ripen to balance refreshing acidity, but before turning sweet. Crushed grapes macerate with skins for 10 days for bright color, pleasing tannin, and eminently drinkable berry and spice flavor. You don't have to be Italian -- and neither does your food -- to enjoy this wine as a cocktail and to wash down the broadest range of flavorful dishes including barbecue wings and chili, lamb curry, stuffed portobellos or your favorite pizza. Widely available, under $10.
• Cune Crianza, C.V.N.E. (Spain): C.V.N.E. stands for Compañía Vinícola del Norte del España (the Northern Spanish Wine Company), but since that's a mouthful, everyone calls them Cune (pronounced KOO-nay). Founded in 1879, Cune wines have been decorated with top international honors for more than a century, continuing that trend into the current 2015 vintage. The classic Rioja blend of Tempranillo, Garnacha Tinta and Mazuelo matures a full year in American oak barrels for plush texture, fine tannins and complex flavor including ripe berries, vanilla, cocoa and licorice. Serve with most Mediterranean dishes and all meats, as well as rich veggie dishes and poultry: wine and spirits shops, $12.99.
• Carmenere-Merlot Reserva, Oveja Negra (Chile): A chewy red with ripe red and black fruit, licorice and peppery spice and pleasing pushback of tannin for meaty dishes including the richest pasta. The winery produces several blends and several labels at varying prices. While I suspect them all to be great values, I've tasted only this Carm-Merlot. Not widely available, but worth an ask at your favorite wine merchant. About $12.99
• "Le Loup dans la Bergerie," Jean Orliac (France): A bright, spicy red, good for grilled seafood as well as meats. Sandwiched between rocky cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea, if the land of Pic St. Loup isn't planted to hardy Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and Carignane grapes, it's blanketed by wild savory, thyme and rosemary (know locally as garrigue), which add unique herbal qualities to the region's wine. Not widely available, but worth an ask at your favorite wine merchant. About $12.99.
• Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Zenato (Italy): Unrestrained and friendly, these cherry and spice aromas reach out from the glass, inviting you to enjoy ripe red fruit and white pepper flavors, plush texture and accents that remind this palate of a favorite steak sauce. At home in northern Italy or Chicago, serve with Fegato ała venesiana (calves' liver fried with onions) Pastissada de manzo (beef stew), Pollo alla padovana (spit-roasted chicken) or sausage pizza. Major wine and spirits shops and independents. About $14.99.
• 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 food@daily herald.com.
Ross' choiceWine Name: Pinot Noir
Producer: Eola Hills Wine Cellars
Region: Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Availability: Wine and spirits chains and fine wine shops, under-$20
Distributed by: Lagniappe Beverage, Chicago
Tasting Notes: Silky and mouth-filling, with easy complexity of just-ripe red fruits, exotic spice, dried herb and Pinot Noir's characteristic "forest floor" accent. Serve as an elegant cocktail or complement to smoked and cured meat, game birds with fruit sauce (turkey, duck), light red meats and -- an American classic pairing -- salmon. The Anderson family established their winery in 1986; in 2006 their Eola-Amity Hills subregion of Oregon's Willamette Valley received American Viticultural Area (AVA) distinction for unique growing conditions including the steady Pacific winds blowing through the Van Duzer Corridor (itself receiving its own AVA last year). While the reputation and shelf price of Willamette wine continues to climb, this wine remains a quality/value at under-$20.