Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Etna Rosso

     Wine Club is back! After a very, very long break, we finally got it together to host our first Fall meeting. Since temperatures have been rapidly falling here in Rome, I was in the mood for red. We hadn't yet tasted any Sicilian wine, so I opted for one of my favorites, Etna Rosso.  While Sicily has been making a name for itself for quite a few years now, most of the attention has been on the New World- style whites (think oaky Chardonnays) and their most famous red grape, the Nero d'Avola, Etna Rosso (and Bianco) are only just starting to get the attention they deserve.  Winemakers have discovered that the volcanic soil here is the perfect setting for the local nerello mascalese and nerello cappuccio grapes. Originally used in the rare Rubino Marsala wines, the grapes make deliciously spicy dry reds as well. I first became acquainted with these interesting varieties through another Sicilian red, Faro, most famously (and virtually exclusively) made by the producer Palari.  After winning various Wine-of-the-Year titles, these wines can be a bit pricey (though worth every penny). Etna Rosso, on the other hand, offers some excellent bargains. We tasted five different versions of the wine ranging in price from 14 to 36 euros. The prices were lowest for the most recent vintages.  The youngest was from 2008 and the oldest from 2005.
     Overall the wines were all typical of the grapes and zone, expressing attractive red fruit and spicy flavors.  Where they differed was in terms of concentration and complexity. Of the two wines from 2008, the group was fairly evenly split in terms of preference. While the bottle from Tenuta delle Terre Nere was a bit more complex than the one from Firriato, it also had a firmer tannic grip to it, and some preferred the easy-drinking quality of the Firriato.  The favorites of the evening were also pretty evenly divided between the third and the fifth wine. The third, called Le Vigne di Eli, reminded me of what a dry Port would taste like. It was very rich and full-bodied, with lots of dried-fruit flavors and spice.  Everyone remarked on the label, saying that it looked like a child's drawing. The wine in fact is owned by Tenuta delle Terre Nere owner Marco de Grazia and is named after is daughter, Elena (Eli). The colorful label is in fact penned by 2 year-old Eli, who each year will draw a new one. As her drawings become more mature and complex, I imagine so will the wine. The fifth wine, while lacking a child's drawing to grace the label, has a good story nonetheless. From the Biondi winery, it is named Outis, with the word nessuno (nobody) in parenthesis. The word Outis is often used as a pseudonym by artists and writers to hide their identity (thanks Wikipedia!)  With such a lovely wine full of red fruit, chocolate, and leather, I can't imagine why any wine maker would want to remain anonymous. The fourth wine was the selection from Firriato, Cavanera. It was just edged out by the third and fifth bottles, but had pleasant red fruit and distinct yet smooth tannins.

Everyone was pleased with the overall quality of the wines, and were quite happy to have discovered a previously unknown wine zone. The next time you reach for a Nero d'Avola, consider an Etna Rosso. Chances are you'll love it!

The line-up:
1. Etna Rosso 2008 Tenuta delle Terre Nere
2. Etna Rosso 2008 Firriato
3. Etna Rosso Fuedo di Mezzo 2007 Le Vigne di Eli
4. Etna Rosso Cavanera 2007 Firriato
5. Etna Rosso Outis (Nessuno) 2005 Biondi

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


For the last wine club of the season before I take off for California on Sunday (yay!!) and Italy shuts down until September, we ended on a particularly delicious note. We had another big group (19 people were expected) so the budget allowed for us to spend a little bit more. That usually mean I'll take advantage of the chance to taste wine from France, as it is all too easy to get too used to the taste of Italian wine. When we only taste one kind of wine, we can start to think that all wine is supposed to taste that way, which is never a good thing for a wine lover.
 I had thought of trying a few different white Burgundies, but in the end I decided to showcase just Chablis, a subzone in the most northern vineyards of Burgundy. It is so far north, in fact, that it is much closer to Champagne than the rest of Burgundy, and indeed shares the same often extreme climate with that region. All fine white Burgundy comes from the Chardonnay grape, and Chablis is no exception. The cold climate and most of all the soils make these wines quite unique to their cousins from farther south. The best wines come from Kimmeridgean soils, a mixture of limestone and clay with tiny fossilized oyster shells. The lesser vineyards (and in a controversial move, some of the higher appellations were expanded to include these areas) are made up of Portlandien soil, which is very similar to the former but is generally believed to make wines of less finesse.  Chablis is famous for its steely, sometimes austere quality with its high acidity and gunflint, mineral flavors. It is also the one fine wine region for Chardonnay to not commonly employ the use of oak.  While it is not uncommon for an aged Chablis to take on a nutty flavor reminiscent of wine that has been aged in oak, generally speaking oak is not a component in these wines.
There are four different levels of quality to Chablis, here in ascending order: Petit Chablis, on mostly Portlandien soil, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, constituting 40 vineyards,  and Chablis Grand Cru, all on Kimmeridge, and composed of seven plots. We tasted mostly Chablis, basic versions of which can be quite austere, with one Petit Chablis and one Premier Cru. (Though the Vau de Vey has only been at this quality level since the vineyard expansion.) For the most part these wines were typical of their kind with very high acidity and very crisp citrus fruit flavors with a mineral note as well. The surprises were the 4th and the 6th, which had very noticeable oak influence. The 4th was pleasant, but the winemaker had perhaps been a bit heavy-handed with the oak, while the last wine presented with lovely subtle oak flavors well balanced by fruit and acidity.
The first three wines were three different versions from one producer, a Petit Chablis, and two different Chablis. The first, far from being too austere had a nice lemon and mineral quality to it. The first Chablis was one of the clear favorites of the evening, sharing those citrus qualities but with a medium body and much more concentration of fruit. The third offering, also a Chablis, comes from old vines and spends nine months in stainless steel. It was very lemony, floral and quite steely on the palate with high, refreshing acidity. The fourth was our surprise of the evening with lots of butter, cedar, hints of clove on top of a bit of pear and citrus. Next we had two wines from the same winery, their basic Chablis and their premier cru. Both were very enjoyable, the first with creamy, yeasty nose from the 12 months it spent on its lees, and a lovely apricot, honey flavor on the palate.  The next spent wine had similar flavors but with the added buttery, vanilla, slightly spicy flavors from its 12 months aging in partial oak and partial steel. The combination added a subtle oak flavor that didn't overwhelm the fruit. It was my favorite, along with our second wine.
The line-up:
1. Petit Chablis Blancs Caillouc 2009 Pascal Bouchard
2. Chablis Le Classique 2009 Pascal Bouchard
3. Chablis Les Vielles Vignes 2008 Pascal Bouchard
4. Chablis Vielle Vigne 2007 Domaine Bernard Defaix
5. Chablis Le Grand Bois 2007 Romain Bouchard Domaine de la Grande Chaume
6. Chablis Premier Cru Vau de Vey 2007 Romain Bouchard Domaine de la Grande Chaume

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

French Rosè

Rosè again? Well yes, not just because it's that time of year. When we tasted rosès the last time, I was planning on comparing French and Italian wines. Unfortunately a couple of people had to cancel, so I held on to the two French wines I had for another tasting.  This time we had  14 people, so with plenty of money in the budget left over, I picked up a pink Champagne as well, just because.......well, do you really need a reason? We looked at 9 still rosès, and we ended, in celebration of a tour de force tasting, with the bubbly.

As I mentioned in the last post on pink wines, quality still rosès are usually made by a limited maceration (skin contact) time, to absorb color and flavor, but generally not tannin. Good sparklers, on the other hand, blend white and red wines together, sometimes at the very end of the process. Rosès are commonly made with the classic grape varieties of a given area. The south of France is most well-known for their rosès, and the wines are based on the predominant grape varieties in each place, mostly grenace, cinsault, and mouvedre, but increasingly more far-flung grapes as well in the Vin de Pays wines which allow for more flexibility.

We had four wines from the Cote de Provence, one Bandol, one Cabernet d'Anjou, one Gigondas, one Vin de Pays d'Oc, and finally one Champagne. Interestingly, we also had a couple of distinct offerings from two producers, so we were able to look at the different directions producers can take. Even with a wine some dismiss as simple, such as rosè, there is incredible potential for variety. 

From Domaine Houchart, we had three wines, two Cote de Provence, both of which are based mainly on grenache, syrah, cinsault, and mouvedre, and one Gigondas, which is grenache, syrah, and cinsault. Their Sainte Victoire spent four months on its lees and was a step up in complexity from their basic offering with a lovely mineral quality to it, along with bright red fruit. The Gigondas had amazing notes of wild strawberries and a lovely smooth texture.

We also looked at two wines from Domaine Ott, their Bandol and their Cote de Provence from their Les Domaniers estate. The latter had lots of fresh fruit, apricots and peaches, and refreshing acidity, while the former was our most complex wine of the evening, though by far also the most expensive. Coming in at 30 euros, it was more than twice as expensive as the other wines. Grenache, cinsault, and mouvedre are fermented in tanks and then aged for six to eight months in a combination of oak and tank. The resulting wine has very complex notes of stone fruit, grapefruit, and hints of tobacco and spice.

The one exception to the southern rule was our Cabernet d'Anjou, from the Loire in central France. There are three appellations here for rosè, and the Cabernet d'Anjou is of the highest quality. It is made from a blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon, and is always medium sweet. Ours was well-balanced by its acidity and lots of ripe red fruit.

To cap off the evening we ended with a pink Champagne, based on pinot noir. It was just the thing to wake us up after nine still rosès, brightly acidic with a persistent mousse, fine bubbles, and fantastic toasty, fruity flavors. It was the perfect way to end an interesting evening.

The line-up:
1. Collioure 2009 Les Clos de Paulilles
2. Vin de Pays D'Oc Rosè de Syrah 2009 Beauvignac
3. Cote de Provence 2009 Chateau de la Galiniere
4. Cote de Provence 2009 Domaine Houchart
5. Cote de Provence Sainte Victoire 2009 Domaine Houchart
6. Gigondas 2008 Chateau du Trignon
7. Cote de Provence Les Domaniers 2007 Ott Selection
8. Bandol 2008 Chateau Romassan Domaine Ott
9. Cabernet d'Anjou 2009 Chateau Pierre-Bise
10. Champagne NV Jacques Picard 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Interviewed by Inthemo

The website Inthemo has finally launched, to much anticipation. Geared to be the next best thing to search for the most cutting-edge, insider tips to all the great cities of the world. Sign in to get started and check me out as a city host in Rome and leading the Inthemo crew around Casa Bleve, one of Rome's best wine bars.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Context Newsletter

Check out the latest Context Newsletter for insider tips on Venetian food, Paris culinary trends, foodie destinations in New York and Philly, and my article on wines for the summer. Let me know about your favorite summer wines!

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wine of the Week

Every semester I take my students to visit a winery so that they can see how much work actually goes into making one. One of the truest quotes I have ever heard is that once you go to a winery you understand why wine can be so expensive, in fact you wonder how it could ever be cheap. The winery I have been taking my "kids" to for the past couple of years has been Vini Pallavicini in Colonna, in the Frascati DOC zone. They also have vineyards in Cerveteri and they make a wide variety of varietal and blended wines, both DOC and IGT. And they do so at amazingly cheap prices, at least at the winery. Everytime I go I stock up, in the winter on their Bordeaux blend Casa Romana or the lovely sangiovese-based Moroello or their Amarone-style Amarasco. In the summer I fill up on their refreshing Frascati, whether their base or their higher-end Poggio Verde, or their 1670. This week's wine of the week is the latter, named after the year the winery was founded. A blend of 70% Malvasia Puntinata (the local, highly-prized version) and 30% semillion, the wine spends 10-12 months in large oak barrels on its lees, and another two months in the bottle before it is released. The result is a lovely, creamy yet still refreshing wine, with notes of tropical fruit, toasted hazelnut, and honey. The large barrels mean that the wine is never overwhelmed by the flavor of the oak, and careful vineyard and cellar management means the wine retains its acidity. It is wonderful with vegetable appetizers and crustaceans, lighter first courses as well as fish. I recently paired it with penne al salmone, and the creaminess of the dish was perfectly matched by the wine. While the wines are well-prices in restaurants around Rome, they can be a bit difficult to find in shops. The next time you're out in the Castelli, Pallavicini is well-worth a detour to stock up for the summer. At the winery nothing is priced higher than 15 euros, and on a sale I recently picked up a half-case of Frascati for 10 euros! Just the thing for impromptu barbecues on hot summer nights.

Friday, June 18, 2010


One of my all-time favorite summer wines is Vermentino. Of Spanish origins, the grape thrives along the hot, dry Italian coastline. Its most famous expression most likely is the Sardinian one, but the grape has long been well-established in Liguria and has recently been getting a lot of attention in southern Tuscany. I love it because it is one of those wines that are capable of transporting you; it actually evokes summer in a glass for me. Crisp, refreshing, green, herbal and salty, it is the perfect match to seafood.
For last night’s wine club we looked at 10 examples from the three regions mentioned above. Though for me benchmark vermentinos are young, fresh, and brightly acidic, my eyes were opened to older vermentino a couple of years ago in New York. I was in an Italian restaurant and I spotted a 1997 vermentino on the by-the-glass list. I spoke with the sommelier about it and he told me they had come across a forgotten case of it, and believing it to be bad, opened it up just to check. It was a revelation for them which surprised me as well. Still very much alive, it had wonderful honey, nutty aromas and flavors, and a still-present acidity. While we didn’t go as far back as 1997 last night, our vintages did range from 2009 to 2003.
Generally speaking the Sardinian and Tuscan versions were the most powerful, while the Ligurian examples, though still boasting impressive 13% and more alcohol levels, felt much lighter and more refreshing on the palate, and they were the most popular ones of the evening. The crowd favorite was our very first wine, which was also the least expensive. (Though with 10 wines, perhaps it was just the one everyone remembered best!) A Colli di Luni from Liguria, at just 7.50 euros it clearly presented the best value, although they were all well-priced with the most expensive wine coming in at 20 euros. The mainland wines tasted the most of the sea, while the Sardinian wines were more obviously fruity, with favors of green melon and golden apple. The older examples showed beautifully. The 2003 had an extremely long finish with lovely honeyed flavors while the 2006 was surprising in that it still tasted so fresh, much more so in fact than some of the 2008s. The 2006 was a fascinating wine that had powerful aromas of seaweed, tidepool, but also honey, golden apple, and a long, long finish that tasted distinctively of apricot. It may sound like a strange combination, but it worked wonderfully. Surprisingly, the least favorites of the evening were the wines from famous Super Tuscan houses: the Tenuta Guado al Tasso and Grattamacco. While still great wines, there was some stiff competition last night, and they were edged out.
Vermentino is not just a seafood wine; it is also a perfect match for pesto, another great example of, “what grows together, goes together”. Liguria is famous for their basil and the pesto that is made from it, and the local vermentino (and clone pigato, though local growers strongly disagree that they are indeed the same grape) has the powerful green and herbal aromas to stand up to such a strongly-flavored dish. Young, fresh cheeses are a great idea as well; last night I enjoyed the last of the wine with some fresh robiola that I had in the fridge. I could go on and on! In short, it is a great food wine. So happy summer and here’s to vermentino!

The lineup:
1. Colli di Luni Vermentino 2009 Lunae
2. Colli del Limbara Ruinas 2009 Depperu
3. Vermentino di Gallura Monteoro 2009 Sella & Mosca
4. Vermentino Bolgheri 2008 Tenuta Guado al Tasso
5. Vermentino Bolgheri 2008 Grattamacco
6. Colli di Luni Vermentino Cavagnino 2007
7. Colli di Luni Vermentino 2007 Giacomelli
8. Vermentino di Gallura Arakena 2006 Cantina del Vermentino
9. Riviera Ligure di Ponente Vermentino 2005 Lupi
10. Candia dei Colli Apuani Vigneto Candia Alto 2003 Cima Aurelio