Tag Archives: Sicily

Wine Review: Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT 2009

Planeta ChardonnayToday’s review is of a Sicilian Chardonnay made by excellent Sicilian winemakers Planeta from whom we have previously reviewed their outstanding Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” and their Syrah – specifically, today we are going to review PlanetaChardonnay Sicilia IGT 2009 ($35).

Will it be in the same league as their wonderful reds? Keep reading and let’s find out together! 🙂

The Bottom Line

Overall: What can I say… a spectacular wine and excellent value for money! A wonderful golden color, a sensuous, complex, multi-layered bouquet that strikes a perfect balance between fruity secondary aromas and delicate tertiary aromas, luscious on the palate with a kaleidoscope of delicious flavors; acidic, tasty and super long. This is a wine that should be tasted by those who are skeptical about Italian whites in general or about Chardonnay’s potential in warmer climates such as Sicily. Oh Man… This is a wine with the “wow” factor!

Rating: Spectacular and, needless to say, wholeheartedly Recommended! Spectacular – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Chardonnay is a white-berried variety that is indigenous to the French area between Lyon and Dijon, encompassing Burgundy and Champagne. The earliest documented mention of Chardonnay dates back to the late XVII century in the village of Saint Sorlin (today known as La Roche Vineuse) under the name “Chardonnet“, although the variety takes its name from the village of Chardonnay near the town of Uchizy in southern Burgundy.

DNA analysis showed that Chardonnay is a natural cross between Pinot and Gouais Blanc.

Chardonnay Rose is a color mutation of Chardonnay, while Chardonnay Musque’ is a mutation with Muscat-like aromas.

Chardonnay is one of the most versatile and adaptable white grape varieties, which explains in part why it has been so extensively grown all over the world. Chardonnay grapes are generally high in sugar levels and do not have a dominant flavor of their own, so the wines made out of them tend to take on a variety of aromas depending on where the grapes are grown and how the wines are made. Thus Chardonnays run the gamut from subtle and savory to rich and spicy still wines as well as being one of the base wines for Champagne and other Classic Method sparkling wines.

Chardonnay is a typical international variety given how widely it is cultivated on a worldwide basis, from native France, to Italy, North and South America and Australia.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties in general, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Estate

Planeta’s Chardonnay is made out of grapes coming from the 51 HA Ulmo vineyard and the 42 HA Maroccoli vineyard (the latter situated at 1,475 ft/450 mt above sea level) within Planeta’s Ulmo estate, located near the town of Sambuca di Sicilia (Agrigento), on the western coast of Sicily. The density of the Chardonnay vines in the two vineyards is between 3,800 and 4,500 vines/HA.

Ulmo is the first and the oldest among Planeta’s current estates: it became operational in 1995, along with its winery, and it encompasses 93 HA of vineyards where Chardonnay, Merlot, Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and Syrah are grown to make certain of the wines in the Planeta lineup, including their Chardonnay “supercru“.

Our Detailed Review

The Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT 2009 that I had was 13.5% ABV and retails in the US for about $35.

The wine was made from 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in Planeta’s Ulmo and Maroccoli vineyards (on which, see above for more information). It fermented for 15 days in French oak barrique barrels (50% new and 50% previously used ones) with the addition of selected yeasts.

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, it poured a rich, golden color, thick when swirled.

On the nose, it was intense, delectably complex and excellent, with aromas of banana, melon, grapefruit, lemon, peach, hints of herbs (rosemary), hazelnut and minerals.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, warm, smooth; fresh and tasty. It was full-bodied and masterfully balanced, with intense and excellent mouth flavors of peach, lemon, almond, minerals, herbs and hints of acacia honey. Its finish was exquisitely long and its evolutionary state was ready (i.e., wonderful to enjoy now, but it might be even better, more complex if it rests one or two more years in your cellar).

Wine Review: Planeta, Syrah Sicilia Rosso IGT 2007

Planeta, Syrah Sicilia Rosso IGTToday’s review is of a Sicilian varietal Syrah made by excellent Sicilian winemakers Planeta.

As usual, let’s first provide a brief overview of the Syrah grape variety.

The Bottom Line

Overall, I loved this Sicilian take of an international grape variety! PlanetaSyrah Sicilia Rosso IGT 2007 ($35) was a luscious red, with an elegant bouquet, interestingly devoid of those animal fur notes that Syrah from other geographic regions may exhibit. Despite its muscular ABV, the wine was wonderfully balanced and offered supple tannins counterbalancing its silky smoothness. Its rich, pleasant mouth flavors completed the picture.

Rating: Very Good and definitely Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape

Syrah is a black-berried grape variety that is indigenous to the northern Rhone region of France, where it was first mentioned in a document dating back to 1781 under the name “Sira de l’Hermitage“.

DNA analysis proved that Syrah is a natural cross between Mondeuse Blanche (a Savoie variety) and Dureza (an Ardeche variety) that probably took place in the Rhone-Alps region.

Syrah has historically been mostly grown in the Rhone Valley in France and in Australia under the name Shiraz, although recently its planting has become more widespread (as in the case of the Sicilian Syrah that we are going to review) as a result of an increasing popularity of its wines.

(Information on the grape variety taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012 – for more information about grape varieties, check out our Grape Variety Archive)

About the Estate

Planeta’s Syrah is made out of grapes coming from the 42 HA Maroccoli vineyard situated at 450 mt/1,475 ft above sea level within Planeta’s Ulmo estate, located near the town of Sambuca di Sicilia (Agrigento), on the western coast of Sicily. The Maroccoli vineyard density is 5,000 vines/HA.

Ulmo is the first and the oldest among Planeta’s current estates: it became operational in 1995, along with its winery, and it encompasses some 93 HA of vineyards (including Maroccoli) where ChardonnayMerlot, Grecanico, Nero d’Avola and of course Syrah are grown in different crus.

Our Detailed Review

The PlanetaSyrah Sicilia Rosso IGT 2007 that I had was a red wine made from 100% Syrah grapes grown in the Maroccoli vineyard and had 14.5% ABV. It is available in the US where it retails for about $35.

The wine fermented in steel vats for 12 days at 25C/77F and aged 12 months in French oak barrique casks, 1/3 of which were new and the remaining 2/3 previously used ones. As you may know, the reason for using barrels that had already been used before 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 wine poured ruby red with purple hints and viscous when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet was intensemoderately complex and fine, with aromas of black cherry, plum, tobacco, soil and leather.

In the mouth, the wine was dry, with high ABV and smooth; it was moderately acidictannic and tasty. It was full-bodied and perfectly balanced. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, with notes of black cherry, dark chocolate, sweet tobacco and black pepper. Its tannins were supple and masterfully integrated. The wine had a long finish and its evolutionary state was in my view approaching its maturity, meaning the peak in terms of its potential (in other words, for best results enjoy it now or in the next year or so).

Wine Review: Planeta, “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola 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!  😉

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

(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’Avola 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 “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola 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 “Calabrese” – 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 (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (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 drywarmsmoothfreshtannic 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.

Wine Review: Donnafugat​a, Contessa Entellina Bianco "Chiarandà" 2009 DOC

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina Bianco "Chiarandà" 2009 DOCOn a previous post, we have talked about how Chardonnay is successfully grown in various regions throughout Italy, literally from Valle d’Aosta in the north to Sicily in the south, and how several Italian wineries make some excellent wines from such a widely cultivated international variety.

Very broadly speaking, I have to say I rather review and promote wines made out of Italian indigenous grape varieties, essentially because they differentiate themselves from the ubiquitous international varieties, because there are many excellent ones and because, by so doing, I think I am giving my small contribution to preserve biodiversity also in the vineyard (a wine world populated only by Chardonnays, Sauvignons, Pinots and Merlots would be a pretty boring one, if you ask me!) and to make certain Italian wines better known outside of Italy.

However, it is undeniable that certain international varieties have been successfully grown in Italy and that excellent, elegant wines are made out of such grapes which oftentimes are not very well known to the general public.

So today’s review is of a Sicilian Chardonnay that I very much like and that illustrates the point that Chardonnay is an extremely versatile variety that can give excellent results even in warmer climates like Sicily’s.

The wine I am talking about is Donnafugata‘s Contessa Entellina Bianco “Chiarandà” DOC 2009 ($35).

The Bottom Line

Overall, I very much enjoyed the Chiarandà, which I found to be a very elegant and “clean” Chardonnay, in which its oaky notes are not dominant but rather very well integrated such that they add to (instead of overwhelm) its pleasantly fruity and mineral flavor palette.

Rating: Very Good and definitely Recommended Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Producer and the Wine

Founded in 1983, Donnafugata is one of the top Sicilian wineries that contributed to the “Sicilian wine revolution” by contributing passion, investments and professionalism to raise the profile of Sicilian winemaking and produce top quality wines.

Their Chiarandà is a 100% Chardonnay wine made from the grapes grown in Donnafugata’s vineyards in a hilly region of the Contessa Entellina DOC appellation near the homonymous town (about halfway between Marsala and Palermo), in the western part of Sicily, at an altitude between 200 and 600 mt (650 to 1,950 ft) above sea level. The vineyards from which Chiarandà is made achieve an excellent density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA and the vine training system used is spurred cordon.

The wine has 13% ABV and is fermented in stainless steel vats and then undergoes 6 months of aging on its lees in a mix of concrete and oak vessels of various sizes plus 24 additional months of in-bottle fining. Given its lively acidity (see, tasting notes below) it is a wine with great aging potential, in the 10 year range. In the US, the Chiarandà retails for about $35.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now get down to the actual review of the 2009 Chiarandà that I had. As usual, 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, it is a beautiful golden yellow in color, and thick when swirled.

On the nose, its bouquet is intense, fine and definitely complex, with an array of enticing aromas of peach, tangerine, butter, vanilla, herbs (sage), mineral and iodine notes.

In the mouth, the wine is dry, warm, smooth; with lively acidity and pronounced minerality. It is medium to full-bodied with good structure and very balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors reminiscent of its aromatic palette and a long finish, with those flavors pleasantly lingering in the mouth long after gulping down a sip. Its evolutionary state was ready (meaning, fine to drink now, but can take two or three more years of aging without compromising its qualities).

As usual, if you have tasted Chiarandà before, let me know how you liked it.

Pasta alla Norma: Finding a Good Grocer is Like Finding a Good Friend

Pasta alla Norma

4 Servings

I usually welcome the spring season by cooking pasta alla norma. The reason? Spring brings fresh tomatoes, which are key to the success of this dish. If I close my eyes and dig into my childhood memories, I can still smell the aroma of fresh tomatoes and onions simmering on the stove of my grandmother’s house in Sicily. Actually, this is one of the very few happy memories I have about my vacations in Sicily due to the very… (how do I put this?)… rocky relationship between my grandmother and my mom.

Anyway, whenever I go on a “hunt” for the right ingredients for this recipe, it is one of those moments I miss my country and, especially, my grocer the most. The place where I live is a supermarket kingdom: everything is beautifully displayed in these endless aisles but, when you approach the people who work there and start asking questions about a particular produce you are looking for, they look at you in astonishment. No, it’s not my accent… I’m pretty sure about that. 😉 The point is they have no idea what I am talking about. Such a different experience compared to the great feeling I had when I put my
foot into my grocery store in Italy in contemplation of the wonders expecting me.

Let me be honest here. I truly believe that finding the perfect grocer, as well as finding the perfect butcher, is like finding a good friend. Let me explain my metaphor a little more in detail, will you?

You are looking for someone you can totally trust and that is going to give you the best he can offer. It’s not an easy quest and, inevitably, you will encounter a few disappointments down the road but what a fulfilling feeling when you realize that you have found the one. He starts smiling at you when he sees you coming down the street and when you explain him what you are planning on cooking, he knows exactly what you need. Most of the time, he is even a better cook than you are, so he shares tips and cooking skills with you, little secrets that you are going to treasure forever. He goes out of his way to pamper you and make you happy to make sure that you come back over and over and the friendship endures. Do you see my point now?

I still remember the first time I decided to try out this recipe not long ago in Italy. With the list of ingredients based on my dad’s memory, I went to my grocer. I had no idea what to pick but, of course, he came to my rescue and told me that I needed “sauce tomatoes”, i.e., tomatoes that are so juicy and flavorful that not using them to make a sauce would be tantamount to a crime. Then he directed me toward the right type of eggplant to be used and, finally, he made me try this divine ricotta salata coming directly from his trusted farmer. When I came back home and the tomatoes on the stove started spreading their
aroma all over, I was taken back in time to a vacation at my grandmother’s house in an instant and I took a fidelity oath to him. Something like “until death do us part” but less dramatic and permanent! 😉

Enough with the chit chat. This pasta dish originates in the Sicilian city of Catania and, allegedly, it was named after “Norma”, an opera by famous composer Vincenzo Bellini. The ingredients are few: tomato sauce, fried eggplants, basil and grated ricotta salata (a hard, saltier and drier version of ricotta). The tomato sauce takes about three hours to make, so if you are in hurry to put a meal on the table, maybe this is not the right dish. Everybody knows that perfection takes time and the taste of this pasta is heaven.

Pasta alla NormaIngredients:

1 eggplant
6 lb, fresh tomatoes
half, red onion
10 leaves, fresh basil
1 cup, extravirgin olive oil
1 cup, grated ricotta salata
1 lb rigatoni
salt

Directions:

Cut the eggplant into slices (about 3/4 inch thick). In order to remove the excess water from the eggplant slices, place a big colander on a plate, put some sliced eggplants in the colander and salt them. Put another layer of slices on top and salt them. Keep going until all the slices have been layered and salted. Then place a plate on top of the eggplant slices in the colander and put some kind of weight on top of the plate (I usually use peeled tomato cans). Let the slices rest for a couple of hours.

In the meanwhile, remove the stem ends of the tomatoes, cut them in halves and cut each half in 4 quarters. Cut the onion into slices.

In a large non-stick pot, put the tomatoes, the onions and some basil leaves, put some salt (to taste) and cook on a low heat for about three hours, stirring often, or until you obtain a sort of tomato mixture (the water from the tomatoes must almost completely evaporate).

Dice up the eggplant slices. In a non-stick skillet, pour 3/4 cup of olive oil and fry the eggplant cubes. When the cubes are soft and brown, remove them from the olive oil and place them on an oil-absorbing paper tissue.

Run the tomato mixture into a food mill, place the tomato sauce back on the low heat, put the eggplant cubes and the rest of the basil leaves into the sauce and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and pour the rest of the olive oil on the sauce.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the rigatoni and cook until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the rigatoni and toss them to coat with 3/4 of the sauce.

Put the rigatoni into the serving plates, pour some of the remaining sauce on top of them and dust each dish with the grated ricotta salata. Serve right away and enjoy!

I wish you all a very Happy Easter!

Pasta alla Norma

Sicilian-Style Stracotto – Recommended Wine Pairing

Donnafugata, "Tancredi" Sicilia IGTA while back Francesca posted the mouth-watering recipe for a Sicilian-style stracotto: it is finally time to find a good wine pairing for her dish. Based on its ingredients and preparation, we can identify the main organoleptic qualities of this dish as latent sweetness, latent sourness and juiciness; it is also a structured dish.

In light of the ISA wine pairing criteria that we have discussed on a previous post, we can therefore conclude that the wine we should pick to complement Francesca’s dish should have good acidity, smoothness, well defined (but not aggressive) tannins and/or good ABV, and should be a full-bodied wine.

Based on the above characteristics and the geography of Francesca’s dish, I would pair the stracotto with a good Nero d’Avola. Before we get to the actual recommendations, however, let’s just take a quick look about this grape variety.

Planeta, Noto Nero d'Avola "Santa Cecilia" DOCNero d’Avola 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 “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola 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 “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (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 of 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, 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, cit. Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, HarperCollins 2012)

Morgante, "Don Antonio" Sicilia IGTIn terms of specific recommendations, in my view these are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios:

Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with aromas of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out)

Donnafugata, Contessa Entellina “Mille e Una Notte” DOC (a wonderful blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, which can be considered the “bigger brother” of the Tancredi – it is more expensive but delightful, with a bouquet of plum, blackberry, black cherry, pepper, cocoa, vanilla, tobacco and cinnamon; a great wine)

Cusumano, "Noa" Sicilia IGTPlaneta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals)

Cusumano, “Noa’” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate – even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA)

Feudo Maccari, "Saia" Sicilia IGTFeudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – once again, a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA)

Tasca d’Almerita, Contea di Sclafani “Rosso del Conte” DOC (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Perricone and other permitted varieties, with aromas of violets, blackberry, plum jam, black pepper, tobacco and licorice)

That’s all for today: have you tried any of the above wines? If so, did you enjoy what you drank?

Daddy's Sicilian-Style Stracotto

Rigatoni with Sicilian-style stracotto sauce4/6 Servings

I wish I could take credit for this recipe but…nope! Not even a teensy bit. This red, opulent dish comes straight from my dad’s childhood memories.

When he visited us for the holidays (yeah, he left but my mom is still here – Stefano, stop making that face!) he showed me how to make it and he shared his family story behind it. Well, that story was so long and full of details about my grand parents and about certain unkonwn-to-me grand aunts that it was a miracle I didn’t fall asleep. And don’t even get me started on describing my mother’s face during our story-telling session. 😉

Anyway, since today I feel very generous towards the human species (believe me, it does not happen often), I decided I would spare you the torture.

Let me just say that what I love about this dish, beside its richness, is the “2 courses in 1 deal”. When you make it, by going through one cooking process, you’ll end up with both the tomato sauce for a pasta course and a meat course. Don’t get me wrong. Cooking is great. However, if I can manage to cook a great meal in less time and have more time for my other passions (books, movies, myself ;-)), my first reaction is always “where should I sign”?

Now, let’s focus on the important stuff.

Sicilian-style stracotto

Ingredients:

3/4 of 1 cup, minced onion
5 Tbsp, extravirgin olive oil
about 11 oz, veal stew
about 13 oz, boneless pork chops
3 pork sausages (about 10 oz)
4 potatoes
1/2 cup, red wine
2 cans, San Marzano peeled tomatoes
1 Tbsp, tomato paste
4 Tbsp, grated Parmigiano cheese (to be used only for the pasta course)
salt

Directions:

Cut the potatoes into medium-sized pieces and set aside. Cut the pork chops into stew-like pieces and set aside. With the help of a fork, make small holes into the sausages. Process the tomatoes through a food mill and set them aside.

In a large non-stick pot, put the olive oil, the onion, the veal stew, the pork chop pieces, the sausages and the potatoes and start to saute. When the meat is well sauteed, add the red wine and keep stirring until the wine evaporates. Add the tomatoes, the tomato paste, some salt (to taste) and keep cooking on a very low heat, stirring often, until the tomato sauce gets thick and is not watery anymore.

If you decide to serve pasta, remember to cook it al dente and to dust the top of each plate with the parmigiano cheese.

Buon Appetito! 🙂

Spaghetti alla Carbonara – Recommended Wine Pairing

Les Crêtes, VdA Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOCThis wine pairing post for Francesca’s mouth-watering Spaghetti alla Carbonara has been long overdue – apologies if it took me so long, but my Italian spumante series in view of the end-of-year festivities kind of got in the way 🙂

Without further ado, let’s now get to it: picking up where we left off in response to a prophetic question from Chiara (the gracious and posh image consultant who authors the “effortless style” blog Kiarastyle) in the comment section of Francesca’s recipe post, my suggestions are to either pair it with a structured Chardonnay with some oak-aging, good acidity and minerality or go for a red wine with good acidity, gentle tannins and ideally some minerality, such as a Pinot Noir from the North-Eastern region of Alto Adige.

St. Michael-Eppan, A.A. Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOCThere is not much to say that is not already widely known about the two grape varieties that I picked, since they are both international varieties (as opposed to grapes indigenous to Italy). However, something worth mentioning is that in regards to Chardonnay you will notice that my recommendations span pretty much across the entire Italian territory, literally from Valle d’Aosta to Sicily, while my Pinot Noir choices focus on one specific region, Alto Adige. This is because, while Chardonnay has been very successfully grown in different terroirs in North, Central and even Southern Italy, the same is not true for Pinot Noir, whose best results are attained in the region of Alto Adige first and foremost, and then in Lombardia and Valle d’Aosta. This is hardly a surprise considering how finicky a grape variety Pinot Noir is compared to the great versatility and adaptability of Chardonnay grapes.

Elena Walch, A.A. Beyond the Clouds DOCWith that said, let’s get down to the recommendations, starting from our mini-tour of Italy showcasing some of my all-time favorite Italian Chardonnays:

  • Les Crêtes, Valle d’Aosta Chardonnay Cuvée Bois DOC from Valle d’Aosta (100% Chardonnay; in my view a phenomenal wine with a wonderful bouquet of wildflowers, jasmine, pineapple and butter – hats off to the producer who invested the energy and resources necessary to achieve a density of 7,500 vines/HA in the vineyard used to create this magnificent wine)
    *
  • St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Chardonnay Sanct Valentin DOC from Alto Adige (100% Chardonnay; with scents of Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and almond)
    *
    Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGT
  • Elena Walch, Alto Adige Beyond the Clouds DOC from Alto Adige (“predominantly” Chardonnay blended with other white grape varieties based on a proprietary recipe; with scents of peach, pineapple, almond, butter and vanilla)
    *
  • Jermann, W? Dreams Venezia Giulia IGT from Friuli Venezia Giulia (97% Chardonnay, 3% other grape varieties kept it a secret by the winery; with aromas of Mirabelle plum, citrus, vanilla and a smoky hint – a special note of merit to the producer who achieved a density of almost 8,000 vines/HA in the vineyards used to create this excellent wine)
    *
  • Tenute Folonari, La Pietra Tenute del Cabreo Toscana IGT from Toscana (100% Chardonnay; with scents of peach, butter, honey, hazelnut and flint)
    *
    Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT
  • Castello della Sala, Bramito del Cervo Umbria IGT from Umbria (100% Chardonnay; with fine aromas of wildflowers, pineapple, Mirabelle plum, butter, vanilla and hazelnut)
    *
  • Planeta, Chardonnay Sicilia IGT from Sicily (100% Chardonnay; with complex and elegant scents of wisteria, peach, apple, honey, butter, vanilla, hazelnut and chalk)

Finally, these are some of my favorite Italian Pinot Noirs for their quality to price ratio (note that all of the wines below are 100% Pinot Noir):

  • Elena Walch, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Ludwig DOC (with scents of rose, wild strawberry and plum)
    *
    Elena Walch, A.A. Pinot Noir Ludwig DOC
  • St Michael-Eppan, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Riserva DOC (with aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry and soil)
    *
  • Manincor, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Mason DOC (with scents of wild strawberry, raspberry and cranberry)
    *
  • Hofstätter, Alto Adige Pinot Nero Mazon Riserva DOC (with aromas of wild strawberry, cherry and cranberry)
    *
  • Muri-Gries, Alto Adige Blauburgunder Abtei Muri Riserva DOC (with scents of wild strawberry, cranberry and plum)

That’s all for now – enjoy some good wine and as always let me know if you get to try any of these wines!

Muri Gries, A.A. Blauburgunder Abtei Muri Riserva DOC

WineNews from Planeta Vino ;-)

I am glad to share with you a few interesting pieces of news that I have received from the guys at Planeta, one of the truly outstanding Sicilian producers who have marked the rebirth of quality winemaking in Sicily since the Nineties. Planeta has quite a differentiated offering of wines, with traditional peaks of excellence in their Sicilia IGT Chardonnay and Cometa wines (the latter being made out of 100% Fiano white-berried grapes) and very solid performers in their Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (on which, see our Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing post) and Syrah “Maroccoli” Sicilia IGT, to name a few.

Well, on to the news:

  1. Planeta’s latest addition to its array of wineries just became fully operational this year: it is called Feudo di Mezzo and is located on the slopes of Mount Etna (Sicily’s notoriously active volcano). This latest property complements Planeta’s four pre-existing Sicilian wineries: Ulmo in Sambuca (1995), Dispensa in Menfi and Dorilli in Vittoria (2001), Buonivini in Noto (2003).
  2. The 2012 harvest from Planeta’s Mount Etna vineyards is the first one to be processed at the new Feudo di Mezzo winery, where four of Planeta’s wines will be produced: (i) two Sicilia IGT wines, a Carricante IGT and a Nerello Mascalese IGT, from the Sciara Nuova vineyard (which features an excellent density of 5,000 to 10,000 vines/HA and lies outside of the Etna DOC area), in which Planeta’s enologists have been experimenting by adding small quantities of Riesling and Pinot Noir (respectively) to the base grapes; as well as (ii) an Etna Bianco DOC wine made from white-berried Carricante grapes and an Etna Rosso DOC wine made from black-berried Nerello Mascalese grapes.
  3. A first “pilot” batch of just 6,000 bottles of the 2010 Nerello Mascalese Sicilia IGT, the first vintage from the Sciara Nuova vineyard, has recently been released. It is made out of 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes (unlike future releases which might be blended with Pinot Noir), it has 13.5% VOL and it is supposed to have an “intense and elegant aroma” coupled with well-defined tannins: I hope I will be able to lay my hands on a bottle of it and get to try it for myself next year, when hopefully volumes will be greater.
  4. The first vintage of Planeta’s first Spumante Metodo Classico has also been recently relased: Planeta’s first attempt at a Classic Method sparkling wine is a Sicilia IGT wine made out 100% Carricante white-berried grapes from their Montelaguardia vineyard on Mount Etna, rests on its lees for 15 to 18 months and is available only in the Brut variety. It is supposed to give out fine pear, grass and mineral aromas and to be “vibrant and lean on the palate“: I would certainly be interested in giving this very peculiar wine a try, if I can get hold of a bottle.
  5. The guys at Planeta reported that the recently completed 2012 harvest had peaks of excellence in the Menfi and Sambuca vineyards, yielding amazing quality in their red wines, especially Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Cabernet Franc, which are rich and varietal with an excellent tannic structure. In the Noto and Vittoria vineyards the harvest was also memorable for Nero d’Avola, thanks to the dry and cool month of September. Planeta’s 2012 Nero d’Avola is said to exhibit structure, balance, bright colors and exuberant nose accompanied by high alcohol, which makes them “expect unique Cerasuolo and Santa Cecilia wines.” Definitely something to be looking forward to!

For more information, please refer to Planeta’s Web site or contacts.

As always, let me know if you get to try any of these wines and want to share your views on them. Cheers!

Veal Skewers – Recommended Wine Pairing

As a good pairing to Francesca’s tempting veal skewers, I suggest going for a full-bodied red wine with defined (but not aggressive) tannins, good acidity and smoothness – I would pick either a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Nero d’Avola (the latter in homage to the Sicilian roots of Francesca’s recipe). Let’s take a closer look to each of them.

Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. The presence of Montepulciano vines in the Abruzzo region has been documented since the XVIII century and nowadays it accounts for almost 50% of the vines that are grown in Abruzzo (Montepulciano is also the fourth most cultivated grape variety in Italy). Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary quite significantly (although it must be recognized that, in the last fifteen years or so, there has been a conscious effort on the part of most producers to raise the average quality of the wines made out of Montepulciano grapes), so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.

In Abruzzo, the use of Montepulciano grapes is permitted both in the only local DOCG appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, which requires the use of 90% or more Montepulciano grapes, in addition to a maximum of 10% of Sangiovese grapes) and in all of the Abruzzo DOC appellation except only Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC which is reserved to white wines mostly made out of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (also known as Bombino Bianco) grapes. All of the wines which we are about to recommend fall within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation, which encompasses an area surrounding the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo and which requires the use of 85% or more Montepulciano grapes in the winemaking process.

Among the best Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with a solid quality/price ratio are Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (with aromas of violet, plums, blueberries, blackberries licorice); Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “S. Martino Rosso Marina Cvetic” DOC (with scents of violet, rose, blackberries, cherries, cocoa, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg); Pietrantonj, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cerano” Riserva DOC (with aromas of cherries, wild berries, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa); Dino Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ilico” DOC (with scents of blackberries, cherries, tobacco, leather, licorice, soil, slightly oaky); Torre dei Beati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cocciapazza” DOC (with aromas of rose, violet, cherries, plums, blueberries, redcurrants, licorice, cocoa): unfortunately, Torre dei Beati does not have a Web site as at November 2012: as usual, should you be interested in reaching out to them, just drop me an email. All of the above wines are varietal, that is made out of 100% Montepulciano grapes.

Nero d’Avola 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 “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).

The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of 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, but many among the best products 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.

These are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios: Feudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA); Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals); Cusumano, “Noa'” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate) or also very good “Sagana” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of wild cherry, anise, chocolate, leather, tobacco), even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA; Planeta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – once again, kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA); Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with scents of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out).

Enjoy, and as usual let us know by leaving a comment below if you happened to try out any of the wines mentioned above or should you wish to suggest a different pairing!