Tag Archives: italy

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!

caponata-1CAPONATA
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.

 

The World’s Best Wine Values under $15.00

PicMonkey Collage

“I just could not spend another dime, I really wanted a wine that my friends and I could just drink and not talk about!” How often do you feel like this? Far too often I am sure. In my wine world, I taste and evaluate all price points and yes my soul awakens when I can taste and savor a glass of Krug Champagne or ponder over a pour of Château Latour – my pocketbook opens just once when those wines come into my periscope. So how about some wines that we all can afford? Where are the great value wines? The trends have been pointing towards Spain, Argentina and Chile, among other areas in the world. I agree those are the usual places that we should look. That said, when value-hunting, looking in unlikely places can often yield incredible discoveries. I have stumbled across three unlikely places for superb values under $15.00. Let’s take a look at Australia, Italy and the USA.

For two decades Australia has been lying in wait to be re-discovered. A star in the 1990’s this multi-faceted viticultural area has been fluttering in space. This was the country that had brought Shiraz (aka: Syrah) to the fore only to become mired in a “cheap” wine mode. Most recently the Aussies have made incredibly fine wines in all price ranges. The 2011 Wild Oats Shiraz drinks exceptionally well. Supported by some subtle sweet tannins for texture, this wine delivers its ripe fruit flavors all the way through its finish. Yes, this is one of the world’s best bargains in fine red wines.

When wine drinkers hear of Tuscany, they think of Chianti. As one of the world’s most revered regions, this area has found its sweet spot in the $20 to $40 range, but every once-in-a-while, one can uncover a super bargain and that is just what the 2010 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico offers. Decidedly sassy and true-to-the-region, this wine plays nicely into the hands of those that want to save a few $$$’s.

One area that one never hears of in the value camp is the USA and how about Oregon, no way! The 2013 Acrobat Pinot Gris is so succulently good. Plenty of ripe fruit and nice acidity, this wine outplays many wines in the $20+ range.

While the expensive and exotic marquis wines get all the ink and a few regions in the world have gained the reputation for their “great wine values,” the best values are often found in the most unlikely of places. As a wine retail veteran of 40+ years, I have learn that deals can show up from anywhere in the world. If you are like me (a bargain hunter) let the world be your oyster. Remember the best pearls are often found after the dirt has been washed away.

Wine.com Tasting Room: Italy

In our second Tasting Room, we’re delving head on into Italy.

Though not a large country in land size, Italy kicks some major butt in wine size. Not only is Italy one of the largest producers of wine in the world, it also is one of the most diverse. The country sports 20 different wine regions, each named by district. Vineyards are planted in just about every corner of the country – from the Alps in the north to the sunny tip of the boot. Add hundreds of DOC and DOCGs and numerous indigenous grape varieties, and you have one complex wine nation.

For the Novice…
Most people shy away from wine labels that look completely unfamiliar. Unfortunately, most Italian wine labels are just that – unfamiliar. So how do you go about decoding Italy? It’s good to know a few key regions and their grapes, as well as the laws that regulate them.
First, let’s talk about the label. Italian wine labels can be quite confusing due to the fact that they have no uniformity. In France you see region, in the US you see grape, in Italy… well, you see both. Sometimes the label will list the region, other times just the producer and occasionally the grape AND the region together. Without knowing what to look for, it’s hard to know what you’re getting. We want to give you a little cheat sheet for decoding Italy. Here, we list the regions and grapes and what you see on the label and what it means.

Tuscany (Toscana)
Tuscany is one of the more famous regions in Italy. The primary grape of Tuscany is Sangiovese. When you see red wines from Tuscany, you MOST LIKELY are drinking a wine based on Sangiovese. Within Tuscany are smaller sub-regions, some with grape specialties. They are:
Chianti (red): Chianti is a DOCG, which means it is regulated by the government. Within Chianti there are other sub-regions.
Brunello di Montalcino (red): Brunello is the grape (a clone of Sangiovese), Montalcino is the sub-region within Tuscany. It’s a collectible wine worthy of the cellar. Try Rosso di Montalcino for a less-expensive and more youthful wine.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano: Vino Nobile (the noble grape, which is Sangiovese) is the grape, Montepulciano is the sub-region of Tuscany (NOTE that in Abruzzo, Montepulciano is a GRAPE).
Super Tuscans: For Super Tuscan wines, you may see a grape or a region like Maremma or Bolgheri on the label. You will most likely see IGT instead of DOC or DOCG. This is because Super Tuscan wines came about by not following the DOC and DOCG rules, so they were labeled with IGT (see more on Italian Wine Labels).

Piedmont
A region in the north that is know for three reds: Barolo, Barber and Dolcetto, as well as the ever popular Moscato.
Barolo and Barbaresco: Both are regions producing big, bold, expensive and age-worthy wines from the Nebbiolo grape.
Barbera and Dolcetto: Both are grapes producing light-bodied, reasonably priced wines in Alba (Barbera d’Alba; Dolcetto d’Alba) and Asti (Barbera d’Asti; Dolcetto d’Asti).
Moscato: All the rage, Moscato makes a lightly sweet, lightly sparkling wine with low alcohol levels.

Trentino Alto Adige
 If you see this region on a label, you’re in for a delicious white wine (most likely). Some of the best Pinot Grigio are from this area.

Prosecco
A region and a grape, this is THE sparkling wine of Italy

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
Montepulciano (grape) and Abruzzo (region) make a rustic yet fruit-driven wine from central Italy.

Primitivo
Genetically the SAME grape as Zinfandel here in the US, Primitivo is usually from the Puglia region down near Italy’s boot.

Soave and Orvieto
Two delicious white wines from indigenous varieties in central Italy.

For the Enthusiast…
Though small in land mass, Italy remains a giant in the wine world. With 20 wine regions and numerous indigenous varieties, diversity is a key theme through the country. While that means Italy can be confusing when it comes to wine, it also means there is a little something for everyone beyond Chianti and Pinot Grigio. Our Enthusiast list this month highlights the hidden gems – wines slightly off the beaten path – that are some of our favorites, yet often overlooked due to their obscurity.

Italy is full of what we call indigenous varieties, which means grapes that are local to Italy, species that originated in the country and have found a “home” there. We throw that term, “indigenous variety,” around when we’re talking about non-international grapes. Cabernet Sauvignon is also indigenous somewhere, but since it’s grown just about everywhere else, we call it an international variety.

Italy is quite unique in the vast number of indigenous varieties that are grown and not only consumed within the country, but also commercially sold. Falanghina is not in Australia yet. Aglianico has not picked up in California and I doubt you’ll be seeing Nero d’Avola pop up in South Africa. Countries have tried to grow Sangiovese and Nebbiolo, and while they have had some success, these grapes are just not destined to become international variety superstars. This makes Italy a very special place in the wine world.

There are a few generalities we could throw at indigenous varieties in Italy. For whites, most are crisp, with excellent acidity, and many have a slight hint of a “nutty” character, like almonds or roasted nuts. You may also note a lovely minerality flowing through Italian white wines. For reds, excellent acidity remains a theme, as well as red fruits, dusty tannins and an earth-driven character that is distinctive. That said, both white and red wines vary greatly due to extremely diverse climates, soils and grape make-up. Our selection of Italian gems off-the-beaten-path are meant to show you how Italy truly represents a sense of place.

For the Collector…
Structured and long-lived, the collectible wines of Italy are some of the best in the world. From the highly sought after Super Tuscans to the dust-worthy Barolos to the comeback kid Chianti Classico, we have a delectable list of collectible Italian wines ideal for your cellar. An age-worthy Italian wine has a combination of acid, structure and complexity of flavors. We think most of those wines deliver this harmonious blend. Though the majority could use some age, some of these wines can be drunk and enjoyed now.

We hope you enjoy the wines of this month’s Tasting Room. As always, feel free to let us knwo if you have any questions or would like to learn about a wine subject/region/grape in particular! tastingroom@wine.com

Wine Wednesday & Buitoni

In case you missed it, Buitoni USA is running a Wine Wednesday sweepstakes where they are giving away Wine.com gift cards. Kind of a no brainer – sign up and you’re entered to win a $25 gift card to Wine.com!

In case you are unfamiliar with Buitoni, the company produces a number of Italian food products, from delicious pesto sauces to ravioli to complete meals!

We’ve decided to help pair some wines with these meals during the sweepstakes and today, we’ll feature the Shrimp-Lobster Ravioli with Garlic Butter Sauce. Um, can you say rich white?

Since it’s Italian in nature, my first pick would be an Italian white like the Planeta 2008 Chardonnay. It’s rich, saturated and creamy, a perfect match to that rich garlic butter sauce with the ravioli. The dish is perfect for any rich Chardonnay, but pairing region with region (Italy with Italy in this case) is always a recipe for a good pairing. Don’t hesitate to try another white I love from Italy: Falanghina. This is another rich variety, perfect for a creamy sauce.

Don’t forget to enter the Wine Wednesday sweepstakes today through the Buitoni facebook page.

Staff Pick: WineShopper – Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml


Wine Name: Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml
Wine Reviewer: Eileen
Wine Rating: 5 stars
Paired with: Nothing … I had this one just by itself


Wine Review: I bought two of these for stocking stuffers at Christmas, one for a stocking, and one for me and my partner. Yes, folks, we’re lightweights when it comes to wine. We find ourselves not opening a bottles when we know we won’t finish the 750ml. So these half-bottles are absolutely perfect … and I love that this wine is 93 Wine Spectator points under $20. So … on to the wine!

I enjoyed the mellowness of this wine and its medium body. Not as powerful as a Cab but not as light-bodied as a Pinot. Somewhere in the middle and elegant. As what I would expect from a European / Italian wine, the nose has a rich fruity bouquet and the flavors of dark cherries stood out. The mellow tannins were enjoyable for a nice soft grip. I sort of wanted to enjoy some cheese with it, but I declined and enjoyed my ‘special’ glass all by itself.

Something I’d recommend to share on Valentine’s Day or not, you’ll enjoy it either way. 🙂

Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004 375ml

Read more of my reviews on my Wine.com community page.