What's your favorite wine accessory? In my latest column for Palate Press, I offer mine: Top Ten Wine Accessories: Gizmos That Earn Their Keep.
Please click through and note your favorites in the comments.
What's your favorite wine accessory? In my latest column for Palate Press, I offer mine: Top Ten Wine Accessories: Gizmos That Earn Their Keep.
Please click through and note your favorites in the comments.
We recently hosted a dinner party for two friends, a couple who run a small, faithfully authentic Italian restaurant in central Vermont. He’s the chef, and she’s the maître d’ and somm, and although we’d dined at their restaurant and attended large gatherings at their home, this would be their first time chez Maker.
If you want to host restaurateurs in your home, you’ll have to pick a night that they’re not hosting others. And so last week I spent a weekday cooking, and then we all spent a weeknight eating.
I chose a Provençal theme for the meal, mostly because that’s what my garden’s whispering about right now. First, there would be sundried tomato tapenade with crostini, plus a perfect French-style goat cheese from a nearby dairy. For the appetizer, I made a rustic leek tart with bacon and sweet corn (somewhat like this one, which I’ve made innumerable times and which is always reliable). Then a humble salad of wild arugula and tomatoes with Dijon vinaigrette. Finally, a main course of roasted herb-rubbed chicken, plus sautéed green beans and a gratin of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and fresh ricotta.
None of this would be edgy or groundbreaking. None of it would be elegant. I’m constitutionally incapable of making elegant food, because I don’t have the patience for it. But elegant and edgy wasn’t my goal anyway. I wanted simply to offer a meal that was essentially peasant food, but very fine and very fresh peasant food. I knew our friends would value this, and I knew I could pull it off.
And for dessert? Maybe here I could afford to experiment. It had recently occurred to me that a spiced wine reduction, which I sometimes make out of unremarkable bottles and use to glaze meats, might provide a good flavor base for gelato. I’ve never actually made gelato before—my husband’s the true ice cream maestro in the house—but after a brief discussion with him and a bit of web searching, I derived a formula I thought would probably work.
I wanted this gelato to be light—just milk, no eggs—and for the flavor of the wine to feel full and lush in the mouth even through the cold. I chose an inexpensive Zinfandel to use as the base wine, one I knew was fruit-driven and a bit spicy, with modest tannin. The reduction step would concentrate the wine’s flavors, and I didn’t want to end up with a woody syrup. (A young California Merlot or Syrah might work, too, but not, say, a Cabernet, because the result might be too astringent.) To the reduction I’d add just milk and sugar, skipping the customary vanilla extract, because the wine’s spices would do the job of adding that rounding note.
That morning, my husband gave me a few pointers about using his somewhat intimidating Italian ice cream machine, and about the importance of chilling the gelato mix down thoroughly before beginning the freezing step. I waved him off to work. What could possibly go wrong?
I cooked. Our friends arrived, the meal unfolded. There was wine, and more wine, and each course followed the next at a leisurely pace that let us enjoy each other’s stories. The food was good but not the centerpiece of the meal, which is always as it should be.
Dessert at last. I’d decided as a hedge to make lavender shortbread cookies, in case the gelato was a flop. Happily these weren’t necessary. The gelato was just as I’d hoped: luscious and not too sweet, with a haunting flavor that was like neither fruit, nor spice, nor wine, but like some exotic blend of these.
750 ml. Zinfandel (1 bottle)
4 or 5 star anise
1 Tbs. juniper berries
1½ cups whole milk
1 cup white sugar
Mix the Zinfandel and spices in a saucepan. Bring slowly to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until it has reduced to 1 cup. Pour the mixture into a non-reactive container, cover, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight to let the spices permeate the wine.
Meanwhile, warm the milk and sugar in a separate saucepan, stirring constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, place in a non-reactive bowl, cover, and refrigerate several hours until very cold.
When ready to make the gelato, first strain the wine, then combine it with the cold sweetened milk. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. For the best texture, serve right away. Yield is a little over a pint.
Last week, wine writer Talia Baiocchi published the views of four industry professionals on whether wine labels should list the ingredients used in winemaking. Although she classified the story as a “Hot Topic,” her interview subjects—a sommelier, a winemaker, a distributor, and a retailer—seemed rather circumspect, withal. The consensus was that ingredient labeling is possibly helpful and sometimes confusing, and that engaged customers will find some way to get this information, anyway. The upshot of the article: Why bother?
My own views on this subject are likewise colored by my work in the industry as a wine marketer, wine writer, and wine educator. But my views are also colored by my status as a wine consumer, and I think the consumer’s voice is an important addition to the mix.
I’m an avid back-label reader. I like knowing what has—and by extrapolation what has not—gone into the food I’m about to eat. I favor foods produced with minimal intervention and least processing, foods that are in their purest possible state, and, to the extent possible, expressive of where they’re grown. I avoid foods that are genetically modified, hormone-fed, antibiotic treated, inhumanely farmed, or that contain artificial ingredients, preservatives, and additives. I’d rather go without a food—particularly meat and dairy products—than support industrial farming practices, which are often unethical and ecologically damaging.
I appreciate the existence of a national organic standard (albeit one whose creation was weakened by the interests of big business), and the federal nutrition and ingredient labeling requirements, because together these offer some assurance about a producer’s claims. Note that no one’s saying that you can’t make Cheetos. They’re only saying that if you do make Cheetos, you have to tell everyone what they’re made from, so people can decide whether to eat them. Personally, I don’t.
Wine is no exception. I don’t want to drink Mega Purple or citric acid (because I’m intolerant of it) or other additives if I don’t have to. So as a consumer: Yes. I would like to see more ingredient labeling on wine bottles.
Speaking as a marketer, though, I understand the complexities of this choice. First, I know that many consumers don’t share this level of interest in how their wine came to be. Some may care more that a wine taste the same from one vintage to the next, and so may be more willing to accept additives or other interventions in order to achieve such consistency. That’s not truly an argument against ingredient lists, though, because these folks could ignore the lists if they chose—assuming they actually understand what all that stuff is.
Relatedly, wine labels listing bentonite, isinglass, polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, and similar compounds do run risk of unnerving the public, or at least leading it somewhat astray. I saw this first hand when I worked in consumer sales at Bonny Doon Vineyard, a winery dedicated to ingredient and process disclosure. (The wine label pictured above is from their 2009 Syrah “Chequera,” farmed Biodynamically.)
On one occasion, we sent to media samples of a red whose label stated that untoasted oak chips were used in the winemaking process. In his review, a writer remarked that the wine tasted too oaky to him, and that he’d wished we’d skipped the oak chips. These, though, had been used only to stabilize the anthocyanin during fermentation; they were in contact with the must for a short time, and did not add to the flavor profile of the finished wine. Moreover, the wine hadn’t spent much time in barrel during élevage, so I wondered whether the reviewer had mis-ascribed the grippy tannins of a young wine to something he’d read on the label. In this case, the oak chips disclosure was a ruby-red herring.
But that simply points to the need for more and better education, plus open communication between winemakers, media, and customers. Transparency is an important corporate tenet no matter what the industry, and consumer goodwill eventually accrues to companies that commit to it, even if initially the terms are vexing and hard to learn. Education and media coverage has, for example, led to a public that now grasps the nutritional difference between a natural oil that’s solid at room temperature and a purposely hydrogenated oil that may contain undesirable trans fats. If engaged consumers can learn that distinction, they can certainly learn that bentonite is a harmless fining agent, most of which precipitates out of the wine anyway.
Which brings us to another argument about ingredient disclosure, viz., What, exactly, should be disclosed? Grapes for sure, but what about wild yeast, or cultivated yeast? What about nutrients, acid, sugar, sulfur dioxide? What about the dry ice packed around the grapes on that sultry harvest afternoon? What about those Bonny Doon oak chips?
The key, absent federal labeling requirements, is simply to use good judgment. Disclose whatever seems important according to your winemaking principles and to your customers. For example, while it may be true that many compounds are detectible in only trace amounts in the finished wine, I do believe most vegetarians and vegans would want to know if casein (from milk), isinglass (from fish), or albumin (from egg) were used in the winemaking process. These are all fairly common fining agents, yet many vegans are unaware that animal products are often used in winemaking. “Isn’t wine just grapes?” they ask. Well, no, it’s not. A sensitive producer will stay tuned to the information needs of their consumer, and disclose accordingly.
So speaking as both consumer and industry professional, I do believe that ultimately, disclosure will lead to a better-informed market, and that this could in turn lead to more consumers choosing wines that are less manipulated, with fewer additives. This would be a good thing. Granted, that’s my value system, not everyone’s, but given the alternative, I prefer to put my faith in the success of a thoughtfully crafted, non-mass-produced, and possibly more expressive wine.
Julia Child would have been 100 years old today. She hasn’t been gone long; she died only in 2004, two days before her 92nd birthday, proving conclusively that one needn’t necessarily subsist on raw vegetables with dressing on the side to live to a hearty age.
I own a signed copy of “Baking with Julia,” shown here, and a weathered fifteenth printing, from 1967, of “Mastering The Art of French Cooking,” which I got at a church used book sale and which smells exactly like the stacks of my college library.
This is as close as I’ve ever really gotten to Julia Child qua Julia Child, though. I’ve yet to prepare any recipe from the cookbook. I don’t remember her television program, “The French Chef,” because I was only eight years old when it went off the air. I’ve never read her memoir.
But she is present in my kitchen by inheritance. Volumes have been written about her efforts to introduce American home cooks to French techniques. What’s less often noted is that in popularizing French cuisine, Julia Child also popularized the act of popularizing a cuisine. She was among the first to say that even if one was not raised in a particular culture, one could try out that culture for an evening—via Soupe à l’Oignon, Filet de Poisson Pochés au vin Blanc, Tournedos Sautés Chasseur, and Haricots Verts Gratinés à la Mornay.
Many other cooks benefitted from this prototype. Think Marcella Hazan (Italian), Madhur Jaffrey (Indian), Rick Bayless (Mexican), Molly Katzen (vegetarian), and Alice Waters (Californian, but really just seasonal, local, fresh). There are many more.
Julia Child showed all of us that, yes, technique is important, but it’s almost beside the point. The point is to be fearless in the kitchen: to try, to taste, to share, to be fed, to smile satisfied afterward. And in the process, to become a little more broad-minded about the world.
The story was one of five finalists chosen as outstanding examples of feature writing on wine and wine-related topics. This is a new category for the Wine Blog Awards, and it reflects the organizer's aspiration to recognize individual stories as well as complete online publications.
In making their selections, judges considered the "quality of the writing, the expression of the blogger’s unique voice, and insightful expression by the writer." All of the selected stories are fine examples of the genre, and I'm honored my article is among them.
My piece, "You Just Opened a What? Tips to Make Food More Wine-Friendly," was a companion to an earlier story on wine and food pairing. Together these articles reflect both my belief that wine and food should be enjoyed together, and my passion for helping others learn how to enhance that enjoyment.
The award process is now open to popular vote. If you enjoy my writing, I welcome your support. Polls are open for only about a week, through 26 July 2012. Please cast your vote here. And thank you.
I receive a fair number of wine samples, sent by a producer, importer, publicist, or social media impresario in hopes of a media placement. Bottles started landing on my doorstep in earnest a few years ago when I was writing both here and for Palate Press. The supply justifiably trickled out while I was working full-time for winery, but now that I've returned to writing for both publications, the sample taps are open once again.
I don't write about all the samples I receive, because some of them are frankly unremarkable, and disquisitions on unremarkable wines don't make very good reading. But I do try to taste through them all in a timely manner, partly out of respect for their supplier, and partly because I'm incurably goal-oriented. I like to let the bottle settle for a week or two after shipping, then pull the cork, taste it alone, taste it with food, and taste it again the next day to see whether it had the backbone to stand up to air.
Sometimes, though, a bottle will languish awhile, un-tasted, on the sample rack. This was one. It arrived, along with six or eight of its Australian brethren, on the exact date of a live social media tasting over a year ago. During such an event, a number of writers open their samples at a given hour, then chatter about them together online. It mostly works, although it's somewhat chaotic, and the preponderance of "me, too" updates adds drag to the proceedings. But it's a sociable way to share wine notes when a group of like-mindeds can't meet face to face. I couldn't keep up with the pace that night, so several bottles were sent off to the rack, where they reposed for a bit too long.
Unfortunately, these particular wines had arrived with no accompanying information—no write-ups on viticulture, vinification, tasting profile, lab stats, no information about retail pricing or distribution. It's not completely uncommon for samples to be sent naked like this, as some writers prefer to keep their tasting experience free from any information that might bias their judgment. They like to taste nearly blind. I don't. I like context. I like to know where a wine is from, what soil it was grown in, what grapes it contains, who made it, and how. I like to know why the winemaker thinks this wine matters. I don't think this knowledge changes my physiological experience, but I do know it changes my intellectual experience, fleshing it out with the particulars that give the wine relevance, provenance, history, and story. These things matter to me. A lot.
Here's another problem: a lack of accompanying information makes a sample even more unremarkable when I eye the rack with intent to write. So, not surprisingly, I've been getting around to opening the rest of those Australian wines slowly. Last January, I opened the 2009 Hope Estate Hunter Valley Shiraz, which I found to be funky, smoky, and earthy on the nose—somewhat reminiscent of rare red meat—and lively on the palate with flavors of coffee and smoked earth. But the wine lacked grip and structure, so it never made the cut as a formal tasting note (until, I suppose, just now).
A few nights ago I finally opened this Chardonnay, the white companion to the Shiraz, without great expectation. It had aged for a year beyond its release date, and most whites are meant to be drunk young, especially those at the low end of the range, where I could only divine this wine might reside (no sell sheets, right?). Sure, I could have researched the wine before tasting, and I often do, but I was feeling lazy. I just chilled it down, and poured.
It was a surprise. Brilliant yellow with flame green highlights, the wine yielded slightly funky oily citrus aromas with a hint of bay laurel and sage. The funkiness—possibly reduction aroma, as it had now spent some time under screwcap—blew off quickly, and the wine soon blossomed open with pineappley citrus aromatics tinged at the edges with buttery caramel. It had an unctuous texture on the palate, top-noted by the brilliant tang of stone fruit and lemony citrus. The wine seemed weirdly both juicy and buttery, and from one sip to the next moved back and forth between these two, mercurial and evolving with air and warmth and time.
After tasting, I did finally scan the producer's website for information, and learned that they barrel-ferment their Chardonnay in 100% French oak barriques, then let it rest on lees for creaminess. But they work hard, they say, to retain the grape's dazzling, native zing.
Perhaps that extra year of bottle age was all to the good. I expect this wine had an awful lot going on at release—Lemon! Citrus! Herbs! Oak! Toast! Butter!—and that time has tempered it, mingling these together and yielding a wine that is, if not quite harmonious, at least more interesting. It reminded me somewhat of a teenager, gangling but pretty too, with a little too much makeup. Now I wish I had another bottle, to see how it grows up.
*I received this wine as a press sample.
It is simple, just three ingredients: bread, cheese, fruit.
It is easy to prepare, and easy to eat. You eat it with your hands. This is a primal act, a visceral act that connects the food to your body more intimately than when mediated by fork, by spoon. It is sensual. It is immediate and sincere.
It is refreshing on a hot day. The fruit is cool in your mouth, and the cheese is soft and cool, too, and together they conspire to draw your heat as they melt across your tongue. The bread is the temperature of air, of which its halfway made.
It is simple. It is uncomplicated by the filigree of condiment.
It is simple, yes, but it is also complex. Its true appeal lies somewhere in the nebulous realm between simplicity and complexity.
Because what does a fig taste like, really? What does Camembert taste like? What about bread? And what happens when these three perfectly ripe, perfectly aged, perfectly fresh elements commingle within your sensorium? It is juicy, unctuous, slippery, snappy, chewy, salty, sweet. It is different from one bite to the next.
It is not an easy thing to describe. But it is a very easy thing to enjoy.
I've had a lot of California Albariño in the last two or three years, an inevitability of working for Bonny Doon Vineyard. Through 2009, fruit for their Albariño derived exclusively from their biodynamically farmed Ca' del Solo estate, a 125-acre patch of earth just outside the gates of the state penitentiary in Soledad, California.
Bonny Doon's '09 Albariño, which was released about the time I joined the company, was crisp and zingy, with notes of citrus, lemon rind, bay laurel, and sage. It was an incredible seafood wine, but its acidity and wild aromatics also made it great as an aperitif and excellent with fresh cheeses and salads. It became a staple of our cellar—or our countertop, really, because it rarely made it into cold storage.
By the 2010 vintage of the wine, the Ca' del Solo vineyard had been sold, although an arrangement with the new owner let winemaker Randall Grahm harvest the last albariño before the vines were ripped out and replanted with who knows what—probably merlot, if the gods were feeling sadistic. The '10 harvest was fleshed-out with fruit from Jespersen Ranch in San Luis Obispo, and while the wine was fermenting it was a true tangerine bomb. By bottling it had become more generally a citrus bomb, with lovely floral top notes of lemon grass and laurel leaf, the snap of grapefruit rind and green almond, and a long, silky finish. We drank a lot of that vintage, too.
One of the peculiarities of the Bonny Doon Albariño was a distinct brininess, a ringing crystalline minerality that crackled across your tongue. Perhaps the association was imaginative, but perhaps it was real. The Ca' del Solo vineyard lay near Salinas, California, and it's not called Salinas for nothing. The word means "salt marsh" in Spanish, and the Salinas River, which runs between two coastal mountain ranges before emptying into Monterey Bay, feeds an extensive aquifer that provides irrigation for the region's vast agricultural tracts. The coastal margin is washed by storms and fogs, tainting sweet waters with brine. When the sun rides high and the winds kick up, it dries the landscape mightily, and despite Randall's constitutional opposition to vineyard irrigation, he is a practical man, and in the years he farmed Ca' del Solo, he was obliged to irrigate his vineyard against these ceaseless winds. Over time, he observed his vineyard soil becoming ever so slightly saline.
This always struck me as poetically, if not agronomically, fitting, at least for Albariño. The grape's homeland is Galicia, in northwest Spain along the Atlantic coast, and it's also grown (as alvarinho) in the northern region of Vinho Verde in Portugal. Although it has been cultivated in Spain since the 12th century, it was mostly used as a blending grape until recent decades. In 1986, Spain established the Rías Baixas DO, the only exclusively white wine DO in the country, and this is divided into five subzones with varying terroir: sandy and alluvial, granite, slate, or a mix.
That region's maritime climate likewise pushes fog and cooling breezes up the coastal valleys, or rías, that reach inland nearly 20 miles. Albariño has a thick, protective skin that lets it succeed in these damp conditions where thinner skinned grapes might succumb to rot. But the region also receives ample sunshine, which dries the mists, leaving behind a rime of mineral salts that tasters say imbues the wine with a briny bite.
Albariño and salt are made together, and made for each other. Here's a Spanish version to try.
13% ABV | Price: about $16*
Pale straw yellow with green highlights, this wine yields aromas of citrus and briny sea air with a slightly oily catch. On the palate it offers the bitter snap of grapefruit peel and lemon rind, and with air this wine opens further, yielding fresh, lemony citrus notes, green herbs, and a lean finish with zingy acidity. Clean, spritely, and refreshing, it would pair beautifully with shellfish, calamari, salted almonds, or fresh goat cheese.
*I received this wine as a press sample.
Nominations opened today for the 2012 Wine Blog Awards, recognizing excellence in wine writing by those who self-publish online. I'm pleased already to have been nominated in the categories of Best Writing, Best Wine Reviews, and Best Overall Wine Blog. Submissions are anonymous, so I don't know whom to thank, but Thanks.
As you probably know, I consider myself writer first and subject matter expert distant second. I value writing that both describes an experience and makes clear why that experience matters. Taste is one of the most ineffable of subjects, one of the hardest to speak and write about, and this is exactly why I love to write about it. I like the challenge of describing the indescribable.
More important to me, though, is that while you and I may agree broadly about the superficial aspects of something that passes across our palates—the wine is citrusy, the wine is tannic—each of us will also feel private resonances below the level of these exogenous factors. Taste will stimulate evocations, associations, reminiscences, memory triggers, and these will be wildly different for each of us. These evocations deeply matter, and deserve as much attention as, and maybe more attention than, the superficial commentary of the tasting note. Food and wine are the architects of memory, as well as its powerful provocateurs.
If you like what you read here, and especially if a particular post has grabbed you this year, please consider supporting me by nominating the post or the blog as an entirety. Through May 30, you can submit your nomination here.
Meg Houston Maker
I recently taught a class on Italian wine. My research, so called, took me on a clockwise virtual tasting tour of the boot of Italy, from Friuli down to Apulia, from Campania up to to Piemonte. My primary goal for this class was to demonstrate the prodigious diversity of Italy's wine styles—not an easy task given that we could feasibly taste only six or seven different wines that night.
According to some sources, Italy boasts nearly 2,000 grape varieties in cultivation, and depending on the year, is either the top or second-largest wine producing country in the world. Unlike its rivals France or Spain, whose viticultural areas tend to be concentrated geographically, Italy is almost completely covered in vines—and has been for about three millennia. Indeed the Greeks, who essentially invented Italian viticulture by importing vines and winemaking practices into the region, called it Oenotria, "the land of trained vines."
Such viticultural diversity is due in part to the wide range of growing conditions and terrain. Italy spans 10° of latitude, from Trentino-Alto Adige in the north to Calabria and Sicilia in the south, leading to significant differences in solar exposure across the region. The spine of the Apennines runs almost the full length of the peninsula, and since most grapes are grown on hillside vineyards to leave the rich alluvial plains for food cultivation, elevation factors into consideration, too. So do the cooling sea breezes off the Mediterranean and Adriatic in coastal areas. The upshot is that micro- and mesoclimatic differences mean one cannot draw clean demarcations showing which parts of the country are viticulturally warm or cool, nor tag a region with a specific style of wine. The country is a complex mosaic of grape cultivars and production practices, and hence of wines themselves.
It's also a mosaic of culture. Unified as a country only about 150 years ago, Italy retains its gastronomic regionalism. And since its wines are true gastronomy wines, meant for the table and, more significantly, meant to pair with the regional cuisine, the persistence of these myriad wine styles is hardly surprising.
If any generalization can be made about Italian wines, it's that, on the whole, those that are made in a traditional style offer good acidity, moderate ripeness, and modest alcohol levels—all factors that make them very food-friendly. Reds with supple tannins, like Sangiovese and Barbera, and whites with crisp acidity and mineral notes, like Pinot Grigio and Malvasia, are extremely versatile partners at the table. Even those reds with pronounced structure, notable ripeness, and higher alcohol levels—like Barolo, Barbaresco, and Amarone—are decidedly not cocktail wines, not meant to be pleasing to the front to the palate. Rather, they're made to pair well with their regional cuisines, and deserve a little age, a little air, and a little food to show well.
So I realized in hindsight that my class was slightly misnamed. There's really is no such thing as "Italian wine," and certainly no easy route to understanding or mastery. But I wanted my students to taste that for themselves.
I wrote earlier about two of the wines I researched in preparation for class, a Brachetto d'Acqui and a Vernaccia di San Gimignano. Below are notes on the rest of the wines I poured, along with pairing recommendations. All wines were provided as samples by The Wine Crate, where I teach.
Terradora di Paolo
Aglianico Campania IGT
13.0% ABV | Price: about $19
This wine is 100% aglianico, a grape that originated in Greece and was imported by settlers around Cumae, home of the famed Cumaen Sibyl (whose temple I visited in 1986). During Roman times the wine was very highly regarded, yet it retained an echo of its origins; until about the 15th century the grape was still called "ellenico," Italian for Hellenic or Greek. Terredora di Paolo owns 200 hectares of vineyards in the Avellino province, making it one of the largest wineries in southern Italy. Grapes are macerated for seven days, which affords good color extraction but keeps the tannins in check. The wine is aged in both wood and stainless steel, the latter to preserve its freshness. Its color is a deep ruby red, almost inky, and it yields minerally, smoky aromas of earth, tar, and pine forest, with top notes of black cherry, sage, anise, lavender, and brushy herbs. On the palate the wine offers smoky cherry, plums, and a pronounced deep, black earthiness with grippy tannins. The fruit is not pronounced, and the finish is all carbon blackness; it tastes like licking a volcano, but in a good way. The wine needs air and profits from at least 30 minutes in the decanter, which softens it and allows the fruit to stand forward. Pair it with roasted or smoked meats and game, aged cheeses, charcuterie, barbecue, bacon, and sausages. Marvelous with pizza whose crust bears a little char from the wood hearth.
Nero d'Avola IGT
13.0% ABV | Price: about $13
Sicily produces more wine than New Zealand, Austria, and Hungary combined, and Nero d’Avola is one of its most important red grapes. The fruit for this wine derives from the west coast of Sicily, but ample searching yielded no information on specific fruit source or production techniques. The wine has a bright ruby color with aromas of fresh black cherry and subtle spice, and its firm tannins give way to pure dark berry fruits. This is not a complex wine, and it also needs at least 30 minutes in the decanter to open it up. But its acidity and sprightliness make it a natural pairing for food, including pizza, pasta with red sauces, stuffed peppers, polenta, and lasagna. Try it also with pepper-rubbed roasted meats, grilled meats and vegetables, and barbecue. Probably also quite good with spicy sausage pizza.
Nebbiolo "Perbacco" Langhe DOC
14.0% ABV | Price: about $28
Langhe is in the extreme eastern region of Piemonte, and although most nebbiolo-based wines like Barolo and Barbaresco are quite tannic, this 100% nebbiolo is quite supple and needs no decanting. The fruit derives from 35-year-old vines, and grapes from each vineyard are vinified and aged separately. The wine is aged in barrel for 10 months, then in oak casks for an additional 16 months before bottling. The color is a light brickish red, limpid like a Pinot Noir. Aromas of anise and wild herbs waft above a red-meatiness, with a high top note of spice, especially clove. These aromas carry smoothly to the palate, with more meaty fruits, spice, and herbs. Extremely elegant, light- to medium-bodied with good acidity, supple tannins, and a savory, lingering finish. Serve with roasted but rare red meats, especially lamb, beef, and game, or pair with aged and blue cow’s milk cheeses: Asiago, Taleggio, Gorgonzola, aged Gouda, or Romano. Truly a lovely wine.
Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave DOC
12.5% ABV | Price: about $16
The Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) created the Leone d’Oro lineup specifically for import into the U.S. The firm partners with growers and winemakers in Italy to bottle six wines: Chianti Colli Senesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Gavi, Prosecco, and this Pinot Grigio. The producer's website provides no information on this bottling, but some sources I found indicate it is a single-vineyard wine. The color is intense yellow-gold with green highlights. Aromas of pineapple mingle with citrus and a fresh grassiness, giving way to flavors of pear and ripe yellow apple with mild acidity and an overall softness. I detected a slight but not unpleasant tinge of oxidation, and this wine is more savory than many of its kind. Pair with light seafood dishes, including white fish, scallops, shellfish, and seafood risotto. It would also be good with semi-soft cheeses, especially goat’s milk or cassatica di bufala, and with antipasti or a spring vegetable soup with just a touch of cream.
"Frem" Barbera d'Asti DOC (not shown)
14.0% ABV | Price: about $20
Barbera, a Piemontese grape, is known for its bramble fruit character, light to medium body, and supple tannins, which make it an extremely approachable and food-friendly wine. These grapes hail from the Calosso province of Asti, and the vineyard sits at about 1,300 feet of elevation with soils of limestone and clay. The wine is aged in oak barrels for approximately 12 months. The color is ruby red with a faint brown tinge, and earthy aromas underpin notes of licorice, bright bramble fruits, and baking spices. On the palate the wine has good body and acidity, with bright cherry and blackberry, hints of sweet tobacco, dried fruits, and sage, plus smooth tannins. Pair it with grilled or roasted beef, lamb, salmon, or poultry, cured meats and charcuterie, and aged cheeses like Piave and Pecorino. Also a natural with tomato-based sauces, pizzas, pastas, and mushroom risotto.
Malvasia Salento Bianco IGT (not shown)
13.0% ABV | Price: about $16
The malvasia grape is likely of Greek origin, and the name derives from the Greek port of Monemvasia (known in Italian as Malvasia) from which large quantities of wine was shipped during the Middle Ages. The grape is also used to produce Madeira, often referred to as Malmsey, a further linguistic transformation. This Malvasia is actually a mix of three varieties of the grape: malvasia di novoli, malvasia di candia aromatica, and malvasia candida. The fruit was whole-cluster pressed with cold stabilization, and fermentation took place on wild yeast. It is pale yellow gold with aromas of white flowers, beeswax, honey, and straw. Beautifully weighty on the palate with great balancing acidity, it offers honeyed notes of lemony citrus with a bit of stone fruit. A slight oxidation note adds depth of character, and the finish is all honeyed tropical fruits. Pair with richer seafood like shrimp and lobster, antipasti with olive oil, the aïoli platter, grilled or roasted fish and poultry, and medium-bodied, semi-soft cheeses. I'd guess its fruit aspect would make it terrific with lightly spiced curries or Moroccan tagines. An extremely versatile and delicious white.