For better or worse, we eat a lot of pasta in our house, despite often-expressed waistline concerns based on the narcotic-like effects of good pasta sauces. (How many of us can really resist the temptation to go back for second helpings?) And because we enjoy pasta so much, I often find myself in short supply of good, inexpensive Italian wines, especially reds, which for me are de rigueur for tomato-based sauces.
Budget Italian reds are a hit-or-miss affair, especially in the $10- and-under category. Yes, there are lots of cheap nero d’avolas from Sicily and primativos from Puglia around, not to mention the familiar big-brand Chiantis from Tuscany and Valpolicellas from the Veneto, most of them ordinary. One that rises above that status is a $10 wine I brought home the other night from my local wine store, Vincenzo Cesani’s 2008 Chianti Colli Senesi “Pancole.”
This estate-bottled wine from a respected grower in San Gimignano also known for its white vernaccia is one of the better budget Chiantis I’ve tasted in recent years. It’s high in acidity (a requirement for good food wines) with spicy cherry and raspberry tastes, a leather note and a tannic structure often lacking in wines at this price. Slightly chilled, it was a satisfying match for our tomato and meat sauce. Colli Senesi is perhaps the best known of the “other” Chianti appellations and is generally less expensive than Chianti Classico. Alcohol in this sangiovese-based wine is 12.5 percent. Imported by Montecastelli Selections, New York.