Friday, October 9, 2020

Fall is Here! Warm up with a Merlot and Pot Roast Pairing #WinePW

October is my favorite month between the season change to fall enjoying that crisp, cool air, my birthday, anniversary and one of my favorite holidays.  What’s not to love!  Pumpkins and apples are in abundance and if you’re like me your brain starts to shift to thinking of more hearty recipes to pair with red wines.  This year marks the 6th anniversary of #MerlotMe month dedicated to you guessed it, Merlot.   

Merlot is one of the world’s most popular grapes.  It’s a soft, approachable wine, deeply colored, medium to full-bodied rich in berries, plums and occasional chocolate.  Depending upon how it’s produced the wines may have additional layers of vanilla and spice from oak aging.  Climate plays a major factor in the results of these wines whether they are grown in cool or warm climates around the world. 

Last year I had received quite the array of Merlot where I suggested MerlotMe pairings, but this year I received only one and it was nice to be able to focus on the one winery, L’Ecole.  Life has been quite challenging lately so I appreciated the break.       

The Winery ~ L’Ecole 

L’Ecole is a winery located in the Walla Walla Valley of Washington state.  The winery was founded in 1983 by Jean and Baker Ferguson whom really laid the groundwork and made a name not only for themselves, but the region as well.  They were the 3rd winery in Walla Walla and the 20th commercial winery in Washington state at that time.  The name L’Ecole No 41 derives from the French word for school.  Many French-Canadians settled in the area in the early 1800’s.  The Schoolhouse building you’ll find on their labels is located in the town of Frenchtown, west of Walla Walla.  The number 41 is the district number in which it is located. 

Megan and Marty were newly married when Megan’s family started the winery.  They were living in San Francisco at the time and would travel back to take part in the harvest.  They decided to move permanently to the area in 1989 and today work fulltime at the winery with their children, the third generation.  Marty is current winemaker and co-owner.   

You will find that their Estate Seven Hills Vineyard and Estate Ferguson vineyards are certified sustainable.  L’Ecole has received countless awards including being named Top Winery of the Year fifteen times by the Wine and Spirits Magazine.   

The Wine  

The 2017 L’Ecole No 41 Columbia Valley Merlot is a blend of Merlot grapes from a number of their older vineyard sites.  Their Columbia Valley line of wines are dependable quality showing the typicity of the region’s wines.   The Columbia Valley is the largest appellation in Eastern Washington.  The grapes are hand harvested and racked to small oak barrels (30% new oak) with 4 rackings aged over 18 months.  The wine is made of 81% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc, 3% Malbec and 2% Petit Verdot. A full-bodied, structured and layered Merlot with lush black raspberries and plums with a touch of baking spice.  ABV 14.5% SRP $25 

L'Ecole Columbia Valley Merlot with pot roast

The Pairing ~ Pot Roast 

With so much stewed meat from a local farm we purchased I thought it would be great to try pairing this Merlot with pot roast.    Being on vacation this week at our vacation home in the Great North Woods of New Hampshire we took day trips with the kids so I definitely pulled out the crockpot for this meal.  Trying to balance a bunch of things all the time I have no shame in using one when needed, especially when the result was this tasty dish.   With this Merlot being rather hearty it stood up well to the flavors in this dish.  Beef in a variety of preparations has always proven to pair well with Merlot. 

What are your thoughts on Merlot?  Love it or hate it?  

Plenty more Merlot coming your way with my fellow food and wine lovers.  Join us live on Twitter this Saturday at 11am EST at #WinePW.  We look forward to seeing you there! 

 

*This wine was provided as a sample, but opinions are my own.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Eye Openers to the Wines of Moldova #WorldWineTravel

I recently tried my first wines from Moldova back in July of this year.  I was excited to get a second opportunity to taste more when our newly established group of familiar faces at #WorldWineTravel will be venturing off to explore wine from all over the world.  I have a feeling there will many more firsts to come for myself and I look forward to taking you with me on this journey.  

If you're like I was a couple months ago you may have been scratching your head wondering where exactly Moldova is.  It is after all the smallest country in Europe so it's no surprise that you probably can't pinpoint it's location.  It's landlocked in South Eastern Europe between Romania and the Ukraine with close proximity to the Black Sea.

It's a wonder many of us aren't familiar with wines from Moldova as their wine history dates as far back as 3000 B.C. The Republic of Moldova actually has the highest density of vineyards in the world.  Seventy three percent of the wine produced in Moldova are from international grapes like the Bordeaux blend I'm sharing below from Purcari, but they do produce about 10% of their own indigenous grapes that you will see later like Viorico and Feteasca Alba.  

Moldova continues to invest in its wine industry so it will be interesting to continue to watch them develop.  In 2018 they received a large investment of $20 million to put towards vineyard plantings, modernizing their wineries and for market development.  Let's see what the future holds for Moldova, but so far the wines have been eye opening for myself.

wines of Moldova

The Wines

2015 Chateau Purcari Rosu de Purcari - A Bordeaux blend made of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot and 15% Malbec.  This winery has a long history established in 1827.  Their wines have been served to the Royal Courts of Europe for 150+ years.  The grapes are hand harvested and this wine spends 18 months in French oak.  Deep ruby in color with garnet hues.  The nose is rich in prunes and blueberries with vanilla nuances.  A full-bodied wine with good acidity, juicy blackberries and blueberries with a velvety finish.  ABV 13.5% SRP $40

I paired the Chateau Purcari Rosu de Purcari with beef pot pie.  I had actually never prepared a pot pie with beef and had always used chicken.  This was a nice change with some added diced up celery and carrots.   During the height of the COVID pandemic we bought a 1/4 of a cow from a local farm and had lots of stewed meat so it was the perfect choice for this wine.  The Radacini I had tried in July and you can read from my previous post.

Beef pot pie with Moldova red wine

2018 Castel Mimi Feteasca Alba - Feteasca Alba is an indigenous grape to Moldova.  This wine is from the Codru appellation.  Pale straw colored in the glass with mostly citrus notes on the nose.  This wine is light, crisp and refreshing with mostly citrus and a hint of peach.  ABV 13% SRP $19

2018 Suvorov Viorico -  Suvorov was established in 1998 and the winery is named after a historical monument, the hill of Suvorov, from the Russo Turkish War.  This wine is made of 100% Viorica in the Stefan Voda appellation.  Viorica is a popular female name.  These grapes are also hand harvested.  Pale straw in color with a very aromatic nose, florally with notes of peach and a little grassiness.  Very light in body with a refreshing acidity and peach lingering on the palette.  ABV 13% SRP $18    

I paired both of these indigenous whites of Moldova with lobster ravioli with some added shrimp.  Both served as a nice compliment to the dish and I kept the sauce simple with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and butter.  

Lobster ravioli with shrimp

Join my fellow food and wine lovers as they deepen your discovery into the wines of Moldova.  We will be chatting live this Sunday at 11am EST on Twitter at #WorldWineTravel.  Please join in!  This weekend Moldova is also hosting their 18th National Wine Day October 3rd and 4thth at their capital in Chisinau.  It's an opportunity to taste wines from over 60 producers and learn more about the culture and traditions of Moldova.  Although many of us are still not traveling it may be something to keep in mind for future years, but they are also hosting virtual events if you can't make it in person. 

 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Interview with Ben Spencer and I Custodi Etna Rosso Pairing with Fried Eggplant Topped with Fresh Tomatoes and Ricotta #ItalianFWT

Volcanic wines are the rare gems of Italian wine.  With so many dormant and active volcanoes that still exist today in Italy like Mt. Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvius, there are a wide variety of volcanic wines to try from North, Central and Southern Italy. 

My last trip to Italy in October of last year I achieved a trip off my bucket list to walk the vineyards of an active volcano when I visited Sicily hosted by the wonderful team at Firriato.  Our fearless leader and COO of Firriato, Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato, took us on a journey hiking up one of the trails of Mt. Etna at Monti Sartorius an area that hosts ancient craters from the explosion and lava flow from 1865.  The area around Mt. Etna has rather frequent eruptions and in fact while staying at the winery with views of Mt. Etna there was frequent smoke coming out the top.  Federico assured us this is much better to see it active like that than the silence when you don’t know what may be coming next.   
Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato
Federico showing the volcanic bombs that fly through the air from the volcanoes
Mt. Etna has an ever changing landscape and I noticed that from the hike and walking through the vineyards of Firriato where the soils were different everywhere you turned.  This area can face extreme climate changes with very hot summers, potential high winds at time and snow in the winter.    All these factors, in particularly the various volcanic soils in which these vines grown in, are what make the volcanic wines of Italy so unique. 
Monti Sartorius Sicily

A fellow wine loving friend and Piedmont wine tour guide, Valerie Quintanilla, earlier this year introduced me to Benjamin Spencer,  American writer now living in Sicily with a background in viticulture and enology now living in Sicily.  He is also founder of the Etna Wine School and author of his recent book “The New Wines of Mount Etna”.  I did an interview with Ben to provide his expertise and insight into Mt. Etna and what makes the wines produced there unique.   I've been reading through the book it provides in depth detail into all facets of Mt. Etna including the grapes, soils, history and plenty more.

1) What attracted you to the wines of Etna and writing this book? 

My first visit to Etna in 2007 was a real eye-opener. I had been making wine in California for years by then. We used designer yeasts, expensive oak barrels and long hang-times to make wines that impressed customers, clients, especially critics. On Etna, the producers were making wines that intentionally respected the terrain, the old indigenous vines that had grown on the volcano for centuries, and the variables of each vintage. It was a novel and ancient way of looking at wine, but the aromas and flavors were also nervous and edgy, mineral, fresh, and exotic. Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot of information about Etna wines. After that first trip to Etna I bought every Etna wine I could find, and I fell in-love with them. But there still wasn't a lot of reliable information about how or why the wines were so inviting. I'm a curious person. After we moved to the volcano in 2012, I just started asking questions and looking for connections. That's why, in The New Wines of Mount Etna, I talk about everything from pirates to volcanic soils and clouds. On Etna everything matters.     

The New Wines of Mt. Etna Benjamin Spencer 

2) How do wines produced on one side of Etna differ from another? 

There are a lot of variables on Mount Etna. The volcanic cone stands 10,000 feet above the east coast of Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea. This is a warm and humid area. But the Etna DOC is located — from 400 to 100 meters above sea level — the weather is more temperate. Over the last 200,000 years, innumerable volcanic events have altered the landscape like the remnants of melted wax on an old candle. The hours and intensity of sunlight changes with the aspect/angle of each vineyard. The weather changes frequently, based on the slope and elevation. For example, we have twice as much rainfall on the eastern third of the mountain than we do on the rest of the mountain. Vineyards on the southern half of the mountain have longer exposure to direct sunlight, whereas the vines on the north see more deflected light during the spring and fall. These subtle changes can influence the intensity or elegance of a wine. We're also noticing how the age and composition of the volcanic soil can influence profile of a wine (fruitiness, tannins, color). Etna is a fantastic place to learn about wine. I learn something new every day, because the producers are also learning  

3) What are some of the biggest changes in Etna's wine history to where it stands today? 

Etna's history of winemaking is layered. Throughout the centuries scores of grapes were brought to the island. Some of these relics remain here today. Others were lost to time. For centuries, white and black grapes were fermented together in field blends. The reason for this was to give flavor and complexity to wines that were made in palmento — gravity-operated wineries built from lava stone. Those fermentations were hot and fast, and the wine was quite rustic and oxidized. Following World War II, wineries started experimenting with equipment used in the dairy industry, like stainless steel tanks and temperature control systems. This was a game changer. It made it possible to make better and more stable wines using fewer grape varieties. As the years passed, the equipment and science of winemaking also improved. With it, came the formation of the Etna appellation and recipes for modern wines based on the most prized traditional varieties: Carricante (w), Nerello Mascalese (r), and Nerello Cappuccio (r). With these elements in place, wineries began to focus on quality and innovation.           

4) What are some of the benefits and challenges to growing grapes on Mt. Etna? 

Etna is a fantastic region for making wine. Due to the high elevation of most vineyards, grapes ripen slower and more evenly than other places in Sicily, resulting in more elegant wines. Volcanic soils change from neighbor to neighbor, so the potential for variety is omnipresent. Water and sunlight are plentiful too, as are the essential nutrients in the young volcanic soil. Vines thrive here. By law, Etna vineyards are not irrigated, so the entire vineyard landscape is fully sustainable and every vineyard is managed by hand. These are all great points, but over-fertility can be a problem in rainy years and drought was an issue in 2012 and 2017. Etna producers make wine at the whim of Mother Nature, but Mamma Etna also has an occasional say. An emission of volcanic ash can cover a vineyard in sand, or in some cases erase it from the earth under a field of lava. (See attached photos of the 1971 eruption in Fornazzo and the 1981 eruption in Randazzo).      

Volcanic wines of Mt. Etna
An active morning at Mt. Etna
5) Tell me about the Etna Wine School including its purpose and mission. 

Etna Wine School is very much a school without walls. After I completed the WSET Diploma in 2011 and moved to Etna the following year, I began offering organized lectures about Etna's volcanic wines. Shortly thereafter the courses moved into the vineyards and wineries where students could speak directly with Etna producers and learn about the practicalities of making wine on Europe's largest active volcano — with guided tastings, of course. From there I began including full-day experiences and multi-day programs that included exploring the volcano and wine together, plus options for journalists and members of the wine trade who were looking for wines to import. Now, I'm launching our online courses and certificate programs for anyone who'd like to study Etna without having to travel to Sicily. In the end, every online class and in-person experience is dedicated to learning about the world of Wine through an Etna lens. This has been my mission since day one. There's nowhere else in the world I would rather be.   

The Wine 

The wine I’m sharing today is from I Custodi delle Vigne dell’Etna.  The winery was founded by Mario Paoluzi under the guidance and expertise of Salvo Foti, whom has a long history of producing wines on Mt. Etna.  The name I Custodi derives from the custodians of the vines of Mt. Etna.   

The wine I’m sharing today, Pistus, comes from the vineyard, Moganazzi.  The landscape is aid out in an amphitheatre shape lined with dry stone walls facing the Nebrodi Mountains.  It’s located North of Etna in Castiglione di Sicilia at about 2300 feet above sea level.  As the center focal point is located an ancient palmento or press house.  The winery doesn‘t use chemicals or synthetics, but I didn’t see anything about particular certifications they have achieved.         

I Custodi delle Vigne dell’Etna 2017 Pistus Etna Rosso DOC – The word pistus means pressed.  This wine is made of 80% Nerello Mascalese with 20% Nerello Cappuccio.  The age of the vines are rather young at only 10 years old.  The original vines were 50 years old before they were replanted.  This wine spent maturation in stainless steel for 9 months with an additional 2 months in the bottle.  Medium bodied with aromas of blackberry and black cherry.  The darker berries are juicy and fresh on the palate with some earthiness and spice to the palette.  I like the choice to not use oak on this wine and let the profile of the Nerello grapes shine.  ABV 13.5% SRP $26

2017 I Custodi Pistus
The Pairing 

When I think of eggplants I always think of Sicily.  My trip there last October proved how they’re such a part of the local cuisine as I had it served frequently in a variety of styles, all delicious.  I paired the 2017 Pistus Etna Rosso with fried eggplant topped with freshly chopped tomatoes, a dollop of ricotta and grated pecorino with a sprinkle of parsley.  Simple, but delightful.  

Fried eggplant with Etna Rosso

For my volcanic wines around Italy follow along with my fellow wine lovers below.  If you catch us in time we will be chatting live about these volcanic wines this Saturday on Twitter at 11am EST with #ItalianFWT.  See you there!