One of the questions I get asked the most is to recommend a "nice" bottle of red for a special occasion...that's under $40. It's obviously an impossibly broad task: What sort of wine do they like? Is it for drinking now, or laying down? Do they like light or full-bodied wines? Do really you only love them $40 worth?
Invariably the person doesn't know the answers to any of these questions (especially the last one). But experience has taught me that there's one segment of wines that are always the best bet in such scenarios and they're the Super Tuscans: they have a foot in the Old World (you know, Italy) and in the new (they employ international grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to round out their native Sangiovese). They usually drink well when young (with a touch of decanting, perhaps) and they age extremely well. And they usually have some level of name recognition that helps when gifting bottles.
The only problem? By and large, they ain't cheap. Tignanello, one of the first and most iconic of the Super Tuscans checks in at $126. The sublime Ornellaia, $250. Even slightly more esoteric offerings, like Fontodi's Flaccianello, are over $130. But not everyone has a few C-Notes throw at fancy bottles, so for the longest time I'd suggest Crognolo, the Super Tuscan blend of Sangiovese and Merlot from Tenuta Sette Ponti. And while it's price has been creeping up (it's $40 now) it's still a wonderful choice: juicy but with structure, drinkable now but would blossom with age. But an archer needs more than one arrow in his quiver, right?
Which is why coming across this bottle of NC ( it stands for Non Confunditor, "not to be confused" in English) has been such a godsend. Like Crognolo, it comes from a deeply respected winery (in this case famed Brunello producers Argiano), but here the Sangiovese is bolstered by Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a bit more beefed up than Crognolo but it plays out like a minor symphony: earthy notes from the Sangiovese, red fruit from the Syrah, dark fruit from the Cabernet, moral support from the Merlot. And it's $33 for a whole lot of wine.
So there you go: all-purpose drinking for one and all.