Cabernet Sauvignon - 6
Zinfandel - 3
Merlot - 3
Sangiovese - 3
Pinot Noir - 2
Nebbiolo - 1
Other - 1
The results of the latest poll are in, and as expected, Cab is King. I am sure a number of factors go into this outcome, but to me the most notable would be the vast selection of Cabernet that is carried at most liquor and grocery stores. Along with this, and equally as important, the simplicity of the labeling. The thing is there are a lot of cabs that fall under that appealing decent category in quality, but very few are stellar (and those that are usually demand overly inflated prices).
For those of you who enjoy Cabernet I would strongly suggest that you branch out and try something new. Two of Italy’s gems, Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, possess many of the characteristics that make Cabernet appealing. These two Italians offer the same strength and complexity that Cabernet usually possesses without the savagery that can sometimes make Cabernet not the best wine to pair with food.
Like many European grape varietals, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese are more known for the wine regions they hail from then by their names themselves. Nebbiolo is the backbone of the terrific wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, while Sangiovese may be more familiar to you as Chianti or Toscana wines, of which they are the majority grape used. No matter what they are known as, they make some of my favorite wines! Also, wine in Italy is meant to be consumed at most meals, thus their wines are created with food friendliness in mind!
The next time you are looking for a wine to select, I want you to venture out of the Cabernet section and start taking a gander at the Italian section. Find a bottle that is in the price range that you would have selected and try that instead. It is a cool way to begin to learn about different wines (just make sure you stay away from da Vinci).
One to look for in a reasonable price range, and one that is readily available, is Antinori Villa Toscana. The Antinori Wine Empire can easily be thought of as the Mondavi Dynasty but of Italy (sans family turmoil that was the inspiration of TV's Falcon Crest). The current release is the 2005 vintage and will run you around $20-25. Compared to most Cabernet offered at this price, it is a terrific option.
2005, Antinori Villa Toscana, Tuscany, Italy - $20-25
Antinori makes some of Tuscany’s best wines. Their higher end Tignanello and Solaia have enjoyed heaps of praise throughout the years. They also produce some very nice entry-level wines as well. For many years their Pèppoli Chianti has been one of the most reasonably priced Chianti gems out there. To this list I would add their table wine, the Villa Toscana.
The 2005 is a very deep red that is medium to full-bodied. On the nose you can almost smell what you picture of Tuscany. Dark berries and herbal notes paint a rustic picture and lead to the palate in which you get some of the berry with a lot of ripe red plum (the kind that stains your fingers). The finish is moderate with nice balance and decent complexity.
To me this Tuscan is a solid 89 and Wine Spectator have it an 87. Although not quite a great wine it is certainly very good and at $20-25 I feel that it is a good value as well. Pizza would be the best food pairing with this, but also most meals containing steak, pork, veal, meaty fish, or grilled vegetables will also shine.
Regardless of what I think, challenge yourself the next time you are out shopping for wine. Step away from what you are comfortable with and try something truly unique to most American wine drinkers. I am by no means knocking Cab, but next time grab a Barolo or Barbaresco for a special occasion, or a nice Toscana, Chianti or Chianti Classico (only difference is the age of the zone it is in) when you order a pizza. I think you will be pleasantly surprised!