Best value Chianti (but sorry, fellow Texans, not available here)

Above: My good friend Francesco treated me to a bottle of 1995 Chianti Classico by Castell’in Villa at the Enoteca I Terzi in Siena when I visited in October.

Castell’in Villa is one of my favorite producers of Chianti Classico. It’s actually one of my all-time favorite Italian producers: traditional-style, pure Sangiovese, grown in galestro-rich stony soils at excellent elevation and with superb exposure, and raised in large cask. The wines are remarkably affordable (I recently bought some of their entry-tier 2007 for under $25) and the winery continues to draw from what must be an astonishing cellar, offering importers library releases that stretch back to the 1970s (I’ve tasted back to 1979).

The only problem is that you can’t get the wines in Texas.

Above: We paired the 95 with housemade tagliatelle tossed with funghi porcini that night in Siena.

Well, actually, there’s another problem: the wine is readily available in the U.S. but Texas won’t allow out-of-state retailers to ship the wine here. It’s against the law. Unless, of course, you set up shop as a winery in Texas — even if you don’t make wine. Yes, a winery that doesn’t make wine…

I’ve already pissed off a lot of folks today with my post over at the Houston Press, “Absurdity of Texas Wine Shipping Law Reaches New Heights”, about Friday’s news that the Texas alcohol authority has granted a winery license to Wine.Com, eve though — in the TABC’s own words — doesn’t produce wine. With the license, will now be able to ship wine to retail customers within Texas.

I knew this issue would press some of Tom Wark’s buttons: he’s spent the last few years campaigning against the anachronistic, obsolete, gerrymandering laws that regulate retail shipping of wine in our country. I sent the link to Tom this afternoon and he responded immediately:

    But here’s what needs to be understood. is actually only able to sell and ship wines to Texans that it first purchased form a Texas wholesaler. That means that the Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico you mentioned can not be sold by and shipped to a Texas consumer unless buys that wine from a Texas wholesaler.

    What’s really interesting is that set up a physical presence in Texas and got the wine producers license in stead of a retailers license. You know why? Because a few years ago, when SWRA was suing texas for discriminating against out of state retailers, the TX legislature passed a law that limited Texas retailers to only shipping wine into the county where the physical retail outlet was located. However, a Texas “WINERY” can ship ship throughout Texas.

Above: A San Francisco-based retailer shipped me the wine regardless of the TABC restriction. It’s a great value and one of my favorite wines.

For the record, I side with many of my colleagues in the trade when it comes to the three-tier system in the U.S. I believe, like them, that the three-tier system helps to keep costs down and it protects the consumer by making it difficult for importers and distributor to monopolize brands.

But what the hell, yo????!!!! Ain’t America a free country? As a U.S. citizen, shouldn’t I have the right to purchase a bottle of wine from a retailer in San Francisco or New York and have them ship it to me?

Most retailers ignore the TABC restrictions anyway. And I have a secret for you: the rich folks in Texas? They spend so much money at the high-end retailers in New York and Northern California that the sellers will always find a way to get them their high-cost wine.

Me? I just want my under $25 bottle of Chianti Classico by Castell’in Villa! And by golly, it went great with a bottle of ranch dressing from Walmart! So there!

Here’s the link to my post over at the Houston Press.

The virtual sommelier strikes again: Castell’in Villa ’82

Above: 1982 Castell’in Villa at Dell’Anima in Manhattan.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them: I’m just “keeping the world safe for Italian wine.” A number of my friends have suggested that I use the line as a tagline for Do Bianchi and maybe one day I will.

In the meantime, I recently received an email from John, who lives in San Diego but was headed to Dell’Anima in Manhattan for a special dinner with his wife:

    I recall reading something about a friend of yours emailing a picture of the wine list at a place in San Francisco, and you gave some sage advice. I hope I’m not being presumptuous, but I was wondering if you could take a look at a list and see if anything jumps out at you. We’re back in NYC for one night this Friday (Sept. 19), and are eating at Dell’Anima.

I took a quick look at owner Joe Campanale’s excellent list and there were a number of great options, at different price points. But the wine that really spoke to me, at a palatable price point, was the 1982 Castell’in Villa Chianti Classico.

Today, John writes:

    We had a great dinner at Dell’Anima Friday night. I’ll save the complete report for when we meet in person, but Joe came up to greet us … and then we decided on the Castell’in Villa ’82, which he poured a bit of into our glasses and then decanted. An Amazing Wine Experience! … It evolved beautifully for the whole hour it took to drink.

    I finished The Accidental Conoisseur on the flight back, and it was fun to see Rosenthal’s quotation on p. 210: “Are there any great Chiantis anymore? There’s Castell’in Villa, okay – but practically nothing else.”

That’s what we do over here at Do Bianchi… just keeping the world safe for Italian wine, one wine lover at a time.