Monthly Archives: June 2013

Roasted Stuffed Tomatoes

Tomatoes au GratinGood morning everyone (well, at least it is still morning in this part of the world)! ¬†ūüôā

Usually I’m not that happy in the morning (quite the opposite!) but today is a special day.

For starters, school is finally over. It felt like it would never end this year with the extra days to make up for days lost due to hurricanes, snow storms, you name it. I felt like I was actually back in school myself! ūüôā

Secondly, I’m off to Italy today to catch up with family, true friends and ‚Äúso-called friends‚ÄĚ (those seem to populate every country, and mine is not an exception unfortunately ūüėČ ) and to enjoy sun, beach, as well as Italy’s flavors and scents. I can’t wait to eat my favorite dishes!!! My mom’s refrigerator has my name written all over it. ūüôā

I hope to recharge my batteries after the longest winter I remember, to get inspired by the colors and spirit of my traditions and to get back with new ideas and dishes to share. After all, life is a never ending learning process… thank goodness!

I promise I’ll try to keep up with all your blogs and posts, dear readers, but I would like to ask you for some lenience in case I miss one of your posts or it takes me longer to comment: most of the places I am going to go to unfortunately have painfully slow connection speeds and in some cases even sporadic access.

But before leaving, I thought I would share with you a dish that I grew up with when I was a kid and that is fairly common in the Italian cuisine: stuffed tomatoes. It is a very simple dish, super light and easy to make and it’s the perfect appetizer for any summer meal or party.

Tomatoes au Gratin
Ingredients:

6 plum tomatoes
2 white bread slices
3 oz, Jarlsberg cheese
10 to 15, basil leaves
1/2, garlic clover
8 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
salt
ground black pepper

Directions:

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise, remove all the seeds, put some salt inside the halves, flip over the halves on a plate and let them stay for at least 1 hour so that the tomatoes lose their water.

Wash the basil leaves, let them dry and chop them.

Shred the cheese and chop the garlic very finely.

Put the bread slices in a blender or a food processor and process them until you obtain fine crumbs.

In a bowl, mix the bread crumbs, the chopped basil, the chopped garlic, the shredded cheese, and salt and pepper (to taste). Add 3 Tbsp of olive oil and toss to coat very well.

Preheat the oven at 325F. In a casserole, place 2 Tbsp of olive oil.

Fill the tomato halves with the crumb mixture and put the rest of the olive oil on top of each half. Place the tomatoes in the casserole and roast for about 20/25 minutes.

Enjoy!

New Resource: The Grape Variety Archive

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

I would like to share with you all a pretty cool new wine-related resource that just recently went live on this blog and on Clicks & Corks: I am talking about a new page called Grape Variety Archive that combines alphabetically, in one centralized spot, all the information about the grape varieties of the wines that I have reviewed, so that such information may be easily referred to by readers.

What’s even better is that all of the grape variety information on the Grape Variety Archive has been taken from the wonderfully educational, gorgeously illustrated and scientifically researched volume ‚ÄúWine Grapes‚ÄĚ authored by Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and Jose¬†Vouillamoz,¬†Allen Lane 2012. Wine Grapes is an impressive 1,242 page long collection of detailed and up to date information about 1,368 vine varieties from all over the world. Quoting directly from the¬†Web site¬†dedicated to the book:

“Where do wine grapes come from and how are vine varieties related to each other? What is the historical background of each grape variety? Where are they grown? What sort of wines do they make? Using the most cutting-edge DNA analysis and detailing almost 1,400 distinct grape varieties, as well as myriad correct (and incorrect) synonyms, this particularly beautiful book examines viticulture, grapes and wine as never before. Here is a complete, alphabetically presented profile of all grape varieties relevant to today’s wine lover.“

I don‚Äôt think I need to say much about the authors, as if you are into wine they are all very well known, but just in case: Jancis Robinson has been a wine writer since 1975 and¬†the¬†Financial Times‚Äôs wine correspondent since 1989. Her principal occupation now is taking care of her own Web site,¬†JancisRobinson.com, which gets updated daily. Julia Harding is a linguist, an editor and a qualified Master of Wine. She is Jancis Robinson‚Äôs full-time assistant and ‚Äúassociate palate‚ÄĚ.¬†Dr Jos√© Vouillamoz¬†is a Swiss botanist and grape geneticist of international repute. He was trained in grape DNA profiling and parentage analyses in the world-famous laboratory of Professor Carole Meredith at the University of California at Davis.

And speaking of the authors, I wish to take the opportunity to sincerely thank them for being so kind and generous as to grant me permission to pull together and publish the Grape Variety Archive page, which I think can become over time a great resource for gaining a quick snapshot of the various varieties that make up the wines that I review on this blog, beside giving readers an idea of the amazing wealth of information that can be found in Wine Grapes.

Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012

If you read this and are seriously into wine, I think you should definitely consider acquiring Wine Grapes as it will provide a ton of invaluable information about everything that you may want to know about grape varieties. Besides, let me tell you: Dr Vouillamoz’s DNA profiling work about all the grape varieties in the book is nothing short of unbelievable and well worth the price of the book in and of itself!

Please check our new page out and let me know what you think!

Wine Review: Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG

Summer has finally made its way to us, with some delay. So, what is there more refreshing and satisfying than a chilled bottled of foamy bubbles?

Before we even continue, though, I feel I have a confession to make. While I love a glass of good sparkling wine, I am definitely partial to Champagne or anyway to quality Classic Method sparklers, such as a nice Franciacorta or Trento DOC. Instead, I am not a big fan of Prosecco, I have to admit, or more in general of sparkling wines made with the Charmat-Martinotti Method. I just prefer the greater structure, the more complex aromatic and flavor palette of the former over the latter. There, I said it.

This, however, is a question of personal taste and is not meant to say that there are no good Prosecco’s out there (although you definitely need to know which ones¬†are the quality producers if you want to avoid disappointments) or that there is no place for a good bottle of a¬†Charmat-Martinotti Method¬†sparkler on your table! To prove this, today I am going to tell you about the one Charmat-Martinotti Method¬†Prosecco that, to date, I like best¬†among those that I have had an opportunity to taste so far: Le Colture,¬†Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG ($30).

The Bottom Line

Overall,¬†I really liked this premium Prosecco and all that it offers. My only gripe is about the price: 30 bucks is in my view in the high end of the range, even for a quality Prosecco. Personally, I think it should be in the $20 to 25 price band. Other than that, in my view, the perfect interplay between its off-dry taste (due to its higher residual sugars) and its refreshing acidity and minerality is what really makes this Prosecco. Certainly, Champagne (or even a Classic Method spumante) it ain’t, but nor does it claim to be. There is definitely a place for this Prosecco in my fridge (and I would think it would not be wasted in yours either!) to enjoy chilled with friends on one of those warm Summer nights!

Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good Р$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Appellations

Prosecco wine is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco Рsee more about this below) white-berried grapes in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene¬†(or simply¬†Prosecco di Valdobbiadene)¬†DOCG¬†in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG¬†in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

The regulations of the two DOCG appellations require that their Prosecco wines be made 85% or more from Glera grapes, to which up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera or Glera Lunga white-berried grapes may be blended. The regulations of the DOC appellation are similar but permit that a few additional grape varieties be blended to the Glera base grapes, as follows: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir.

Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Charmat-Martinotti Method, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s. Compared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

With regard to residual sugar levels, according to applicable regulations, Prosecco spumante wines may be produced in any of the following styles, and therefore except only in the Extra Brut (less than 6 gr/lt of residual sugar) or Sweet (more than 50 gr/lt of residual sugar) versions:

  • Brut¬†(less than 15 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Extra Dry¬†(12 to 20 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Dry¬†(17 to 35 gr/lt of residual sugar – as in the case of the bottle that we are reviewing)
  • Demi-Sec¬†(33 to 50 gr/lt of residual sugar, which would make it taste quite sweet).

About the Grape

Here things for Prosecco tend to¬†complicate¬†a bit…

Up until recently, Prosecco was the name for three things: the wine, its main grape variety and the homonymous village near the town of Trieste (in the Italian region of Friuli) that probably gave the wine and the grape their name. Relatively easy so far.

Then in 2009, with Prosecco’s popularity and sales soaring (in 2011 the overall production of Prosecco was about 265 million bottles, 55% of which were exported), the consortium of Prosecco producers obtained¬†an official change in the name of the grape variety, from Prosecco to Glera, so that¬†Prosecco would only be the name of the wine (and not of the grape variety too)¬†and could therefore be reserved for its designation of origin, thus preventing other producers from other Italian regions or other countries from calling their sparkling wines Prosecco (in this regard, see our recent post about the dispute with Croatia to require that they rename their own Prosek wine).

At any rate, the main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety.

Other grapes that may be used in the production of the wine Prosecco and that used to be considered clonal variations of Prosecco Tondo, but DNA analysis has proved to be distinct varieties, are Prosecco Lungo and Prosecco Nostrano (the latter, by the way, has been proven to be identical to Malvasia Bianca Lunga).

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

About the Estate

Le Colture¬†estate¬†is located in proximity to¬†Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene, in the heart of¬†Veneto’s Prosecco district, and encompasses about¬†45 HA of vineyards. The bottle that we are about to¬†review is made from 100% Glera grapes¬†grown in¬†Le Colture’s vineyards in the high quality, hilly subzone known as¬†Superiore di Cartizze¬†and located near the village of San Pietro di Barbozza (in the surroundings of the town of Valdobbiadene) within the broader territory¬†of the¬†Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG¬†appellation. The grapes are harvested between mid September and mid October and the wine is made, as is traditionally the case for¬†Prosecco’s, through¬†the¬†refermentation of the¬†must¬†in pressurized autoclaves¬†according to the¬†Charmat-Martinotti Method. Please refer to¬†our previous post about it¬†for more information about this method, the main steps it entails and how it differs from the¬†Classic Method¬†that is utilized for making (among others) Champagne, Franciacorta and Trento DOC sparkling wines.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now get to the actual review of¬†Le Colture,¬†Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, which retails in the US for about $30.

The wine¬†is made from 100% Glera grapes, has 11% ABV and comes in the¬†“Dry” variety, which means that it has¬†fairly high residual sugar, in the amount of 23 gr/l. At 4.5 ATM, the pressure in the bottle is also¬†gentler than that which¬†you would generally expect in a Classic Method wine (about 6 ATM), except in a Franciacorta Saten variety.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was brilliant with a pleasant straw yellow color. As to the all-important perlage, its bubbles were numerous, average in size (not the finest, but certainly not coarse either) and the chains of bubbles were definitely long-lasting.

On the nose, its bouquet was¬†moderately intense,¬†moderately complex¬†and¬†fine, with Spring-y aromas of jasmine flowers, peach, citrus and apple:¬†something capable in and of itself to put you in a good mood. ūüôā

In the mouth, this Prosecco was off-dry, with low ABV and moderately smooth; it was acidic and tasty. It was light-bodied and pleasantly balanced, with its lively acidity and tasty minerals nicely counterbalancing its higher residual sugars any preventing any flatly sweet feeling. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, showing a nice match with its aromatic palette, with refreshing notes of peach, citrus and apple. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning: do not cellar, drink it now and enjoy its freshness.

Mint and zucchini tagliatelle: Italian beauty!

Zucchine and mint tagliatelle

2 Servings

Hello everyone! ūüôā

Let me thank a couple of people before I share this wonderful recipe with all of you.

First: the photo setting. Do not get any fancy idea. The red roses are not from Stefano. The last time he gave me red roses we weren’t even dating!!! ūüėČ Haven’t you noticed that flowers are one of the first things to disappear into thin air in the course of a long-term relationship? But I’m digressing. Back to the roses: they are the gracious present that Anatoli from the wonderful wine blog Talk-a-Vino and his lovely wife brought me last time they came over for dinner. You don’t know him? You don’t know what you are missing. His blog offers a wealth of knowledge on anything wine-related and is a pleasure to read: go check it out and decide for yourselves! ūüôā

Anyway, for some reason, whenever I see a red rose, I get to think about the “famous” scene from the movie American Beauty. So, finding myself with all those gorgeous and vibrant red petals I couldn’t resist putting them to good use by recreating that scene in a… food context, so the photo setting for this dish was a real no brainer. Thank you, Anatoli and Victoria!!! Hope you like the photograph. ūüôā

My second thank you note goes to my aunt Pia, my mother’s sister. She came over to visit us and we found a little time (but not much!) for cooking. She was born and raised in Southern Italy but she has been living in Liguria (a region in the northwest of Italy) since forever, so her cuisine is a combination of the two Italian souls. During her stay, she taught me how to make some of her signature dishes including the one I’m sharing with you today. Dear aunt, thank you so much!!! I hope you’ll find that the image makes justice to your recipe! ūüôā

But enough with the cha cha, and let’s talk food.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1 Tbsp, butter
2 zucchini
2 Tsp, harissa
4 mint leaves
Half pack of tagliatelle
1 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese
Salt

Directions:

Wash the zucchini under cold water. On a chopping board, cut about 1/4 inch off each side and slice the zucchini thinly and evenly.

In a large non-stick skillet, put the olive oil and the butter and let the butter melt. When the butter is melted, add the zucchini and some salt (to taste), toss to coat and cook on low heat. After 10 minutes, add the harissa and keep cooking until the zucchini are simmered.

Put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil.  When the water is boiling, add the tagliatelle and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally.

While the tagliatelle are cooking, shred the mint leaves with your hands, add them to the zucchini and, on a very low heat, toss to coat.

Drain the tagliatelle, setting aside some of the water where the pasta has been cooked. Put the tagliatelle into the skillet with the zucchini and toss to coat. If the zucchini sauce is too dry, add some of the water you put aside.

Put the tagliatelle into the serving plates and, if you wish, dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon appetito!

PS: isn’t it unbelievable that¬†Annette Bening¬†didn’t win the Oscar for her role in American Beauty? She was magnificent! And she didn’t win it for Being Julia either!!! I can’t help but wondering: what were the Academy people thinking? ¬† ¬†

In the Name of the Grandfather: Wine Origins in the USA

StefanoThis post finds its roots in a virtual conversation that I had a while ago with fellow blogger Suzanne from the cooking blog A Pug in the Kitchen in the comment section of my post about my participation in the 2011 Vintage Port Tour in NYC.

In that context Suzanne asked me about a bottle of “Port” that someone had gifted her, a Port that was made in the United States (California), from a grape variety that is not among the over 100 grape varieties that are recommended or permitted by Portuguese regulations for the production of Port and that (literally speaking, dulcis in fundo) had some chocolate syrup added to it (ugh). The ensuing discussion prompted me to promise her that I would publish a post about what is kosher and what is not in the US in regard to the use of certain notorious foreign geographical terms associated to wine, so here we go.

In a Nutshell

The short of it is that there is good news and bad news for the American wine consumer. The good news is that since 2006 the US has had a set of rules in place to prevent the appropriation of those famous foreign wine terms by wineries in the United States; the bad news is that those same rules contain a grandfather provision to the effect that those US wineries that already marketed their wines using those restricted foreign names before 2006 are authorized to legally continue to do so as an exception to the general rule. But let’s dig a little deeper into this.

The Sad State of Affairs Pre-2006

US regulations (namely, section 5388(c) of Title 26, Internal Revenue Code, of the US Code – in short, 26 USC 5388(c)) identify certain “name[s] of geographical significance, which [are] also the designation of a class or type of wine” that “shall be treated as semi-generic” designations. These semi-generic names include such world-famous European wine names as Burgundy, Chablis, Champagne, Chianti, Marsala, Madeira, Moselle, Port, Rhine Wine, Sauterne, Sherry, Tokay and others.

Until 2006, those US regulations permitted the appropriation of any of such names by any US winery provided that the winery disclosed on the label, next to the appropriated name, “the true place of origin of the wine” (for instance, “Russian River Valley¬†Champagne”, such as the one that was unfortunately served on the occasion of the inauguration of President Obama’s second term in office and other US Presidents before him).

In essence, by so doing US wineries were legally authorized to exploit the notoriety of those wine names that were clearly associated with specific European territories, permitted grape varieties and strictly regulated enological practices (to have an idea of what I am talking about, you may want to refer to my previous post on Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines) by slapping those names on the bottles of their wines and just adding the State they were made in. This prompted the birth of not only Zinfandel-made “Chocolate Port” but also such other enological creations as “Almond Flavored California Champagne“, “California Chablis” coming in 5-liter cartons reportedly made from such varieties as Thompson Seedless, Chasselas, and Burger (instead of Chardonnay), and so on.

Which begs the question: what purpose were those rules serving? Were they in the interest of the education of the US consumers or perhaps were they just meant to increase the sales of domestic wine producers by allowing them to piggy back on world famous names that had gained notoriety through centuries of know how, hard work and quality regulations? One gets to wonder, because it looks like such rules were actually promoting confusion and misinformation among most of the vast US wine consumer base without educating them about the importance of concepts such as appellations, terroir, traceability, authenticity, specific enological practices, local traditions and ultimately quality.

2006: New Dawn or Unsatisfactory Compromise?

On March 10, 2006 the US Government and the European Union executed an agreement on trade in wine (the “US/EU Wine Agreement“) pursuant to which, among other things, (i) each party recognized the other’s current winemaking practices; (ii) the US agreed to restrict the use of such semi-generic wine names in the US market to wines originating in the EU; and (iii) each party recognized certain names of origin of the other party in its own market.

As a result of the US/EU Wine Agreement, legislation was passed in the US (in the context of the Tax Relief and Health Care Act) on December 20, 2006 to amend 26 USC 5388(c) so that it would be consistent with the principles set forth in the US/EU Wine Agreement.

So, everything seemed finally to go in the right direction, with a commitment by the US Government to prohibit potentially deceptive practices such as appropriating famous foreign wine names. However, things are rarely black and white and, as they say, for every rule there is an exception: enter the grandfather clause.

Beside agreeing on banning the appropriation of such famous foreign wine names going forward, the US/EU Wine Agreement “grandfathers” (i.e., exceptionally tolerates) those same prohibited practices as long as they had already been in place in the US and approved by means of the issue of a COLA (Certificate of Label Approval) before March 10, 2006.

This exception is the reason why certain US wineries still enjoy the privilege of legally calling wines made in the United States Champagne, Port, Chablis, Chianti, Sherry and so on.

Boycotting Grandpa

From a strictly legal standpoint, I can see the reasons why the US Government had a hard time stripping wineries that had until that time been authorized to legally use those names of the right to use them anymore.

However, in practical terms, I think that creating a division in the market between those wineries that are authorized to continue a potentially deceptive practice and those that are not just because the former happened to start such practices before (or instead of) the latter is wrong because:

(i) it keeps confusing the consumers and does nothing to educate them by introducing them to the originals of some of the world’s most famous wines; and

(ii) it sounds like an unjustified penalty to all those US wineries that had “done the right thing” by refraining from following such dubious practices and building customer recognition for their own products based on their merits alone, instead of taking the shortcut of “name dropping”.

Because of the reasons mentioned above, I have personally decided not to patronize or review wines made by those US wineries that have chosen to carry on those potentially deceptive practices, although permitted under the grandfather clause of the US/EU Wine Agreement.

Wine Origins

On a final note, in 2005 the regions of Champagne (France) and Porto (Portugal) joined forces to create an organization based in Washington DC that is called The Center for Wine Origins and that aims at educating and sensitizing the US consumers and lawmakers as to the importance of the place of origin of a wine and of affording greater protection to wine place names by keeping wine labels accurate so that consumers are given a chance to make informed choices when selecting their wines. You can learn more about this initiative through the organization’s Web site, www.WineOrigins.com.

As always, feel free to share your thoughts on this subject through the comment section below.

Wine Review: Planeta, ‚ÄúSanta Cecilia‚ÄĚ Nero d‚ÄôAvola Sicilia IGT 2006

Today’s review will focus on one of my two favorite varietal Nero d’Avola wines, namely Planeta‘s “Santa Cecilia”¬†Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006 ($35).

The Bottom Line

Overall, the Santa Cecilia was an outstanding varietal Nero d’Avola, which delivered plenty of structure coupled with an enticing bouquet and juicy, delicious flavors. The wine was silky smooth with tannins that were marvelously gentle and integrated, lacking any of the harshness or aggressiveness that can instead be found in other varietal Nero d’Avola wines. Its still discernible acidity ensures a few more years of aging potential. Also, for its price point, this wine delivers plenty of bang for your hard earned bucks. Like I said, it is definitely one of my two favorite 100% Nero d’Avola wines. If you are curious which one is my other favorite… well, stay tuned as it will be reviewed (and revealed)¬†later this year!¬† ūüėČ

Rating: Outstanding and definitely Recommended given its great QPR Outstanding Р$$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

As usual, let’s now¬†provide a brief overview of the Nero d’Avola grape variety.

About the Grape

Nero d‚ÄôAvola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called ‚ÄúMagna Graecia‚ÄĚ) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d‚ÄôAvola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries (the first official descriptions date back to the end of the XVII century) and where it is also known as ‚ÄúCalabrese‚ÄĚ ‚Äď however, this is not because it came from Calabria (which it did not), but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (‚ÄúCalea‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúAulisi‚ÄĚ) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean ‚Äúgrape from Avola‚ÄĚ (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

Nero d’Avola makes wines that are generally deeply colored, full-bodied, distinctly tannic and with good aging potential. The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation in Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations (among which the Noto DOC appellation), where it can be used to make varietal wines or in the context of blends. However, many of the best Nero d’Avola wines around are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

About the Estate and the Appellation

Getting back to the specifics of the Santa Cecilia, this wine was produced for the first time by top quality Sicilian producers Planeta in 1997¬†under the Sicilia IGT appellation from mostly Nero d’Avola grapes blended with a small percentage of Syrah grapes coming from their vineyards in Menfi and Sambuca. However, in 1998 the good guys at Planeta identified a plot of land (known as Buonivini) in the vicinity of the town of Noto (somewhere in between the towns of Avola and Pachino) that was ideal for growing Nero d’Avola grapes. Over time, they completely renewed the Buonivini vineyards and built from scratch an underground winery with a view to shifting the production of the Santa Cecilia from Menfi/Sambuca to Noto.

The Buonivini winery became operational in 2003, which was also the first vintage of the “new” Santa Cecilia which since then has become a 100% Nero d’Avola wine made exclusively from grapes grown in the Buonivini vineyards. The new Santa Cecilia was still made under the Sicilia IGT appellation up until the 2007 vintage. However, in 2008 the area where the Buonivini vineyards are located was awarded DOC status also for black-berried grapes¬†under the name “Noto DOC and therefore, as of the 2008 vintage, the Santa Cecilia has been produced under the Noto DOC appellation (more information is available on Planeta’s Website and in the Noto DOC regulations).

More specifically, the Noto DOC had originally been created in 1974 under the name “Moscato di Noto DOC” and was restricted to the production of sweet white wines made from white-berried Moscato Bianco grapes. In 2008, the Moscato di Noto DOC appellation changed its name into “Noto DOC” and was extended to red wines based on Nero d’Avola grapes,¬†because the area was recognized as a traditional one for growing such variety – to be precise, it is believed to be the area where the cultivation of Nero d’Avola grapes in Sicily originated from. Nowadays, the Noto DOC regulations require that the wines made under such appellation be produced from grapes grown in an area encompassing the towns of Noto, Rosolini, Pachino and Avola, in the Siracusa province, and that red wines branded as “Noto Nero d’Avola DOC” (such as the Santa Cecilia) be made from 85% or more Nero d’Avola grapes.

Our Detailed Review

The Planeta, “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 2006 that I recently tasted was¬†a red wine made from 100% Nero d’Avola grapes grown in the Buonivini vineyard and had 14% ABV. It is available in the US where it retails for about $35.

The wine fermented in steel vats and aged 14 months in French oak barrique casks used once or twice before (i.e., not new casks). As you probably know, the reason for this practice is to limit the interference of the oak with the organoleptic profile of the wine, so that the tertiary aromas developed during the barrique aging period do not overwhelm but rather coherently complement the fruity secondary aromas developed by the wine in the fermentation phase.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the Santa Cecilia poured ruby red and thick.

On the nose, its bouquet was intense, complex and fine, with aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, tobacco and cocoa.

In the mouth, the Santa Cecilia was dry, warm, smooth; fresh, tannic and tasty. It was a full-bodied, perfectly balanced wine and its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with notes of blackberry, wild cherry, cocoa, tobacco, black pepper and licorice. Its tannins were supple and wonderfully integrated, counterbalancing (along with its pleasant acidity) the silky smoothness of the wine. The Santa Cecilia had a long finish and its evolutionary state was ready, meaning absolutely enjoyable now (I sure loved mine!) but it may probably evolve even more and add additional layers of complexity to its already outstanding flavor palette with a couple more years of in-bottle aging.