Accidental wine cellar

It can be a treat to rediscover a bottle lost in a wine cellar, a forgotten and unexpected surprise. It’s a little more unusual to do this at a wine shop.

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The so-called “cellar orphan” is usually a quality wine, meant to be held under controlled temperature and humidity in hope of evolving into something even finer. Otherwise its owner wouldn’t have stashed it away in the first place.

Today, however, I’m looking at something different. Just about 13 months ago, in the column “Frogs and princesses: Finding good cheap wine,” I talked about the challenge and the joy of finding a really decent wine for $10 or less in the current economy.

“Good cheap wine is still out there,” I wrote. “But it takes a little work – and to be honest, at least a bit of controlling one’s expectations – to locate the good values and take them home.”

The other day, browsing a local wine shop in search of bottles to buy for this and coming columns, I spotted the bright orange label of an affordable Tuscan red wine, Santa Marina Toscana Rosso.

“That’ll work,” I decided. After all, one of my top tips in looking for good cheap wine is to narrow your search to categories you love, which definitely includes Tuscany and its neighbors for me. Then, pivot away from that niche’s high-end wines toward the more affordable labels that people who live in that area enjoy with their daily meals. That’s the approach that has led me to under-$10 winners like La Vielle Ferme Ventoux, half-bottles of Kopke Fine Ruby Port, and, of course, the Santa Marina Toscana featured today.

It’s useful advice, worth repeating. What I didn’t remember until I got it home, though (memory issues are in the news, but that’s a different story) was that I had reported on this exact same wine to illustrate that story.

Image created by OpenAI's DALL-E with the prompt "an image in the style of a Dutch Masters painting depicting a dusty wine bottle lying at the back of a wine cellar shelf."

Image created by OpenAI’s DALL-E with the prompt “an image in the style of a Dutch Masters painting depicting a dusty wine bottle lying at the back of a wine cellar shelf.”

Oops! Should I take it back and get something else? Naaah. Here’s a perfectly good opportunity to see what happens with a modest wine after a year in the bottle, not in the cellar but the uncertain environment of a wine-shop shelf or distributor’s warehouse.

As it turned out, the answer is reassuring. Barring exposure to searing or freezing temperature extremes, a year in the bottle isn’t going to harm (or help) most wines, even modest wines.

Last year I wrote of this same wine, “It’s not going to fade in the short run, but it won’t benefit from aging. Enjoy it now.” Thirteen months later, its sturdy metal screw cap has done the job, protecting it from further deterioration. The wine may have slightly mellowed, but there was certainly no degradation. Would I try it again next year? Sure! I’d expect it to remain perfectly drinkable. But while there’s little to lose, there’s also little to gain.

Today’s Tasting Report

Santa Marina 2020 Toscana Rosso ($8.99)

Santa Marina Toscana Rosso

Santa Marina Toscana Rosso is dark garnet in color with a clear edge. A year after my previous tasting, it hasn’t changed much. It has lost a bit of its rough and rustic edge, but still shows the Chianti-style character of modest Tuscan Sangiovese-based reds: cherries and dried cherries and a subtle earthy note. Tart cherry flavors carry over on the palate with fresh, food-friendly acidity and soft but perceptible tannins. 12.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Chatham Imports Inc., NYC. (Jan. 1, 2023)

FOOD MATCH: It’s a natural with Tuscan Sangiovese’s traditional companions: grilled meat, pizza or tomato-sauced pasta. It went beautifully with bucatini in an Amatriciana-style sauce with roasted mushrooms standing in for pork-jowl guanciale.

WHEN TO DRINK: As this experience suggests, there’s still no rush to drink it, but no reason to save it either. Drink up!

I paid $9 locally and lists an $8 average U.S. retail. Wine-Searcher even shows some vendors selling 1.5-liter magnums for $10 to $12. At these prices you’re not going to buy upscale character and complexity, but this is one of those wines that can’t miss for casual enjoyment with dinner at home.

Here’s the Santa Marina link in English. Down the page you’ll find a list of the Santa Marina portfolio where you can click for a bit of information about the Toscana Rosso.

Check prices and find vendors for Santa Marina Toscana Rosso on

Find Santa Marina’s full portfolio with prices and links to vendors at this Wine-Searcher link.

Follow this Wine-Searcher link to find listings for dozens of other Toscana IGT wine values.


Find the wines you want

Explore Wine-Searcher is the place to go online if you want to find where to buy a particular wine that interests you. What’s more, offers so much more. It’s well worth a visit just to discover its many features, including its popular list of the world’s Top 10 Best Value Wines.


Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!


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