A Wine Lover's Weekly Guide To $10 Wines - An Organic Sangiovese Carton Sangiovese

When I hear that word, I just have to tell a story. In the final semester of my wine steward course at one of our wine dinners we were served, unknown to us, a Brunello di Montalcino wine. This is one of Tuscany's great wines that for obvious reasons will never be reviewed in this column. I was sitting across from our teacher. When the first drops of this noble liquid reached my lips I uttered a single word, pronounced more slowly than usual, Sangiovese. Twenty wine students, and I was the only one who identified the grape. Two additional comments are in order; a) purists will note that the grape is Brunello, a clone of Sangiovese b) I have never been able to repeat this stroke of luck. When you want a fine wine in the $40 range (or way, way more) you will probably do very well with Brunello di Montalcino.

The wine reviewed here is made from organic grapes grown without any chemicals or pesticides. It comes in a recyclable Tetra Pak. I'll be reviewing many organic wines but not here; most organic wines cost over $15 a bottle. Now, just so you know, while the Sangiovese grape is often associated with Tuscany, this wine comes from Puglia in southern Italy, which partly explains its relatively low price.

OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.

Wine Reviewed Ciao Sangiovese Organic Carton 13.2 % alcohol about $11

Please note two things. There is no date on the carton. The carton is one liter, in other words it holds a third more than a standard bottle.

Let's start with the marketing materials. Tasting Note:Medium ruby with garnet tinges; aromas of red fruit candy, licorice and hints of oak; light, dry with spices on the finish. Serving Suggestion: Burgers, ribs. And now for my review.

At the first sip the wine was thin and not fruity but surprisingly long. The first pairing was with slow-cooked beef stew and potatoes. The side was a non-spicy Moroccan-style (Matbucha) salad composed of tomato, pimento, hot peppers, and garlic. The wine perked up with the stew. I tasted black cherries and a touch of tobacco. The tannins were moderate. Sangiovese wines often go well with tomato dishes but nothing happened when I tried this wine with the tomato-based salad. Then I added a quite spicy jalapeno pepper mix to the stew. This wine wasn't overwhelmed, nor was it overwhelming. The tobacco taste intensified.

The second pairing involved a meatless lasagna filled with sliced olives, peas, onions, cottage cheese, and tomato sauce, and covered with mozzarella cheese. Once again I got tobacco. There was good balance between the acidity and the tannins but the wine wasn't very flavorful.

The final meal included slow-cooked chicken legs in a soy-based sauce, accompanied by potato patties and a fairly spicy tomato, lime, and garlic salsa, which served as a palate-cleansing vegetable. The wine was round and balanced with a tobacco taste. But the salsa was too strong for the wine.

The first cheese tasting was with a provolone. This was a fairly good combo; the wine was refreshing and fruity. Then I went to a yellow cheddar. The Sangiovese became darker tasting but the combination still worked fairly well.

Final verdict. If you're not looking for an organic wine, or something to pair with run of the mill cheeses, this wine really has nothing special to recommend it. However, if you feel like going organic then this is an inexpensive choice. And as an added bonus the recyclable box didn't seem to negatively affect the flavor. I wouldn't trust a Brunello di Montalcino to such packaging.


Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten computer and Internet books, but frankly prefers drinking fine German or other wine, accompanied by the right foods and the right people. He teaches computer classes at an Ontario French-language community college. Check out his wine website http://www.theworldwidewine.com with a weekly column reviewing $10 wines and new sections writing about

(theory) and tasting (practice) organic and kosher wines.