I have not been lucky enough to step foot on the Vega Sicilia property, considered to be one of the top luxury wineries in the world. Situated in the Ribero del Duero DO in Spain, Vega Sicilia is a gem among gems.
About a year ago I was invited to an exclusive collectors’ dinner at Jean-Georges in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Tempos Vega Sicilia paired with an exquisite meal. Now I am not a collector of Vega Sicilia wines or of any wines for that matter. But as a member of the wine press/media, I was granted a coveted invite. This evening feels like a distant memory. A time when invitations to wine pairing dinners and winemaker interviews were frequent. This certainly was a standout evening as I would otherwise likely never have the opportunity to try Vega Sicilia wines, as they are hard to come by and priced WAY outside of my price range!
The meal was so good, that I only have a shot of dessert! I was so enveloped by the food and wine, breaking out a camera for each course felt inappropriate. I was also lucky enough to sit right next to Pablo Alvarez, owner and CEO. This was a meal and experience meant to be enjoyed and not documented.
Bodegas Vega Sicilia was founded in 1864, and it’s been said that if there were First Growths in Spain (as we have in Bordeaux), then Vega Sicilia would be on the list, if not the top of the list. They are one of the most well-recognized and luxury Spanish wines on the market. Their wines are scare, expensive, and in high demand. I felt honored to get to enjoy them that evening.
Below is a recap of the meal and highlights of the wines we enjoyed, with the notes I was able to jot down without taking away from the experience.
Tokaj Oremus is a Hungary-based sister winery of Vega Sicilia. Dry Furmint, when I get to enjoy it, always knocks my socks off. This wine has bracing acid and is hyper austere. Exactly what I want in a Dry Furmint.
From their joint effort with Rothschild, this is BR-VS (Bodegas Rothschild Vega Sicilia). A monstrous wine; in a good way. 100% Tempranillo. Crazy ass tannins. Wowzas.
Bodegas Pintia is another Spanish sister winery of Vega Sicilia. This wine is concentrated, complex. A pensive wine that feels like it’s thinking and causing us to think. Yet a bit rustic. Quite a juxtaposition here.
Another sister winery of Vega Sicilia (there are 4 in total). This Bodegas Alion wine is dripping with tertiary notes: leather, dirt/earth, and toasted nuts. If you’re into savory, this wine is for you!
The Unico wine undergoes at least a decade of aging, hence this is their current release. Always at least 80% Tempranillo then a blend of Bordeaux varieties. I have no tasting notes from this wine. Literally none. I think I was in a trance and trying to enjoy/savor what was in front of me. Sitting next to Pablo Alvarez with a glass of Unico and a Jean-Georges Beef Bourguignon. No review. But if you have a chance to do any of these things in your life, please do.
Also, no review. If you can get a sip in your glass, please savor it. The Reserva Especial line is always a blend of 2-3 vintages, hearkening back to old Spain where wine was not vintaged. This wine is a blend of ’08, ’09, and ’10.
Wishing you all a happy new year as we move into 2021. Also, seems like Spain has been a popular topic as of late on the blog. Last month we explored Spanish Albariño.
Italy does not have one ruling white or red grape. In fact, Italy is home to over 1,000 indigenous varieties, many of who you might never have heard of. Frappato? Molinara? Cortese? Turbiana?
Turbiana is the white grape used to make Lugana wine, a refreshing and dynamic white wine from the Lugana DOC near Lake Garda in northeast Italy. But I’m betting you’ve never heard of the Turbiana grape of Lugana wine. Why? With over 1,000 indigenous grapes, some slip through the cracks and don’t make it to commercial success. So, let’s discover something new and get out of a wine rut with Lugana wine. I wrote about Lugana wine in 2017, but I felt it was time for a refresher!
We begin with the entry-level Lugana, which covers over 90% of the wines that come out of the region. No aging requirements on this one. Next up we have the Lugana Superiore where the wine must age for at least one year for this designation. Lugana Riserva must age for at least 24 months (6 mos of which have to be in the bottle). Less common is the Lugana Vendemmia Tardiva (VT) made from late harvest grapes. And finally, Lugana Spumante sparkling wine. The VT and Spumante Lugana wine styles are both quite difficult to find. I have yet to find them actually!
Below are a few Lugana wines I have enjoyed over the last few months. These wines show bright, fresh citrus and stone fruit aromas and flavors and strong acidity. Also, notes of white flowers and even nuttiness in some Lugana wine expressions. Retail prices hover around $15 to $25.
Keep an eye out for Lugana and don’t sleep on it! It’s a great alternative Italian white wine. If you love Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, you might find a Lugana wine that you love!
In January I had the privilege to participate in the WineStudio program featuring Chianti Classico wine from Ricasoli 1141. WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, a Certified Sommelier who’s been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, but only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation.
Every Tuesday at 6 pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone who works along with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics, for example, include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc.
Chianti Classico wine comes from the heartland of Chianti. The Classico regions in Italy are the historic centers of the region that are said to make higher quality wines than in the larger, general regions (i.e. Chianti).
Brolio has been making wine continuously since 1141. Yep, for over 850 years. The man currently at the helm is Francesco Ricasoli and he is responsible for the name change to Ricasoli 1141. In addition, he is the great-grandson of Bettino Ricasoli who invented the Chianti Classico recipe in the 1800s. The property lies in Gaiole Chianti Classico, and at 600 acres, is the largest estate in Chianti Classico.
Casalferro is one of the Ricasoli vineyards, providing 100% Merlot from a single plot of land and ages 18 months in oak barrels. Intense and bright ruby red color and ripe red fruit both on the nose and palate. Balsamic, cocoa, and spicy hints (pepper and cinnamon) on the nose.
Casalferro is one of the Ricasoli vineyards. This wine is 100% Merlot from a single plot of land, and similarly to the above, aged 18 months in oak barrels. A combination of red and black fruit on the nose/palate, moving into balsamic and spicy notes.
These grapes are from five specific vineyard areas that produce the grapes for the Brolio label, providing intense ruby red color, which is classic for a Chianti. Also present are Chianti markers of red fruit, balsamic, and floral violet notes. Smooth tannins, good acid, and a long finish give a classic Chianti Classico wine feel. 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Stainless steel fermented plus 9 months in large neutral oak barrels.
The grapes for this wine also come from the Brolio vineyards. Ruby red color with red fruit notes of wild strawberry and sour cherries, plus soft, smooth tannins. 80% Sangiovese, 15% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition, stainless steel fermented plus 18 months in large oak barrels (some new, some used).
In early 2014 the Chianti Classico Consorzio unveiled a new addition to the denomination’s quality pyramid above the Riserva level called: Gran Selezione. The grapes need to be estate grown with an additional 6 months aging requirement (over what is required for Riserva). There are also stricter technical and sensory parameters. The jury is still out if this new level is beneficial at all to consumers or just adds to the confusion.
The Sangiovese grapes for this wine come from the Colledilà vineyard. Only the finest hand-picked clusters are selected for this wine. 100% Sangiovese with the classic ruby color, giving red fruit (plums and cherries) plus fresh floral notes. 18 months in large oak barrels (30% new, 70% used)
Castello di Brolio is created by a meticulous selection of the best Sangiovese (90%), Cabernet Sauvignon (5%), and Petit Verdot (5%) grapes from estate vineyards. Intense ruby color, red fruits, balsamic, and floral notes. Plus, vanilla from the oak treatment. This is certainly the “grand vin” of Brolio.
With the deficiency of travel in my life, Italy has been at the top of my mind. Certainly, this is evident in my recent blog posts covering both the Langhe and Gattinara in Piemonte. Enjoy these reads, and cheers!
The history of Fontanafredda (and Langhe Nebbiolo) is a noble one and began in 1858 after the unification of Italy, when the country’s first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, purchased this beautiful estate in Piedmont’s Langhe region for his mistress. Quite the scandal! Here he started producing wine from local varieties, Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, which later developed into a commercial business under the direction of the King’s son, Count Mirafiori. Fontanafredda released their first Nebbiolo labeled as Barolo with the 1878 vintage.
Since 2008, Fontanafredda has been owned by visionary businessman and Piedmont native, Oscar Farinetti (co-owner of Eataly), who has brought new life to one of Italy’s most heralded properties. They’re doing something right, as Fontanafredda was awarded European Winery of the Year by Wine Enthusiast in 2017. In 2018, the Fontanafredda vines were certified organic and they are now the largest certified organic company in Piemonte.
Fontanafredda is a 250-acre property in Serralunga d’Alba, a cru site of Barolo, the single largest contiguous wine estate in the Langhe. They also work with 400 local grower partners in sourcing grapes for their wines. Speaking of wines, let’s get to tasting these Langhe Nebbiolo wines!
I enjoyed these wines as part of a lovely luncheon at Spago Restaurant in Beverly Hills, where we tasted Fontanafredda’s current Barolo releases, as well as a selection of special library gems going back 20+ years. Enjoy!
Dry, delicious, and lively describes this Metodo Classico sparkling made of 80% Pinot Nero and 20% Chardonnay. What makes this special is that their 1967 Barolo is the liqueur d’éxpedition.
This was Fontanafredda’s first single-village Barolo ever produced since 1988 and this bottle (and label) is the icon of the estate. I get balsamic and meaty notes and, as expected, prevalent tannins, plus Serralunga trademarks of roses and underbrush.
My first impression is that this is a pretty wine, but then it opens up and get sturdier on the nose. Moderate acid, lots of savory/underbrush notes on the palate, and prevalent tannins.
Oh my….come to momma. This wine shows Barolo typicity of tar and roses. Lovely. Reminds me of the elegance of Pino Noir, but distinctly Italian and distinctly Nebbiolo and with no Italian rusticity.
This wine is showing graceful age, in the same way as Helen Mirren. The fruit is fading beautifully, and I’m ok with it. Quite stunning; showing both savory and tertiary notes. Beautifully subtle aromas and flavors that you’d expect for a 24-year old wine.
The Riserva level gets an additional two more years of aging, while this wine is only made in the best years. The official tasting notes say “a fresh sour note”. I LOVE that descriptor. I have been using “sour” as a tasting note for a while, but I’ve never seen in print!
This wine was first made in 1964 (hence the year on the label). Deep, dark fruit plus a faint florality with super, duper woody tannins.
For more great Italian content, check out my blog post on Travaglini Gattinara, also a study of Nebbiolo.
Driven by a passion for exceptional Nebbiolo, the Travaglini family has been producing remarkable, limited-production wines from their estate in Gattinara for four generations.
They are the foremost producer and largest vineyard owner in this northern region of Piemonte, Italy.
Travaglini Gattinara wines have a distinctive bottle shape, featuring a unique curve that fits naturally in the palm of the hand and serves to catch sediment during decanting. The bottle is now their trademark. Some of the images below highlight this special bottle shape.
Gattinara vineyards were almost all destroyed in the early 1900s due to phylloxera and a devastating hail storm in 1905. The family replanted vines in the 1920s and pioneered research into improving viticulture in the area. Today there are about 100 hectares in total of Gattinara vines, and Travaglini farms 59 of those hectares. Essentially, they produce over 50% of Gattinara wines. Exports make up 65% of Travaglini’s production. The United States is the #1 export market.
Last year I had the pleasure of attending an afternoon luncheon with Cinzia and Alessia Travaglini as they showcased their wines against the backdrop of a wonderful meal from Angelini Osteria in Los Angeles.
Top vineyards on the Travaglini estate are where the grapes for this wine are sourced. A zero dosage sparkling wine made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes.
Crunchy red fruit on the nose (cherry and cranberry) plus a hint of sweet oak. Precise fruit and bright acid. I also get a minerality to this wine plus some delicate rose petal notes, classic to Nebbiolo.
A very savory wine. I get sweet spice (from the oak treatment-2 years in Slavonian oak) and a stemmy herbaceous quality. A strong tannic background due to longer skin contact.
This wine is a blend of three single-vineyard “cru” sites on the Travaglini estate. The wine is aged for 4 years in Slavonian oak casks. During the final year in cask, 20% of the wine is removed and aged separately in barrique before being blended back with the balance of the wine. The final blend then rests in the bottle for 10 months.
Deep, dark, concentrated red fruit. Medium + smooth, well-integrated tannins. I get a little funk in my glass, which is a good thing.
Bright, juicy red fruit, sweet spice, and pepper note. Complex yet elegant. Earthiness abounds.
A slight bricking in the glass, indicating the age. An elegantly aged red wine, with savory notes (i.e. underbrush) starting to emerge. So understated. Almost a whisper of a wine.
Grapes are hand-harvested and then dried for 100 days in a naturally ventilated storage area. Really ripe, almost sweet fruit on the palate plus sweet baking spices.
Many of these wines are available in the US.
Emilia-Romagna is known as the stomach of Italy. Why? Because so many famous foods are from the region including Proscuitto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, and Grana Padano. I had the chance to attend a seminar on the Italian Wines of Emilia-Romagna. It was presented by Giammario Villa, as part of the Gambero Rosso event. His company, Vinomatica, consists of a team of wine educators, master tasters, communication, and marketing experts. Their goal is to communicate the business and culture of the wine industry worldwide through wine publishing, wine education, wine scouting, and wine marketing.
As of late, there has been a dramatic improvement in wine quality coming out of Emilia-Romagna. It is a common theme, as the wines of Sicily, Puglia, and other Italian wines regions are also increasing in quality. This is partly due to the modernization of wine production facilities throughout Italy. As well as the increased popularity in international styles of wine. However, this forces winemakers to stay on their toes and produce wines that can compete in the global marketplace. Most of the production coming out of Emilia-Romagna is Lambrusco (a sparkling red). But there is also a full range of still wines being produced.
As far as the production side, wine cooperatives (or co-ops) are very important in Emilia-Romagna. A co-op is a facility with shared winemaking equipment. Therefore, cost savings is the main benefit, as winemaking facilities are quite expensive!
Overall, you'll find exceptional values in Emilia Romagna. As I frequently say, I encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. Certainly, the wines of Emilia-Romagna are a perfect way to do that!
Below are some interesting Italian wines from Emilia-Romagna. The first line is always the producer name or the co-op name with a link to their website. The second line includes details of the wine, such as the name of the wine, grape, sub-region, vintage, etc. Here I also included a link to each wine on Wine-Searcher so that you can see where to find these wines on store shelves. Many of them are not readily available. But depending on what state you live in, shipping could be an option. And if none of these wines are available in your area, don’t fret! You’ve learned something new about a wine region in Italy you would otherwise not be familiar with.
Just remember the name of the region (Emilia-Romagna). Next time you are in a wine shop or at a restaurant, ask if they have any wines from that area. However, if they do not, perhaps they can steer you in the direction of Italian wines that might be similar. With wine, it is DEFINITELY about the journey and not just the destination. So, open your mind and try new things. Your favorite bottle of wine is just around the corner!
Yowzas, this is #funAF as the kids say! In case you weren't sure, Famoso is the name of the (white) grape. Floral notes abound. In fact, this wine smells like a field of flowers. I also get citrus (orange), stone fruit (peach), tropical fruit (pineapple), white flowers, and a honeyed nose. This wine is easy to drink, but has character; a backbone. This wine is one of my favorites at the tasting.
Albana, a white grape, is considered the queen of Emilia-Romagna. On the nose, I get medium aromatic intensity with delicate citrus notes of lemon and tangelo. Medium + acid plus major citrus (lemon) on the palate.
Our first sparkling! A very pretty wine with a medium pink, almost salmon, color. Clean, juicy, bright red fruit (strawberry and cranberry). Very effervescent, good acid. The same red fruit notes on the palate. Fully dry.
This wine is that classic Lambrusco color of deep purple. On the nose, I get deep red/black fruit plus some floral/violet notes. On the palate, semi-dry, but the acid balances it out. This wine has 18g/L of RS (residual sugar).
The grapes for this wine are all organic and biodynamically farmed on ocean-facing vines. On the nose, I get sour cherry, cranberry, violets, cedar, and light spice box. The palate shows medium tannins and the same fruit notes. All structural elements are well-integrated. Overall a solid red.
Another one of my favorites here. Very deep red fruit on both the nose and the palate. Soft tannins plus delicate violet notes.
The beginning stages of bricking are beginning to show on the color. Soft, delicate red fruit. This reminds me of a delicate Old World Pinot.
Deep red plus black fruit, moving into brambly territory. Plus vanilla and a faint cedar note. On the palate: black currant, black pepper/spice, vanilla, and drying tannins. This is a deep, brooding wine, but it can stand on its own. Food is not necessary.
The vines here were planted in 1922, hence the name. Dark fruit (both red and black) plus notes of vanilla and toast.
In my wine journeys, I have the opportunity to experience fabulous wines and attend events where I get to taste these wines and meet the winemakers. One such occasion was when I was introduced to Sella & Mosca, the largest winery on the island of Sardinia. Sardinia lies south of France near the island of Corsica and off the west coast of Italy. Sella & Mosca lies on the NW corner of the island, just inland from the historic port of Alghero, which was designated a DOC in 1995.
Sardinia has a 6,000-year winemaking history. Sella & Mosca is the largest winery on the island (550 hectares planted) and almost the oldest. Fun fact: it is the second-largest contiguous vineyard in Italy! They use all organic cultivation and participate in other sustainable activities. Planted at the vineyards are alternating rows of oleanders, palms, maritime pines, eucalyptus, and other Mediterranean plants. In addition, the winery also maintains a 12-acre nature preserve dedicated to Mediterranean vegetation and local wildlife.
Tourism is the main industry on the island with 1.4 million tourists visiting year-round. In the summer, the population of the island doubles. The island provides lots of sun, wind, and desirable soils for grapes. Soil such as iron-rich limestone, clay, and sandy soils. They make all their wines from estate-grown grapes. They grow both native varieties (Vermentino, Torbato, and Cannonau) as well as some international varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Of note about Sardinia is its designation as a “Blue Zone”. Blue Zones are regions of the world where Dan Buettner claims people live much longer than average. Other blue zones in the world include Okinawa, Japan, and Costa Rica. Likewise, Sardinia is on this list partially because Cannonau contains one of the highest concentrations of resveratrol as any other grape variety.
Founded over a century ago in 1899, Sella & Mosca was started by two Piemontese businessmen: Erminio Sella and Edgardo Mosca. They were two very important figures during the Risorgimento. Had to look this one up! According to Wikipedia: the Italian unification, also known as the Risorgimento, was the political and social movement that consolidated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of the Kingdom of Italy in the 19th century.
Today, the head winemaker is Giovanni Pinna who leads us through a tasting of their wines. A native of Sardinia, Giovanni has devoted his entire career to studying, working, and teaching others about the island’s unique viticultural landscape. He joined Sella & Mosca in 2000 and is now chief winemaker over their annual production of 7.6 million bottles!
Most notable about Sella & Mosca is their dedication to the Torbato grape, their flagship variety. While the Spanish ruled the area, Torbato arrived on the island. Even though a variety called Turbat is found in Spain today, Sella & Mosca is the only producer in the world to vinify it as a 100% varietal wine. Today they produce four types of Torbato. Torbato D.O.C Alghero, Terre Bianche D.O.C Alghero, Terre Bianche Cuvée 161 D.O.C Alghero, and Torbato Spumante Brut. In addition, Giovanni uses no oak in their white wines, as he wants you to experience the grape, not the wood.
Below I detail the Sella & Mosca wines tasted at this luncheon, as well as the incomparable food pairings courtesy of Celestino Drago at Drago Centro. The tasting menu was not a straight one course + one wine per pairing. We tried different wines with different courses.
Crab Salad Toast, Truffle Arancini, and Tuna Crostini
This wine has bright fruit notes of pear and green apple with a delicate white flower note on the back end. But not as many florals as you’d get from a Prosecco. This wine has medium + acid and is quite round…not austere. A fabulous pairing for seafood. Certainly, I feel very honored to try this wine as Sella & Mosca makes the only varietally labeled Turbato in the world! Fun fact: they are working on a traditional method Turbato sparkler that is still sitting on the lees and aging. That would be a treat to try!
Scallop, Roasted Maitake Mushroom, Truffle Beurre Blanc
Tagiolini, Seabass, Cherry Tomato, Pine Nut, Fish Fumet
A much riper nose (less green) than the ubiquitous Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is round, ripe, but with gripping acid, just as you’d expect from a Sauvignon Blanc. Citrus (Meyer lemon), green fruit, and a hint of tropical notes (unripe pineapple). A very well-balanced wine…I really love this one. Great acid and great body. Fabulous with both the scallop and the pasta course. And at $17.99, a great QPR compared to other Sauv Blancs out there where the quality can be a bit lacking at that price point.
Vermentino is a well-known grape to Sardinia. Similarly, It is found in other regions (such as Liguria and Tuscany) but 75% of Italy’s Vermentino finds its home in Sardinia. In France, it is Rolle. However, in Sardinia, this wine is produced in Vermentino di Gallura, Sardinia’s only DOCG, formed in 1996. A lovely almond-skin nose gives this wine a true “Sardinian” feel. You know instantly this is not one of the international varieties. Typicity reigns with Vermentino in Sardinia.
Lamb Loin, Venere Risotto, Roasted Beets, Bartlett Pears, Lamb Jus
Chef’s Assorted Cheeses
Cannonau, or Grenache as it is known elsewhere, is a thin-skinned red variety. Over 700 years ago the Spanish brought Grenache to Sardinia and over time it has changed. It is now Cannonau. This wine gives bright red fruit, floral (violet) notes, graphite/minerality, earth, umami/mushroom, and balsamic notes. No joke, my tasting notes on the palate says: HOLY SHIT. In short, this wine inspires me. Transport yourself to the Mediterranean for $17.99. To Sardinia. Italian wines tend to do this……they take you there. Whether it’s through the nose or the taste, or how the wine plays with the food, or how it brings back memories of perhaps a trip you took to Italy. It is quite a special thing and this wine reminds me why I LOVE Italian wines. There is just something about them.
This guy is 50% Cannonau and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon. You can actually smell/taste the structure and backbone that Cab Sauv lends.
The grapes for this wine originate in the Villamarina vineyard of the estate. The wine matures in small French oak casks, after harvest and fermentation, for 18 months before transferring to larger oak barrels for a further year, then aged an additional 18 months after bottling. Therefore, a beautiful, well-balanced wine. Really nice.
Within Puglia (the heel of the boot) lies Salice Salentino, the very bottom tip of the heel. Founded in 2003, the Consorzio di Tutela Vini D.O.P. Salice Salentino is dedicated for the protection of PDO Salice Salentino wines. Salice Salentino, which was granted DOC status in 1976, has just over 2,000 hectares of vineyards and the name refers to both the village and the name of the wine.
Puglia is a workhorse region in Italy. 50% of Italy’s olive oil is produced in Puglia and 40% of Italy’s wine is produced here. Known as “the California of Italy”, because of the plethora of sunshine here (over 300 days of sunshine per year), many other regions bring in Puglian grapes for blending because the grapes can easily hit desired alcohol levels (partially due to the sunshine levels). The Mediterranean climate is hot and dry and the region lies between two seas, giving good winds which help prevent rot, mold, and insect problems.
Historically, as in much of the south of Italy, the wines here were not known for quality. Vines give high yields and the wines carried a baked character. Now, many producers are switching their focus to more quality wines. And here in Puglia, the prices are deceptive. Many, many quality wines can be found around $20/bottle, which in many other wine regions (outside of Italy) wouldn’t get you much. The new generation of producers are focused on modern winemaking techniques and also in “rescuing” and maintaining the use of indigenous varieties. There are over 546 indigenous varieties registered in Puglia, with many more unregistered.
The Negroamaro grape is king here. It is usually blended with Malvasia Nera di Lecce to soften tannins. Negroamaro has a super dark, almost black, color. The grape gives high yields and gives notes of black fruit, tobacco, and shoe polish. Primitivo is also very important here, though it is prone to uneven ripening, difficult to grow, and is not easy to handle in the cellar. It does accumulate sugar easily (which can lead to wines with higher alcohol levels). Primitivo gives ripe cherries, plums, underbrush, and herbs/tar. White grapes in Puglia include: Malvasia Blanco and Fiano (which is originally from Campania). The red Aleatico is used for a passito-style wine.
Wine styles include Salice Salentino Rosato DOC, the flagship wine of Puglia, made from the Negroamaro grape. Markers include white peach and passion fruit. These rosatos are made in the press method, not saignée. Next in importance is Salice Salentino Rosso DOC, a red wine made from a minimum of 75% Negroamaro. This wine generally gives blackberry, spice, black licorice, and pepper notes. If Negroamaro is on the label, it is a minimum of 90% Negroamaro. Riserva signifies it’s had at least 24 months minimum aging, with at least 6 months in barrel. Time agrees with Salice Salentino Rosso, and it can age like a mofo. Lastly, we have Salice Salentino Biano DOC made from either Chardonnay or Fiano.
Pale salmon color. This wine sees all stainless steel (no oak) and gives red fruit on the nose (strawberry), citrus (grapefruit), and herbs (dill, tarragon, oregano), floral, and minerality/brine. On the palate, bracing acidity with a savory/tart quality. Good structure with a licorice/rhubarb finish.
Medium pink/salmon color. According to Laura, this wine smells like a ladies setting powder (spoken like a true Italian!). On the nose: ripe strawberry and peaches, plus floral notes (rose petals), and pink peppercorns. On the palate, so many primary fruit and floral notes.
Deep ruby color. Red and black fruit on the nose (cherry, plum), spice (black pepper and cinnamon). A rustic and Italian feeling wine. Medium rustic tannins and good acid.
Medium ruby in color. This wine sees all stainless steel, no oak, and gives red fruit plus floral on the nose, with a muted spice character.
Pale ruby in color. On the nose: soft, delicate red fruit, spice, plus toast/oak. This wine is super smooth on the palate, with good acid. A bit more sophisticated than the first two reds. This wine is in the modern style and can compete on the international marketplace. Organic and sustainable vines.
This wine definitely smells like a Riserva due to the longer oak aging. It gives me the holy trinity of what I want in a red wine: red fruit, spice, and oak/toasty notes. A blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia.
This wine sees 6 mos French oak aging. With notes of red fruit, pepper/spice, plus dates/prunes. A very savory nose with an herbaceous note. Super spicy on the palate.
Thank you Laura Donadoni for leading us through the wines of Salice Salentino!
More and more people are talking about Italian wine. Italy’s rustic and interesting wines appear to be on an increasing number of wine lists, beyond the requisite Prosecco and Tuscan wines. And while Italy has always been a major tourist destination, people seem to be diverting to some of the lesser traveled regions not normally on the international traveler’s radar. Sicily is leading the way. I can’t flip through a travel or food magazine without reading about how Sicily is an “undiscovered gem” and how the volcanic wines from Mount Etna are “dark, smoky, and brooding". Sicily has stepped up their wine game, tourism game, and food game. Or maybe it’s been there all along and their only now getting noticed for it? In fact, there are now 4 restaurants with Michelin stars in Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean.
I recently attended a "Masterglass” seminar at Eataly Los Angeles focusing on the Nero d’Avola grape, native to Sicily. Our seminar was led by Alessio Planeta, of Planeta Wine, a Sicilian producer. Alessio is co-owner and lead winemaker at Planeta. "MasterGlass" comes in to play because the tasting was conducted using glasses designed by Riedel specifically for Planeta and Nero d’Avola.
“Nero” means black and “Avola” is a small village near Noto, on the island of Sicily. Nero d’Avola grapes have vigorous vines and give wines with moderate alcohol and good acid. Classic Nero d’Avola notes include: black currant, carob, and balsamic.
In 2012, traces of 6,000-year-old wine was discovered in clay amphorae pots a Sicilian cave! As every region of Italy, there are grapes native to Sicily. The main red grape is Nero d’Avola, while the supporting actor for red wine making is Frappato. Frappato is best used as a blending grape, while you will see many varietally labeled Nero d’Avola wines. Surprisingly, Catarratto, a white grape, is the #1 grape grown in Sicily, with 32% of vineyards planted to Catarratto*. Mainly because it is the main grape used for Marsala, a huge export of the island.
The Planeta family has been in agriculture for over 400 years (18 generations)! Planeta Wine was born about 20 years ago and they now have 400 hectares across 6 sites in Menfi, Vittoria, Noto, Etna, Sambuca di Sicilia, and Capo Milazzo. The Planeta estate holdings now include a B&B as well as Casa Planeta, a restaurant run by Alessio’s father and his five siblings.
A crisp, clean wine with lots of primary notes, including citrus (orange blossom, lemon peel, grapefruit), green fruit (pear, green apple). Also a nuttiness on the palate (bitter almond skin) that gives a nice medium + finish. Marked salinity.
This was a nice, spicy rosé made from 50% Nero d’Avola and 50% Syrah. A change of pace from some of the wimpy, watery rosés on the market.
A wine medium ruby in color. Juicy cherries on the nose with a marked rusticity or earthiness. Soft, well-integrated tannins on the palate, plus cherry and strawberry nose. This feels like an “island red”. I’m not exactly sure what that means except that this is a smooth, relatively light, easy to drink red that makes me happy. And islands make me happy. I heard a rumor this pairs well with seared tuna.
Medium ruby color with purple hues. On the nose, the fruit is a bit more complex than the previous reds. Riper strawberry (almost jammy) moving into black pepper, cedar, and a basement feel. More acid as well. This wine feels a bit more “Italian”.
Medium ruby in color. On the nose I get beautiful fruit plus floral (violets). This is a perfumed wine. Medium – acid, and soft/velvety on the palate.
This wine is deep ruby in color. On the nose, this wine has much more aromatic intensity than the other reds. Primary red fruit and spice (cinnamon/clove) mostly, plus secondary notes of earth, dirt and rusticity. Moving into tertiary (leather) notes. This wine has medium + drying tannins and a combination of red and black fruit plus balsamic notes.
A dark ruby color with an orange rim. On the nose, black fruit and blueberry, plus some savory notes. On the palate, a clear note of tomato leaf.
The age of this wine really shows. And it’s lovely. A deep ruby color with a garnet core. So many lovely aged/savory notes on both the nose and palate, including: cola, dried mint, toasted nuts, and black olive.
Gratuitous Italian lunch spread
Taste of Italy is LA’s premiere food and wine event with authentic Italian food, wine, and entertainment to benefit the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles (IAMLA). The event celebrates the cultural richness of the Italian peninsula. Last year, Taste of Italy highlighted the Italian region of Puglia, known as the “heel of the boot”. Puglia is known for its quintessential Mediterranean climate: short mild winters and long, hot, dry summers with LOTS of sunshine. The wines from Puglia are known for their great values. Specifically, the region is known for the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes.
I was not able to attend the main event, but I did attend the “Taste of Italy” preview dinner for press at Luigi al Teatro featuring a Puglia inspired menu. Luigi Fineo, executive chef at Luigi al Teatro, is the nation’s youngest chef to earn the Michelin Star. We enjoyed a LOVELY evening that started with a wine tasting and passed hors d’oeuvres on the patio. We then moved into the restaurant for a beautiful coursed meal that left me in shock that I had never visited this restaurant before. It was easily one of the best meals I have ever had in Los Angeles.
Chef Luigi Fineo
Enjoy the food and wine porn about to hit your eyeballs!
Selezione Nicola Chiaromonte Gioia Del Colle Primitivo 2011
Polipo alla Griglia
Grilled Spanish Octopus, Cireale Chickpea, Green Olives, Toy Box Tomato
Carpaccio di Orata
Sea Bream, Orange, Basil Seeds, Lemon, Olive Oil
Muro Sant’Angelo Gioia del Colle Primitivo 2014
Cavatelli, Potato, Mussels, Bottarga, Pachino
Filleto di San Pietro
Baked John Dory, Tomato-Spinach Acciugata
Australian Wagyu New York Steak
Grilled Australian Wagyu, Seasonal Vegetables, Black Winter Truffle
Chocolate, Crème Fraiche, Maldon Salt
This year the Taste of Italy event will take place on October 12, 2019 at the Italian American Museum of Los Angeles. Thank you to Marianna Gatto, Executive Director of IAMLA for the invitation to this impeccable event.
Daniele Cernilli aka “Doctor Wine” recently came to Los Angeles for a stellar wine tasting and pairing with the food of Drago Centro, in downtown Los Angeles, as part of his California Tour 2018. The occasion was the launch of his 4th Edition to The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine. There are 25 contributors to the book, which is not an Italian wine encyclopedia, but rather a curated list of wines from the best producers including winery information, tasting notes, etc.
Some have called Daniele the “Robert Parker of Italy”. Depending on your thoughts of Parker, that comparison can be a compliment or not! Suffice it to say that Daniele Cernilli is an important voice in the Italian wine space. Case in point, he was one of the founders of Gambero Rosso some 24 years ago and remains an important wine critic and educator.
Below is a recap of this amazing lunch, including the wines! Note that two to three wines were paired with each course.
Cecaluccoli Lobster Carbonara, Egg Yolk
I don’t have many tasting notes for the food except for “OMG”. This lunch was to die for. Each course better than the next. And now I am craving carbonara:)
Pairing #1 (my fav)
Contadi Castaldi Lombardy Brut Rose NV Franciacorta DOCG
According to Daniele, this wine is the color of a Vidalia onion. It is younger and approachable with a beautiful, clean primary nose and a lovely crisp palate. This wine has a slight yeastiness and medium +/high acid, which really cuts through the fat of the carbonara. Lees aging of 24-30 months, which is not too detectable on the nose, but is detectable on the palate. 10g/L of liqueur de disgorgement. Contadi Castaldi also owns Bellavista, a famous Franciacorta producer.
Vigne Surrau Branu Vermentino di Gallura DOCG 2017 Sardinia
One the nose, this wine brings citrus, green fruit, and a hint of stone fruit. Also, almond skin, and a floral (honeysuckle) note. On the palate, I get citrus (lime peel), stone fruit (apricot, peach), tropical fruit (pineapple), and a floral note. This wine is chewy with great texture. A bold wine with medium + body. This wine is all stainless steel and sees no oak.
Tortellini, Ricotta Pecorino, Parmesan, Basil, Pine Nuts
I have never had a dish like this before. Soft, pillowy tortellini stuffed with cheese, basil, and pine nuts. When the tortellini broke in your mouth, an unexpected rush of warm soup came out. Delish!
Pairing #1 (my fav)
Colosi Piero Nero d’Avola DOC Sicilia 2017
These vineyards are on a tiny island (of 300 people!) just off of Sicily. This wine is a purple/violet color and smells a bit more sophisticated than most Southern Italian wines, which tend to be more rustic. The nose has the perfect combination of red fruit (plum and cherry), floral (violet), and earth (cedar) notes. There is also a slight graphite note. Daniele also got a caper/vegetal note. On the palate this wine had a strong acid backbone and was very rustic. Very Italian.
Vinchio Vaglio Serra I Tre Vescovi Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG 2015
This is their flagship wine. Very versatile. The nose smells like a pile of dirt and that makes me happy. Dirt is exactly what I want to smell in an Italian wine. The fruit is delicate and I also get a hint of violet petals. Refreshing acidity on the palate, plus some oak tannins that I think will mellow with time.
Casa Vinicola Luigi Cecchi e Figli Srl Chianti Classico Riserva di Famiglia 2014
This wine is a medium garnet color (possibly due to age?). On the nose, I get sour red cherry (which is a Sangiovese marker) plus floral notes. Very rustic. The palate also brings me sour cherry, good acid, and demands food.
Colorado Wagyu NY Steak, Celery Root Puree, Au Jus
The marbling on this steak…..oh boyyyy!!!! So good.
Statti Arvino IGP Calabria 2015
This producer also grows olives on their property and is the largest producer of olives in all of Calabria, with over 55,000 trees! This wine has a lovely rusticity on the nose with lots of red fruit. It spends 12 months in French oak (which is not super evident on the palate; perhaps neutral oak was used?). On the palate I get medium + tannins and medium + acid (enough to make you salivate). This wine is balanced and great alone. It does not need food.
Velenosi Vini Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013
This wine gives me black fruit, dried cherries, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. It reminds me of an Old Vine Zinfandel.. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. Juicy. This wine is like a beautiful Italian woman. You can’t stop looking at her. She appears effortless.
Pairing #3 (my fav)
Tenuta Bocca di Lupo Castel del Monte DOC 2011
This is the most iconic wine of the tasting. It really held up to the food. Major structure. A step up from everything we have tasted toda thus far. The nose was spectacular: fruit and tons of herbaceous notes such as dried sage and tarragon). #thatnosethough. Only 200 cases produced.
In March I attended the Tre Bicchieri tasting event in Los Angeles put on by Gambero Rosso. Gambero Rosso is a multimedia brand in the Italian food and wine world that includes: food guides, wine guides, books, a TV channel, a learning academy, and events around the world. The Tre Bicchieri tasting brings together all the highly rated wines that make it into their Vini d'Italia annual guide. The guide is now in its 30th edition. Over 45,000 wines are tasted annually by special committees involving over 70 people. Wines that make the cut in the guide are rated one glass (Bicchieri), two glasses (Due Bicchieri), or three glasses (Tre Bicchieri). The Grand Tasting showcased over 200 wines of all 3 levels detailed above. In tandem with the Grand Tasting, they hosted a Custoza Masterclass. I had never heard of this Italian region, so I was excited to learn about it and try some new Italian wines!
Bianco di Custoza is a while wine DOC in the Veneto region of NE Italy, just south of Lake Garda. The main grapes in the blend are: Trebbiano Toscano and Garganega (the main grape of Soave), and there are a few others. Both the region and the wine are called Custoza.
In this class, we tasted 10 Custoza wines of varying styles. Below are my tasting notes.
Cantina di Castelnuovo Del Garda
Custoza Cavegar 2016
Pale lemon in color with lots of primary notes of citrus, green fruit, stone fruit (white peach), and tropical fruit (pineapple). A very youthful wine that felt like a fruit salad in my mouth.
Custoza San Michelin 2016
This wine is a bit more complex than the first one. Very mouth-watering with a prominent note of salinity. There was some sort of savory note on the palate that I couldn’t put my finger on. This is a great standalone wine….it does not need food.
Custoza Superiore Elianto 2015
A lovely wine of quantity (over 250K cases are produced annually). Stainless steel fermentation and then aging in cement tanks with bâttonage, which I can feel on the palate. There is a fullness and a creaminess that comes from that use of bâttonage.
Monte del Fra
Custoza Superiore Ca del Magro 2015
This is a very aromatic and balanced wine with a slight perception of RS. This wine has fruit and floral notes in addition to pungent spice (ginger). Overall, medium + flavor intensity. A great, sturdy wine.
Custoza Superiore Summa 2015
This wine has depth on the nose and a spicy palate that I love. This wine was fermented in stainless steel with some oak aging.
Cantina di Castelnuovo del Garda
Custoza Superiore Bosco del Gal 2014
A very aromatic wine. Reminded me a bit of a Riesling on the nose. Much riper fruit than the others we’ve tried. Stone fruit and a perfumed elderflower note. Very high acid masks the RS.
Custoza SP 2013
This wine has the most interesting nose and a creamy, sherbert-like quality on the palate. No idea what that means in formal wine tasting terms, but that’s what I got! There was a saffron note and oiliness on the palate. This felt like the most intellectual wine of the bunch.
Custoza Superiore Elianto 2012
Savory on the nose, including bruised yellow apples. Spicy (especially on the palate) with some funk and a honeyed nose. Slight RS. A wine to enjoy on its own. Bravo!
Custoza Superiore Campo del Selese 2012
Woah. This wine goes through a serious evolution on the nose. It starts out almost metallic and then moves to a distinct funkiness, almost like peat. Is that possible? A beautiful and interesting palate.
Monte del Fra
Custoza Sup. Ca del Magro 2008
Wow. This wine is hard to compare to the others because of its age. I get notes of ruby red grapefruit and saffron. Great fruit and great acid.
There were a few key takeaways of this MasterClass. For one, Custoza wines age well. Also, the wines had great length in the glass. The wines are exciting and have so much personality and energy.
In the 60s and 70s, there was an economic boom in Italy. Many people who lived in more rural areas moved to the cities to take advantage of new opportunities. In the 80s, the country then had to incentivize people to move back to those areas and take control of farms and vineyards. They did so with small business agricultural loans. Angela Velenosi took advantage of these economic incentives and started Velenosi Winery with her then husband, Ercole. Velenosi is located just outside the town of Ascoli Piceno in Marche, Italy.
The Marche region is on the central coast of Italy on the Adriatic side. Continental influences come from the west (from the Apeninne Range) and moderate maritime influence come from the east. Velenosi was founded in 1984 by Angela and Ercole with 9 hectares. They now own 148 hectares total and have grown to 2.5 million bottle annual case production!
Angela was our guest at the Velenosi Winery LA Wine Writers luncheon in March. She is a beautiful and smart Italian woman who started this venture when she was only 20 years old! Our intimate group enjoyed this time with Angela. We heard about her journey in the wine world and got to delve into her portfolio of wines, which were paired beautifully with fare from Cafe del Rey. As always, this lunch did not disappoint.
Herbed Goat Cheese on Marble Rye Toast
Pairing: Pecorino DOCG 2016
Pecorino is an indigenous grape to Marche. The wine is round and creamy with medium + body and a nice saltiness/brininess. The creaminess comes from 3 mos of lees contact and battonage. Fun fact: there are sheep on this vineyard that eat the grapes from the vine in the fall. These sheep then provide the milk for Pecorino cheese! I love both this wine and this pairing. Such a simple thing to whip up if you’re having friends over: toasted rye bread, a schmear of goat cheese (with herbs if you have ‘em), plus an EVOO drizzle and some fresh cracked black pepper.
Spinach & Stone Fruit Salad with Orange Vinaigrette and Sea Salt
Pairing: Verdicchio 2017
This wine had an almost pink color to it. Lots of stone fruit (both on the nose and palate) made this a great pairing with the stone fruit salad. This wine is creamy, structured, and has ageability.
Butternut Squash & Chocolate Bread Pudding with a Dried Plum Sauce
Pairing: Lacrima di Morro 2017
This dish was delicious and incredibly unique. I was inspired to try and recreate this, but I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where to start. An inspiring pairing. One does not overpower the other. They dance with each other, though this wine sings on its own. A perfumed note of violet petals plus an earthiness/twigginess. A very dry and almost astringent wine. My favorite wine of the day.
Roasted Peppered Venison with Shaved Fennel & Cranberry Slaw, Pernod Dressing
Pairing: Ludi Offida DOCG 2014
This is one of Velenosi’s hallmark wines. 85% Montepulciano, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot. Red and black fruit, meatiness, plus vanilla and other baking spices. Dried flower as well. Medium + mouth-drying tannins.
48 Day Dry Aged Beef in a Porcini Mushroom Sauce
Pairing: Roggio del Filare Rosso Piceno Superiore 2013
Wow! To both the wine and this dish! The wine gives me: black fruit, spice (black pepper), leather, and black licorice. Also dried black cherries. Powerful, structured, and layered. You almost want to chew it. This wine was a “Tre Biccheri” at Gambero Rosso.
Almond Flour Cookies
Vernaccia di Serrapetrona DOCG 2016
This wine was made in the “apassimento” method. 100% Vernaccia Nera is hand-picked. 50% is fermented right away and the other 50% is dried for 3 months and then fermented. The two parts are blended together and put through a 3rd fermentation for 9-10 months. Reminded me of a rustic, sparkling Amarone.
While there are many things currently dividing the country, there is one thing that the majority of us can agree on: pizza! Who doesn’t love a good slice of pizza…..and what better to go with pizza than a glass of wine. Many people get very confused and insecure about wine and food pairings. Is a wine food friendly? What do I drink with what food? What if I want to eat a steak but I don’t like red wine? There are many many wine and food pairing “rules”, but at the end of the day, YOU should drink and eat what YOU like. Don’t let some stuffy sommelier tell you that one thing will not work with the other. In the end, it only matters that you are happy.
With that being said, I have one tried and true rule to share in regards to food and wine pairings. Even if you know nothing about wine, you can still “Up Your Wine Game” by embracing this takeaway: like goes with like. This is whether you’re talking about structural elements (i.e. acidity, creaminess, etc) or place of origin. For example, if you’re eating something creamy (i.e. fettuccine alfredo), a nice creamy Chardonnay would generally work. Eating something tomato based or with a tomato sauce, go for a wine with higher acidity to match the acid in the tomatoes. And perhaps the easiest wine and food pairing trick? If you’re eating cuisine of a region, then drink the wine of that region! It’s not an accident that food and wine grown and made in the same area work well together.
Earlier this week I invited some friends over and tried my hand at making pizza and enjoying some Italian wines to go with the food. It was a perfect pairing!
I chopped up and prepped a ton of topping options: sauteed wild mushrooms, sauteed collards, sausage, pepperoni, prosciutto, ricotta, mozzarella, basil, tomatoes, onions, etc. Because we are in Los Angeles and ain’t nobody got time for carbs, we opted for Trader Joe’s cauliflower crust, which was delicious! The Cusumano wine worked perfectly with the pizza. I explained my “like with like” wine and food pairing philosophy with the group, and they thoroughly enjoyed the pairing. We also enjoyed a few other Italian reds with the pizza such as Lambrusco (a sparkling red served chilled), a Primitivo, and a Valpolicella Ripasso.
Good fruit plus structure makes this a homerun for pizza. On the nose I got black plus red fruit (mostly berries), bramble, black pepper, and violets. This is a rustic wine that is perfect to enjoy casually on a weeknight.
Everyone knows that Prosecco is on fire......did somebody say brunch? Last week I shared about a quality-level Prosecco worth exploring with my piece: Prosecco....Not Just for Mimosas.
What is #WineStudio?
#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.
Last week I shared a post (check it out HERE) about Prosecco and discussed the quality to be found in Congeliano Valdiobbiadene DOCG. For just a small step up in price ($15-$20 vs $10-$15) you can get a decent step up in quality…..and who doesn’t want that?! Here we explore a producer who is one of the pioneers of quality Prosecco.
In September 2017 WineStudio students delved into wines from Nino Franco. The winery, located at the foot of the Prealps, was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco in Valdobbiadene. Today the 4th generation of the Franco family is at the helm. It started with Antonio, then to his son Nino, then to his son Primo, and now Primo’s daughter, Silvia.
Below are my notes from the wines tasted as well as some notes directly from the winery.
“Rustico” is connected to the old local tradition of making wine using a short second fermentation in the bottle and leaving the sediments in the wine. Although no longer the technique, the name has remained. This wine is a beautiful pale lemon color with white flower (honeysuckle) and green fruit (pear, green apple) on the nose. Super duper creamy on the palate. This wine is crisp and fruity...everything I want in a Prosecco.
I’d like to think that I’d call this wine in a blind tasting. It has a Prosecco nose with both floral and stone fruit easily detectable. This wine has a more sophisticated palate than a “usual” Prosecco. Nice and dry, as I like it, with great stone fruit on the finish.
This wine was interesting from the get-go. First off, I did not recognize the closure on this wine. In fact, I had never seen it before. I had to consult with my WineStudio pals who clued me into the “agrafe closure” which is used traditionally with Champagne. Peter Liem of Champagneguide.net gives this description:
Agrafe—Literally means "staple" (as in Swingline); in Champagne, this is a large metal clip used to secure the cork before capsules were invented, typically during the second fermentation and aging in bottle. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.
This wine has a nice depth of flavors, including tart green/stone fruit, delicate white flowers, and a surprising, yet pleasant, savory note.
Fun fact: the grapes for this wine are sourced exclusively from an ancient origin vineyard called (you guessed it!) “Grave di Stecca”. This wine is deep gold color and in one of our Twitter chats, the Nino Franco representative we were chatting with said this is ”more like a sparkling Grand Cru Chablis”. Great comparison!
That is just a snapshot of the Nino Franco Prosecco portfolio. The next time you are in the market for a sparkling wine, why not try out Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, as you can get a quite good level of quality at a price that won’t break the bank, as many options fall under $20 a bottle.
When I was in college in my 20s, day drinking wasn’t what it is now. This was before Sunday Brunch became a “thing” and before Vegas started doing “day parties”. In my 20s, it was a simpler time. Binge drinking only occurred at night (much easier to manage!). Weekend days were spent recovering, eating Taco Bell, and watching bad TV. Nowadays millennials partake in all sorts of day drinking that I can’t keep up with! I’m convinced that had $15 bottomless Mimosas been a thing when I was young, that I would not have graduated college and would still be on my couch popping Advil like it’s going out of style! How do these kids do it? Consuming 4 or 5 drinks before noon? Lord.
With that being said, it cannot be denied that millennials are changing the landscape of alcohol consumption. Studies* have shown that they care more about the story behind the brand, than an ad from a brand. They like to engage with brands in different mediums, such as through social media or at a pop-up event. They yearn for authenticity and an “experience” and are not nearly as brand loyal as their parents were/are.
*These are paraphrased notes from trade articles I have read, industry event presentations, as well as WSET classes in which we discussed production and consumption patterns in wine and spirits. I am not an expert here, hence the absence of concrete statistics. My goal is solely to share information that will emphasize and help you understand my point.
Prosecco is the world’s most popular sparkling wine. Worldwide production and consumption of Prosecco is rising rapidly. In 2015, 355 million bottles of Prosecco DOC were produced. This is compared to 309 million bottles of Champagne produced in 2016.
*I did not have figures for both in the same year.
Many mimosas are made with Prosecco as the sparkling base. Sure, there are many other options: Cava, domestic sparklings, Cremant, and even Champagne. But who wants to taint a glorious leesy Champagne with orange juice? Now I love a mimosa as much as the next gal. One of my wine-isms is that “there is a time and place for every wine”. No wine snobbery or pretense here. I can enjoy a mimosa while eating breakfast on vacation, or when my husband surprises me with breakfast in bed. But sometimes I want more. I don’t want the simple, uncomplicated drink that goes down too easy. I want something that makes me think. Or something dry, with no sweetness or residual sugar.
Newsflash: Prosecco is not just for mimosas. Yes, it is a good partner to the OJ, but I submit that there are more sophisticated Proseccos that can stand alone. That want to stand alone. And I think there are young people who are willing to try something new. Something with a story.
Prosecco generally hovers around $10-$14 a bottle. A steal compared to Champagne which rarely goes under $40 a bottle. What I love about sparkling wine is that there is a whole world of options between basic Prosecco which tends to be a bit too sweet and fruity for my taste, and Champagne, which can be a bit pricy and too serious. How about a delightful sparkling option that showcases fresh fruit, floral notes, and acidity, that can also be dry and refreshing, not cloying. Insert Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG. In 2015 there were 84 million bottles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG produced.
How does Conegliano Valdobbiadene differ from regular Prosecco DOC?
Location: The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco area extends over 15 townships located in the hills north of Venice.
In the Vineyard: The region benefits from stony soils, cooling Adriatic breezes, and a moderate climate. The hills are very steep and grapes are hand-harvested, versus manually harvested.
In the Glass: The wines range from driest (Brut), to sweetest (Dry), to everything in between (Extra Dry).
Price: Basic quality Prosecco DOC mostly falls in the $10-$15 range, whereas Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG falls into the $15-$20 range. Still quite affordable!
In November I attended a lovely Prosecco Superiore DOCG masterclass led by Alan Tardi, wine expert and educator. He gave a great class on the region and we tasted a plethora of Congeliano Valdobbiadene wines. These were not Prosecco examples for mimosas! They were elegant and sophisticated wines that can stand on their own in the glass. Thank you to Gregory White PR for the invite!
Next time you are in the aisles looking for a sparkling wine to take home, spend a couple extra minutes reading the label. Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene won’t break the bank and is a nice step up from other opening pricepoint Prosecco DOC.
Next week we will delve into the Prosecco producer Nina Franco as we continue my #WineStudio series!
Wine lives and breathes, like a character in my life. Moscato d’ Asti is that beautiful, feminine, and delicate friend. The kind of friend that makes you wonder how she makes it look so effortless, yet, every time she manages to knock it out of the park. While you’re barely able to slip on your leggings and get out of the door, she shows up on time (or early!), is as polished as ever, and smells like roses and sunshine.
Every time I stick my nose in a glass of Moscato d’Asti, I get this feeling. It’s the smell of the most delicate perfume from an antique crystal container that you dab behind your ear. It instantly makes you feel like a lady.
Now for some reason, “moscato” is a bad word in the United States. Moscato is usually taken to be crappy and sweet and for those who know nothing about wine. For Moscato d’ Asti, this could not be further from the truth. It’s like judging Champagne based off a $4 bottle of Cook’s “Champagne”.
In June, I attended a Moscato d’Asti Masterclass at Mr. C’s in Beverly Hills. It was a top-notch event with a panel moderated by Tim Gaiser, MS. The panel consisted of winery representatives (often family members) from 6 different Moscato d’ Asti wineries. The food spread (courtesy of Mr. C’s) was incredible, and the wines paired beautifully.
Wine Warehouse (Saracco): Davide Visentin
Coppo: Luigi Coppo
Marenco: Andrea Marenco
I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano: Gianpiero Scavino
Caudrina: Marco Dogliotti
The Geographical Region
Piemonte is a large region in northwest Italy. Asti is a town within Piemonte that is east of Barolo and Barbaresco on the hilly right bank of the Tanaro River.
The Wine Region
In Asti, the vines are found on terraced, steep hillsides at 200m-600m. The DOC was granted in 1967, with DOCG status granted in 1993.
Grapes are hand-harvested with maximum yields of 10hL/ha. And the good diurnal shift (meaning the high difference in daily temperature between the lowest and highest temps) gives floral aromas and good fruit/acid balance.
In 2014 UNESCO declared the vineyard landscape of Piemonte, specifically the Lange-Roero and Monferrato, as a World Heritage Site. This was the first “terroir” to get this declaration. Champagne hillside, houses, and cellars were later declared in 2015.
Moscato d’Asti is a slightly sparkling (aka frizzante) DOCG wine made in the province of Asti with the Moscato Bianco grape. It is low in alcohol, and generally sweet. The maximum ABV is 5.5%, meaning that the fermentation is stopped midway, leaving some natural, residual sweetness.
In order to retain fresh primary fruit aromas and flavors, the grapes are pressed slowly and cold stored until fermentation. Fermentation is long and cool in closed stainless steel tanks, with the resulting carbon dioxide causing the slight effervescence. The wine is then bottled, with no second fermentation, as the natural bubbles still remain.
Moscato d’Asti is known for its refreshing acidity and its combination of both floral and stone fruit aromas and flavors.
Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Michele Chiarlo)
$20 retail, 5% ABV
As expected, this is a very delicate and feminine wine with notes of sage, stone fruit (peach), citrus (grapefruit), and meringue. Michele Chiarelo produces over 250,000 cases annually. These vines are in Canelli, one of the most famous municipalities in Asti. This wine would be good as an aperitif with fresh strawberries or as a foil to spicy food.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Saracco)
$15 retail, 5.5% ABV
This wine is under screw cap, which is unusual for an Old World wine. Saracco produces 700,000 cases annually. I get peach, orange blossom, and thyme on this wine. Overall, a delicate aroma with a significant amount of floral on the palate.
Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Coppo)
$20 retail, 4.8% ABV
Luigi was our spokesperson here, and Coppo was founded by his great-grandpa in 1892. According to Luigi, the taste of the grape at harvest should be close to the taste of the finished wine. These vines are also in Canelli. This wine has a fresh, light nose with notes of floral plus pear and peach. The winery tasting notes say this wine would pair well with Robiola di Roccaverano (an old goat cheese typical of Piemonte), which sounds delightful!
Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Marenco Vini)
$15 retail, 5.5% ABV
Marenco Vini produces 30,000 cases annually. It is a family winery with the 4th generation at the helm. The Scrapona vineyard is in Strevi. Some wines are under cork and some are under screw cap. They’d switch to screw cap tomorrow, but the Italian consumer has not been as quick to embrace the screw cap. This wine is estate bottled and gives citrus, lime, passion fruit, and orange blossom. Plus an earthy savory nose reminiscent of forest floor. They store the grape juice in tank and do multiple fermentations per year, so as to bottle the wines fresh and to preserve the fruit and floral notes.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Vignaioli di Santo Stefano-Ceretto)
$20 retail, 5.5% ABV
This wine had a brighter yellow color than the others. Pronounced rose petals and ginger spice on the nose. The palate is full of elderflower, lime, and peach. The winery produces 260,000 cases annually and has been harvesting earlier due to climate change, as their grapes tend to reach phenolic ripeness earlier.
La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti DOC 2016 (Caudrina)
$20 retail, 5% ABV
Caudrina produces 120,000 cases annually. It is a family owned winery started in the 1940s wih vineyards in Castiglione Tinella. This wine has a lovely citrus note (clementine or orange blossom) with an oily, full body.
Thank you to IEEM-USA for my invite to this event! Cheers.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with the LA Wine Writers featuring the wines of the Montalbera Winery, from the Morando family. Montalbera, a family-owned winery, is located in the Monferrato DOCG in the southern part of Piemonte, Italy (immediately south of Barolo/Alba). The area received DOCG status only in 2010. Montalbera produces 60% of the Ruche grape in this region. Ruche came to Piemonte, and probably arrived in the medieval times from France. Fun fact: its genetics have 70% in common with Pinot Noir. This is a very small production grape and only recently has this wine made its way out of the region and started being exported.
Montalbera has a full portfolio of wines from sparkling, white, red, and dessert wines. We tried their sparkling and a lineup of reds.
Cuvee Blanche Extra Dry Sparkling
100% Barbera in the Charmant (tank) method. A crisp and easy sparkling wine with an excellent value at a $19 retail.
Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG La Tradizione 2015
This is Montalbera’s their flagship wine and is a Tre Bicchieri winner (see my post about Tre Bicchieri HERE). Serve this wine a bit chilled to retain its aromatics of red fruit (cherry, raspberry), dried violets, and a smoky, black pepper note. A perfect, easy-drinking summer red. $21 retail.
Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG Laccento 2015
The grapes are picked slightly overripe and partially air dried directly in the vineyard before harvest. This wine is smooth and silky; I’d call it my “Italian house red”; this wine does not need food and can stand on its own, $29 retail.
Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG Limpronta 2013
This wine is more sophisticated and complex than the others. You can smell Italy in this glass (a bit dusty, but in a good way) and this wine worked incredibly well with the pizza (see menu below). $32 retail.
Barbera d’Asti DOCG Lequilibrio 2014
Juicy red fruit, sweet baking spices, vanilla, and tobacco/cedar notes. Good acid (the mark for a food-friendly wine!). The grapes are harvested slightly overripe to soften the high natural acidity of this grape. $28 retail
Barbera d’Asti DOCG Nuda 2013
“Nuda” means naked and is called so because this wine is unfiltered (also unstabilized and no stainless steel time before bottling). I’d describe it as a Rhone-like red with savory notes of barnyard/animal. This wine really brightened up with the lamb chops (see menu below). $35 retail.
As always, the special menu prepared by Chef David Vilchez was impeccable. Brian tells us that Chef Vilchez creates new dishes specifically for this luncheon and sometimes tries out possible new menu items on us!
Cream Leek Pizza, Brussels Sprout Leaves, Corn, Dried Plum Vinaigrette
Roasted Baby Heirloom Tomatoes, Salami, Burrata, Olive Oil
Grilled N.Z. Lamb Chop, Grilled Fennel, and Summer Squash Risotto
Seasonal Sorbet, Fresh Fruit
Back in February I had the opportunity to attend the Tre Bicchieri tasting put on by Gambero Rosso at the Barkar Hangar in Santa Monica. Gambero Rosso is a multimedia brand in the Italian food and wine world that includes: food guides, wine guides, books, a TV channel, a learning academy, and events around the world. The Tre Bicchieri tasting brings together all the highly rated wines that make it into their Vini d'Italia annual guide. The guide is now in its 30th edition. Over 45,000 wines are tasted annually by special committees involving over 70 people. Wines that make the cut in the guide are rated one glass (bicchieri), two glasses (due bicchieri), or three glasses (Tre Bicchieri).
The Grand Tasting showcased over 200 wines of all 3 levels detailed above. I didn't spend much time there, as I was lucky to receive an invite to the Vini d'Italia Special Awards Masterclass. Here we tasted through 9 wines that were the "best" in their respective categories. Tasting notes are below:
Sparkler of the Year: Ruggeri
Valdobbiadene Extra Dry Giustino B. 2015
A good balance between fruit (citrus, stone fruit, and green fruit) and white flower. Creamy mousse, elegant, fresh, drinkable.
Winery of the Year: Bellavista
Franciacorta Pas Opere 2009
65% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir. WOW. This wine has spent 6 years on the lees, so it is totally my jam. Notes of: citrus, apple, and stone fruit (peach). Also, yellow flower, leesy (yet fresh!), and nutty. Medium + finish.
Grower of the Year: BioVio
Riviera Ligure di Ponente Pigato Bon in da Bon 2015
BioVio has been certified organic since the 80s; they were one of the first. Pigato is a native grape of Liguria. This wine has citrus notes (lemon and grapefruit) and a perfumed elderflower nose. One of the panelists exclaimed that this wine has GPS; it takes you immediately to Liguria. In my opinion this wine would shine with food.
Award for Sustainable Viticulture: Roccafiore
Todi Grechetto Superiore Fiorfiore 2014
2014 was one of the most challenging vintages in Italy in over 20 years, which included summertime rain. This wine has medium - aromatic intensity with yellow apple and a toastiness due to oak treatment. It is full-bodied and round with great structure, is very well integrated, and has an elegant finish.
White of the Year: Tenuta di Tavignano
Verdicchio die Castelli di Jessi Classico Superiore Misco 2015
A textured wine with good body. Notes include: lemon peel, nuts, and a smokiness. Great acid. Would be kick ass with some seafood.
Best Value for Money: Tiberio
This was an interesting wine that I thoroughly enjoyed. On the nose alone, this appeared to be a basic, daily drinker. Notes of citrus (lemon), a slight nuttiness, wet stone, and vegetal, white pepper quality. Has a Sauvignon Blanc-like feeling to it, but the acid is not as high.
Up and Coming Winery: Istine
Chianti Classico LeVigne Riserva 2013
It is hard to find an "up and coming" winery in Italy, because they have all been there so long! On the nose there is red fruit (cherry and strawberry), spice (black pepper and cloves), and floral (violets). The wine is earthy/meaty on the palate and has good acid, as can be expected from a Chianti.
Red of the Year: Chiaromonte
Gioia del Colle Primitivo Muro Sant'Angelo Contrada Barbatto Classico 2013
This is a lovely and interesting wine from Puglia. It has 16.5% ABV but does not feel as that hot. Red/black fruit (sour cherry, blackberry, plum) with some of the fruit feeling stewed (Amarone-like?). The wine also had a mocha/chocolate note as well as meatiness/gaminess (dried meats). Overall, this was the most interesting thing I tasted today. Meaty, perfumed, AND funky on the nose. The palate was smooth, velvety, and mouthfilling.
Sweet of the Year: Lis Neris
Tal Luc Cuvée Speciale
95% Verduzzo, 5% Riesling. For this wine, the grapes are dried passito-style. The wine is honeyed with notes of tropical fruit, chamomile, and spice, including rosemary/garrigue.
There are many well known Italian wines that we are all familiar with (i.e. Prosecco, Chianti, Barolo, etc), but there are a ton of lesser known Italian wine regions. Wine is such a fragmented industry with consumers facing shelves upon shelves of choices. Lugana is not a choice many consumers see on their local shelves, as it is a smaller DOC with most of the wine production consumed within the region.
I had the pleasure of attending two different Lugana DOC wine events in the Los Angeles area this year. In April I was invited to the Valpolicella & Lugana tasting put on by the Consorzio Tutela Vini Valpolicella and the Lugana DOC Consorzio Tutela. And just last week I attended a Lugana luncheon conducted by Laura Donadoni (Laura Wines) and put together by Cori Solomon (The Written Palette) of LA Wine Writers.
Lugana DOC is located between Lombardia and Veneto on the south shore of Lake Garda. The Lugana region has a Mediterranean climate, but Lake Garda gives maritime influences including cool breezes and relatively mild weather. Lugana DOC was the first all white wine DOC in Italy. Turbiana, which is a clone of Trebbiano specifically grown in Lugana, is the sole white grape used. All wines are monovarietal. Sometimes the grape is referred to as Trebbiano di Lugana.
The Valpolicella & Lugana tasting took place at the beautiful and recently renovated Park Plaza Hotel. While Valpo and Lugana wines are VERY different, it makes sense to pair the tasting as we are in the same gegraphic region. Also, Lugana wines are all white, while Valpolicella wines are just about all red. Some highlights from this trade tasting include:
This is a family winery with its 4th generation winemaker at the helm. The Museo del Vino onsite showcases old winemaking equipment and tools that have been used since the winery’s opening in 1888. I thoroughly enjoyed their Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG 2012 “A”.
The award for most interesting wine I tasted at this event goes to Cantina Bulgarini Fausto with their Lugana DOC Superiore 2014 “Ca’ Vaibo”. The grapes for this wine undergo a short drying period before pressing. The final wine is a straw-yellow color (almost gold) and has notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot) along with a strong nuttiness.
The most recent Lugana event I attended was the Lugana Luncheon put together by Cori Solomon with the LA Wine Writers Group. Laura Donadoni walked us through her portfolio of Lugana wines beautifully paired with the cuisine of Cafe del Rey by Executive Chef, David Vilchez. See details below on each pairing. Each course was better than the next. I could have eaten a plate full of each of them! I’m hungry again just thinking about it…….
Amuse Bouche: Seafood Salad on Toast
Pairing: Cafe del Rey, Lugana Brut, Metodo Classico ($20 retail)
This was an unexpectedly delightful bubbly made in the Metodo Classico (2nd fermentation happens in the bottle). It is crisp with good fruit (citrus and yellow apple) plus white flower notes. What I love is that you also get nice creamy, yeasty, and brioche flavors from bottle fermantation, yet it is still very fresh and clean. This is a nice Champagne alternative at about half the cost of an opening pricepoint Champagne.
Smoked Salmon, Pita, Tzatziki, Mixed Greens, Olive Vinaigrette
Pairing: Montonale, Lugana DOC 2015
This is my White Wine Summer Pick. Clean, refreshing, and a nice honeyed quality, yet bone dry. It's also got a nice medium + body and creaminess that comes from battonage (lees stirring for 6 months).
Seared Scallop, Saffron Risotto, Capers, Olive Oil
Pairing: Ca’ Lojera, Lugana Superiore 2014
I love this wine. It is more honeyed than the basic Lugana DOC and has great structure and acidity. Once the wine got closer to room temperature, it developed a super nutty (almond skin) quality. The scallop risotto pairing was OUT OF THIS WORLD.
Swordfish, Squash Blossom, Passion Fruit Vinaigrette
Pairing: Zenato Lugana Riserva 2014
Zenato is famous for their Amarone wines, but they also have holdings in Lugana. Great viscosity on this wine, which paired famously with the swordfish. A beautiful orange blossom nose.
Bucheron Cheese, Grilled Peach, Honey, Sourdough
Pairing: Perla del Garda, Vendemmia Tardiva
This was a lovely medium dry dessert wine, that would also serve well as an aperitif before dinner. Personally, I could have a glass of this for dessert on its own!