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Any time you can find a special-occasion wine for $20 and a real value for $11 it’s been a good week.

I have received several trade samples of Arnaldo Caprai’s Italian wines and finally got around to opening one over the weekend. I think it has great value for $20. The other trade sample I opened Sunday night was a Meritage from Robert Mondavi. It was equally surprising and wonderful.

Arnaldo Caprai 2009 Montefalco Rosso DOC – Here is an affordable wine that value drinkers can designate for a special occasion. The wine is 70 percent Sangiovese (same as Chianti), 15 percent Sagrantino (found only in Umbria), and 15 percent Merlot. The Montefalco region is south of Perugia in Umbria.

When I first opened the bottle I thought it was nice enough, though a little light. It was well balanced but rather unremarkable. But wait, after an hour or more of breathing the dark rich fruit opened up, maybe a little sour cherry, and as smooth and rich as Italian wines at this price point can be found.

The wine had a dry and lingering finish I really enjoy. I had the Montefalco with some pretty simple pasta but I could also see it with uncomplicated beef dishes. And the mouth feel is light enough to enjoy with cheese. How about some Parmesan Reggiano drizzled with balsimic vinegar? Yummy!

I almost always check out wines on consumer review sites after I’ve scribbled down my notes and thoughts. I often go to sites like Cellartracker and others. I was amused to find this wine rated from 83 points to 91 points. I certainly would be much closer to the 91.

Arnaldo Caprai is known for his work with Sagrantino. I have two bottles at home, both samples, and plan to open one as early as this weekend. It’s something of a rare grape so it is at a price point much higher than the Montefalco. I can’t wait to try that one if the Rosso is any example of the style of winemaking.

Arnaldo Caprai 2009 Montefalco Rosso DOC, Avg U.S. Price: $19, Trade Sample, Highly Recommended 

Robert Mondavi Private Selection Meritage – I’ve tasted several wines from the Mondavi “Private Selection” label over the past year and been impressed almost every time. This is Mondavi’s entry level or call them ‘supermarket’ wines if you wish. If only all supermarket wines offered the Mondavi consistency and winemaking effort!

The 2010 Meritage is a blend of 42 percent Cabernet, 30 percent Merlot, 20 percent Malbec, and 8 percent Petit Verdo. The grapes come from Monterey County, instead of Napa, off California’s Central Coash.

It’s easy to call this a traditional Bordeaux blend as you can read from the grapes above. Nothing will knock you out about this wine but it’s availability, price, and nicely balanced structure makes it a top choice of the grocery or liquor store shelf.

The most frequently asked question here and through my other wine writing is about good wines at a grocery price – the Mondavi Private Selection is good as any. Now, there are others and that’s for another time and day but the Meritage is a very nice red blend that comes across soft, drinkable, and affordable. And my experience with wines at this price point and target audience is that you’ll often find them below the suggested retail price.

Robert Mondavi 2010 Meritage,  SRP $11, Trade Sample, Recommended

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