Sicily: A food and wine paradise

At the mention of Sicily, hopefully some of the first things to pop into your mind are sunny beaches, Mediterranean air, fresh seafood, and possibly even delicious wine. Two of the coolest things about Sicilian wines are that they are approachable both in style and price. They offer some of the best—and diverse—options for introducing yourself to Old World wines. But unless you actually go there, it can be hard to realize how large, and unlike an island, this island really is. Its surface area is actually three times the size of New Zealand! They produce between 100 and 130 million gallons of wine per year. That is equivalent to about 2 million oak barrels! The region is also number one in Italy for organic wines, boasting 38% of Italy’s total organic wine production.

The first record of wine on the island dates back roughly to 700 BC when the Greeks occupied the island. Wine appears again in Sicily in the volume “Natural History,” when Pliny the Elder mentions the Mamertino wines produced around Messina. From about 831 to 1072 AD vines risked extinction altogether when the Arabs dominated the island.

The reign of Frederick III of Aragon in the early 1300’s finally unchained the wine trade in Sicily, but their industry didn’t start to pick up until the 1500’s. Nearly four hundred years later, in the early 1990s, Sicilian wines started to make a mark on the international market. This was a thanks in part to the blending of international varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot noir Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, and some might say Riesling) with indigenous grape varieties. The result was a group of wines that were more understandable to consumers in the global market. Currently about a third of the wine production in Sicily comes from international varieties and two thirds from indigenous grape varieties.

With so many types of Sicilian wine out there, experimenting on your own and finding new wines to like is easy, especially with some fun food pairings.

If you like light and crisp wines like Sauvignon blanc, a good Sicilian wine to try is the Planeta Eurazione, which is made of 90% Carricante, an indigenous grape to Sicily, and 10% Riesling. It has aromas of apple, mango, and white flowers. It is light and crisp on the palate and offers a bright finish with flavors of lemon curd. Pairing it with a dish like grilled prawns tossed in lemon juice and garlic works splendidly. Or if you can make it or find it, the Sicilians also like to have this wine with octopus salad. Any seafood salad will work!

Another fun white is the Insolia by Cusumano. This indigenous grape makes a full bodied and aromatic wine. It offers aromas and flavors of lemon and herbs, is smooth and rich on the palate and finishes with a hint of toasted almond. It is delicious with any pesto dish.

sicilian-pizzaThe Donnafugata Sedara, which is predominantly Nero d’Avola, one of the most important red grapes of Sicily, is the perfect everyday red wine. Full of wild blackberry and raspberry fruit, it is juicy and quaffable and excellent with pizza or a quick tomato-based pasta dish.



If you want to get a little more serious, another delicious Nero d’Avola is the Feudi del Pisciotto Versace Nero d’Avola. It has a deep bouquet of rose and ripe red cherry, is full on the palate and has a long, complex, and spicy finish. It is works beautifully alongside roasts or game. Plus, a serious meal will need a conversation piece and the label on this bottle is a good one. In the vain of creating wines that truly express the “Made in Italy” theme, the head of Feudi del Pisciotto decided to call on famous Italian artists and designers to create the labels for his wines. And what’s even better, a small portion of the winery’s revenue goes to reconstructing ancient works of art in Sicily. Donatella Versace, a lover of Nero d’Avola, chose the original Medusa head Versace logo for this wine, which for the Versace family symbolizes their desire to catch the eyes of audiences with astonishing and stylish designs.

planeta-etna-rossoThe Planeta Etna Rosso, made from the grape indigenous to Mount Etna called Nerello Mascalese, is an engaging wine with complex aromas of rose buds and stems, forest floor, sour cherry, strawberry, and rhubarb. On the palate it is full and smooth with a long spicy finish and suede-like tannins. This is a fun red too because it even works with fish! Try it with some pepper and herb encrusted grilled cod or seabass with a side of Caponata.

If you aren’t familiar with it, Caponata could be described as a Sicilian interpretation of Ratatouille. It also works well as a bruschetta topping, or be super authentic and serve it atop an orange slice, like the Sicilians do. If you have a little spare time, it isn’t difficult to make on your own. It’s totally worth it!

2 eggplants, cut into 1 inch dice
2 Tbsp plus 1.5 c olive oil
1 cup diced celery
3 onions, chopped
1 cup tomato puree
3 Tbsp capers
12 black or green olives, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp sugar
chopped basil or parseley
salt and pepper

Saute celery briefly so it is still crisp. Set aside. In a wide saute pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 c of olive oil. Saute the eggplant, making sure to cook thoroughly. Transfer to a plate with paper towels to drain. In the same pan, warm the remaining 1/2 c of oilive oil, then add the onions and saute until translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add the reserved celery and tomoato puree and simmer, stirring occassionally for 10 minutes. Add cooked eggplant, capers, olives, nuts, vinegar, sugar, and herbs. Stir well and simmer, uncovered over low heat for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. It is best to reserve for the next day so flavors can meld but it is also possible to serve immediately.


Ten Wicked Wines for Halloween

Halloween party planning is in the works and if you’re scouting for some spooky sips to serve friends and fiends at Halloween happenings, then look no further! From wicked reds to a ghostly white, these wines vow to take a creepy spin on the fruit of the vine.

besiegedbottleRavenswood Besieged Red Blend 2014 (CA)

A blood-red blend of plush Sonoma fruit, Besieged gives a dubious nod to the day winemaker, Joel Peterson, harvested grapes under thunderous skies and circling ravens, the notorious bird of ill omen. Happily, the day’s dark clouds rolled by and Ravenswood wines shine brighter than ever with intensity, power, and rich berry-driven flavors. Besieged is no exception, built on the blood red blend of Petite Sirah, Carignane, Zinfandel, Syrah, Alicante Bouschet, and Barbera, this limited-edition, Sonoma-county carrying bottle rocks the palate with dark fruit, a full body and a tangle of well-integrated tannins.

velvetdevilbottle1The Velvet Devil Merlot 2014 (WA)

If the devil’s in the details, then this lip-smacking, pitchfork-wielding Washington State Merlot has them covered. Columbia Valley, through and through, showing off whole berry fermentation that gives aromatics a leg up and tannins a smoothing out, 10 months of barrel aging (30% new oak), and going for gutsy by utilizing some native yeast influences during fermentation, the Velvet Devil delivers black plum, Bing cherry and a dash of cocoa in a medium-bodied, easy to drink style.


chronic_purpleparadiseChronic Cellars Purple Paradise Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the heart of Paso Robles, brothers Josh and Jake Beckett have given voice to regional wines that speak volumes in term of quality fruit and easy-going style. Expect this Zinfandel-dominated blend to bring the beat to a heady mix of blackberry, cherry and raspberry driven fruit themes. The loud, eye-catching label leans heavily into Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday themes, making this bottle a go-to grab for all sorts of Halloween gatherings.



sinisterhandbtlOwen Roe “Sinister Hand” 2012 (WA)

This is a classic Rhone-inspired blend delivering Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, and Cinsaut, but with an ominous name like “Sinister Hand” – you know there’s got to be a haunting backstory. And there is. Legend has it that back in the 17th century two Irish families, the O’neills and O’Reillys (of course), decided to test their water prowess in a rowing race, with the winning team laying claim to a particularly prized plot of land. The straightforward agreement was that whichever team touched the land first won. Fair enough. However, when O’Neill’s boat began trailing behind, a member of the crew, reached for his own sword, chopped off his hand and tossed it to shore – going to great lengths to secure the land for the O’Neills. Rumor has it the land remains in the O’Neill family today.

plungerheadredbottlePlungerhead Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

Not all Halloween wines need to be devious and dark, some may inspire last minute costume designs: enter Lodi’s Plungerhead Cab. A light-hearted Cab that is as affordable as it is drinkable. Perfect for pairing with tricks and treats, making the most of mini milk chocolate candy bars, malted milk balls, and more, this Lodi red is fun and flexible with plenty of blackberries and raspberries up front and center well-supported by slices of chocolate, a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice and a smidge of smoke.



faust4Faust Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 (CA)

For the more cerebral Halloween imbiber, Faust is a deeply concentrated Napa Cabernet deriving its name from Goethe’s tragic play whereby Dr. Faust sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for power, pleasure, enduring youth and infinite knowledge. While this richly textured Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t make any such promises it does deliver, mystery and intrigue, brooding dark fruit, a full body, stunning structure and an ongoing finish.


alma_negra_m_blendbottleAlma Negra M Blend 2013 (Argentina)

What does the “M” stand for? Mendoza, moon, mystery, Malbec, magic. Well, Alma Negra says, it’s up to the drinker. Whatever, the meaning, this mysterious red wine features a healthy blend of Bonarda and Malbec in the mix, and pours almost as inky black as the label itself. Dark fruit and black pepper spice make way for black licorice and dense layers. The M Blend label, a foreboding enigma, promises to dazzle and delight on Halloween night.



Ghost Pines Chardonnay 2013 (CA)

Named for the willowy, free-spirited pines that border the Ghost Pines Vineyard along the eastern ridge of Napa Valley, this ethereal Chardonnay is an adventurous blend of fruit from two Cab-loving counties: Sonoma and Napa. Expect to go bobbing for apples with this one as Granny Smith meets Gala and tart mingles with sweet, medium-bodied, with creamy textures and an enduring finish.




poizin2Armida Poizin Zinfandel 2014 (CA)

Poizin, dubbed the “wine to die for,” is a Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel that’s made for Halloween.  Adorned with blood-red labeling, complete with creepy font and a haunting skull and crossbones graphic, this wine is the one to sip while passing out Halloween candy.  And it’s delicious with both milk and dark chocolate, that may or may not make it into the candy bowl this year. What’s not to love?




apothicdarkApothic Dark Red Blend 2014 (CA)

From the makers of Apothic Red and dripping with Gothic intrigue, the Apothic dark delivers a haunting blend of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot. No need for candy, this one carries its own stash of ripe berry fruit flavors wrapped up in dark chocolate decadence.

Discover Rhone

Feeling a pull to step out of your comfort zone with the wines you normally drink? Well whatever those may be, a spectacular place to start a new voyage is in the southern part of the Rhone River Valley!

If you don’t have the resources to jump head first into the reigning region of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, whose silky and alluring wines command a higher, though well-deserved price, the next best way to discover Rhone is to venture out into its satellite regions. Unlike many other wine growing regions of the world, the span of high quality vineyards of the Rhone extends far beyond its heart, in this case, the historical region of Chateauneuf. In the Rhone, the satellite regions are where you will find not just some of the very best values, but also quite a heap of hidden gems.


The general region of Côtes du Rhone, literally meaning “coast” or “shore” of Rhone, surrounds Chateauneuf. Within the Côtes du Rhone is a more specialized appellation called Côtes du Rhone Villages. Eighteen villages comprise the Côtes du Rhone Villages appellation. Since the 1970s (though a few established themselves before this) many of these villages have worked to distinguish themselves and have proven rights to their own appellations, gaining AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) status just as Chateauneuf did in 1936. Besides the Côtes du Rhone and Côtes du Rhone Villages general appellations, these individual villages are where you’ll find some of the most mind-blowing wines.

If you take a general count over the entire region, Cotes du Rhone wines are 94% red, 4% rosé, and 2% white. Grenache is the king variety, claiming 40% of all wine produced, including when it appears in blends and rosés.

While many people would name Provence as the center of rosé production, there is a famous and historical rosé region in the southern Rhone. Tavel AOC, established in 1936, produces only rosé wine and is one of the most renowned rosé regions in the world. The wines are characterized by a salmon or bright pink hue, are full on the palate, exhibit fresh red berry fruit, and are highly perfumed, redolent of fresh herbs and spices.

dentelles-di-montmirail-2Gigondas, authorized as an AOC in 1971, lies at the foot of the Dentelles di Montmirail, a small but nonetheless dramatic chain of spiked and eroded mountains formed by a horizontal strata of Jurassic limestone that became folded and forced into an upright position. The soils are diverse and range from stony red and black clay to green granite and chlorite chalk. Its wines are some of the boldest, most concentrated, and mineral-laden in the southern Rhone, characterized by blackberry, red berry, earth, and garrigue.

Vacqueyras, established as an AOC in 1990, lies just south of Gigondas and is comprised of diverse soils like Gigondas but with more sand and pebbles giving the wines a slightly more delicate feel. Black licorice, black cherry, raspberhonevinesrry, dried fig, and smoke are common descriptors for Vacqueyras wines.

Costières de Nîmes is the farthest south of the established AOC regions, and one of the hottest areas of the southern Rhone. Its wines, ranging from wild and spicy to fruity and tame, offer a pleasant surprise, regardless of style.

Ventoux vineyards stretch higher in altitude than the others, and fittingly climb the base of Mount Ventoux. Diverse soils and cooler temperatures produce reds with red berry fruit, blackcurrant, and ephemeral aromas of herbs, violets, vanilla, and licorice.

Most reds from these regions won’t run you too far over $20 and usually they are under. The wines will charm you with their sultry mid-palate of fruit, brooding earth nuances, and sweet, aromatic bouquets of spice, violets, and black licorice.

Grab Some Garnacha for #GarnachaDay 2016

Meet Garnacha. Serving diligently as one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, Garnacha enjoys extensive plantings worldwide. This hardy, thin-skinned, late ripening red grape is thought by many to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because it can handle the demands of crazy continental climates like a champ, with vines withstanding wind and drought conditions considerably well, Garnacha (aka Grenache in France), is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking endeavors. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha also comes as a rich, full-bodied white wine variety, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca.”

From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other grape variety can lay creative claim to red, white, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain’s warm, sun-baked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, modest tannin, and engaging aromatics Garnacha’s red grape shines bright with delicious ripe fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take front and center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all make their way into the bottle as well.  Tapping into old vines that produce smaller yields,  allows many Garnacha vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity carrying a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile.

Pairing Picks for Garnacha: A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, all sorts of barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, slow roasted lamb, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha promises serious pairing versatility and a remarkable food-friendly nature.

Popular Garnacha Bottles to Try (all under $20) – Care to toast the town on #Garnacha Day? We’ve got you covered, take a sip of Garnacha in all of its unblended glory with these single variety bottles to try with prices ranging from $8-20.

Growing Garnacha – A Regional Peek

Today, Garnacha finds firm footing throughout Spain; however, some of the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja,  Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high octane reds. The renowned Rioja region also grows its fair share of Garnacha; however, it tends to play second fiddle and is most often blended with Tempranillo here.

DIY Garnacha Tasting!

Want to dive deeper into the great big world of Garnacha? Then have fun checking out this side by side comparative tasting format of Spain’s Garnacha regions to celebrate the diversity and festive sips of #GarnachaDay. Compare and contrast these wines in terms of color, aromas, fruit character, the levels of acidity, tannin content.

1. Campo de Borja AmbassadorBodegas Santo Cristo Seleccion Garnacha 2014
Winemaker’s Notes – Made from old vine Grenache grown on the cool upland plateau of Campo de Borja, between Rioja and Catalonia, the ‘Seleccion’ is specially selected to emphasise bright, ripe fruit and cool, perfumed aromatics, without any oak influence. There is also a notable mineral complexity imbued by the red rocky soils of the region. Given the underlying old vine richness of this cuvee, pricing is a real steal.
2.Terra Alta Ambassador:  Clos Dalian Garnacha Blanca 2015
Winemaker’s Notes – Bright white wine with golden hue. Aroma of ripe white fruit and minerals. Creamy, fleshy, fresh and very seductive in the mouth. Its mid-palate is quite long and silky.
3. Somontano Vinas del Vero La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha 2011
Winemaker’s Notes – Very attractive color with red hues complemented by elegant hints of violet. It is very distinctive on the nose, with fruity aromas and discreet notes of toastiness that combine well together. The strong fruit aromas come through again in the mouth, providing great flavors, and producing a pleasant effect and long finish.
beso4. Cariñena Garnacha Ambassador:  Beso de Vino Garnacha 2011
Winemaker’s Notes – Opaque purple. Intensely perfumed aromas of cherry and blackberry are brightened by zesty minerality and a subtle peppery quality. Lively red and dark fruits on the palate, with black pepper and licorice nuances emerging with air. Sappy and strikingly intense for the price, finishing with excellent persistence and gentle tannic grip.


lasrocas5. Calatayud Garnacha Ambassador: Las Rocas Garnacha 2013
Winemaker’s Notes – Las Rocas Garnacha offers vibrant aromas and flavors of dark cherry and blackberry. Well-integrated nuances of oak and round tannins underscore these decadent fruit flavors to create a rich, well-structured wine.

Labor Day Wine: Griller’s Guide to Wine Pairing

Here it is. Labor Day Weekend. Serving as summer’s sweet send off, and typically wrapped up start to finish in backyard barbecues, Labor Day marks the transition from the dog days of summer to the revved up renaissance of all things fall. For many it also marks a seasonal switch in wine preferences and pairings. A subtle shift from light, bright and brimming with fruit towards wines that carry a bit more heft, solitude, and potential for pairing with heartier fare. However, to squeeze out the last drops of summer and offer the seasons best wine finds, we’ve rounded up some top notch wine picks to bring out the best in grilled grub.

Farm fresh and bursting with brats, beef, poultry and pork, end-of-summer grills are looking for wines that deliver pairing versatility, fresh flavor and tend to be fruit driven. From ripe reds to the lively profiles of regional whites, and wrapping things up with a well-chilled rush of rosé, there are plenty of wine options that will suit all sorts of flame-broiled fare.

Grill-ready Reds
Red wines are typically top picks for serving with a wide variety of heavy meat medleys; however, in the heat of summer, elevated alcohol levels can become more pronounced, masking much of the fruit character. The remedy? A quick 5-10 minute chill in the frig will revive flavors and amplify the wine’s innate fresh factor, while toning down overactive alcohol and giving reds their best bet to shine with smoky meat themes.

  • Zinfandel – The experienced griller’s go-to red wine. Handling smoked meats with forward, full throttle fruit, intrinsic black pepper spice and a generous, food-friendly nature, Zinfandel deserves a special spot next to the tongs and skewers. From pork chops to brisket and bison sausage to marinated and grilled chicken, or basic brats, hotdogs and burgers, the bold adaptable flavors of Zinfandel handles itself well with savory spice, but promises to shine particularly bright with a sweeter-styled barbecue sauce like the Kansas-City classic over ribs, brisket and pork.

Zinfandel to Try: Ancient Peaks, Klinker Brick, Lange Twins, Layer CakeMichael David, Ridge, Seghesio,

  • Syrah / Shiraz – It’s the same grape, but from very different places. Often flying with forward jammy fruit from the Land Down Under, Shiraz claims serious fame as Australia’s signature grape. When cultivated in the Rhone Valley of southern France, Syrah tends to take on more spicy character. Either way, this grape typically runs steady with black fruit character, offering a full-bodied wine with moderate levels of acidity, fairly tame tannins and rich velvety textures. The wine’s heady mix of smoke and spice give it a leg up for partnering with gamier meats like lamb, venison or elk.

Syrah / Shiraz to Try: Barossa Valley Estate, Delas Freres, Evans Wine Company, Guigal, Jim Barry, Merino, Michael David

  • Tempranillo – Spain’s red wine wonder, delivering loads of blackberry, black cherry and blueberry fruit in tandem with earth-driven, tobacco-induced flavor profiles, Tempranillo typically carries an appealing, integrated tannin structure often toned down by age and moderate acidity. This particular grape’s style and versatile nature partner up remarkably well with grilled options that lean intentionally towards pork themes. Easy pairing options include braised pork ribs, the sweet, tender textures of pulled pork, or the succulent, juicy bite of barbecued pork chops.

Tempranillo to Try: Bodegas Muriel, Bodegas Barco de Piedra, CVNE, Campo Viejo, Vina Eguia

Grill-ready Whites and Rosés

  • Sauvignon BlancWhile Sauvignon Blanc styles vary from region to region, most carry an unmistakable “fresh factor.” The vibrant acidity, citrus flavors and often herbal undertones, make regional Sauvignon Blanc a must-try wine for a variety of grilled veggie and herb-marinated chicken choices. Cooler climates tend to build a Sauvignon Blanc with more lemon-lime citrus character and “fresh cut grass” aromatics, while warmer growing zones plunge into plush, exotic flavor profiles with melon, grapefruit, pineapple and peach making a noticeable palate debut. Exceptional for grilled seafood, salad sides, and goat cheese themes, food-savvy Sauvignon Blanc is an easy and accommodating white wine option for covering all kinds of backyard barbecue dishes.

Sauvignon Blancs to Try: Dog Point, Los Vascos, Kim Crawford, Southern Right, The White Knight

  • Rosé Wines –Built on the sturdy backs of red wine grapes, and encouraging the delicious ripe, red fruit flavors from classic reds sans the tight tannins and higher alcohol levels, rose wines are the perfect pick for tricky menu combinations. Whether it’s heavy marinades, sticky sweet sauces or hard to please palates, rosé wines deliver remarkable versatility and palate appeal. Always served well-chilled, these are red wines in their summer suits, ready to refresh and cleanse the palate with vibrant acidity and an exceptionally food-friendly nature. Reach for rosé when grilling salmon, chicken or burgers and don’t shy away from sparkling rosés, which marry the best of bubbles with a dry-style and fresh red fruit flavors.

Rosés to Try: Broadbent, Crios de Susana Balbo, Guigal, La Playa, Miraval, Montes

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