Sip on this! A budget wine that’s a top value

I don’t know about you, but I find myself in a real value mode these days, trying to make our food budget go a little bit further and trying to do the same when it comes to wine. As I explained last week, that means not just buying wines that are less expensive in these challenging times, but wines that give you outsized complexity and interest for the price. I enjoyed just such a wine the other night.

It began in one of the wine stores I frequent here in New York. I was looking for an Italian red to go with my wife’s famous lasagna (famous in our house, at least). I wanted it to be under $20 — considerably under, if possible, and perhaps something a little on the unusual side.

Wines from Europe, as you may have found, became more expensive in the last year because of the weakness of the dollar against the euro. Even though the dollar has strengthened somewhat after last summer’s lows, it doesn’t appear that wine prices have fallen yet.

In any event, after a few minutes in the Italian section of the store, a $9.99 bottle tucked away in the corner of the bottom shelf caught my eye. It was the 2005 Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio from the Mastroberardino winery in the Campania region of southern Italy. The wine is made from indigenous piedirosso grapes, which, along with aglianaco, are Campania’s best-known red varieties.

Lacryma Christi, which means “tears of Christ,” is from the Vesuvio zone of Campania, named after Mount Vesuvius, and is grown in soils around the volcano that are rich in ash. The wine has a definite sense of place, with a noticeable minerality that evokes those soils. It is relatively light in body, with alcohol at a modest 12.5 percent, but has a lot going on.

Beyond the minerals, the overall fruit impression is cherry, with notes of sage, black licorice, cedar and cigar box (most apparent when you breathe in the wine). It went nicely with our lasagna and will match well with meat-based sauces and pork, beef and veal dishes.

Now, I mentioned that I bought this wine for $9.99. That was at Beacon Wine & Spirits in Manhattan, which, it turns out, has one of the lowest prices around. When I checked, which has links to most retailers, the prices were generally higher. The lesson is that in the hit-or-miss world of wine pricing, sometimes you get lucky.

Wine-Searcher also lists a number of vintages, so don’t be surprised if you find older or newer ones in your store. The 2005 drank very well, having benefited from a couple of years or so of bottle age. For $10 or even a bit more, this is a top wine value.

Edward Deitch is the recipient of the 2007 James Beard Foundation Journalism Award for Best Multimedia Writing. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at