Friday, August 29, 2014

Dolcetto of the Piedmont region in Italy they call "little sweet one"

Late last week I sampled a variety of Italian wines that I mentioned in an earlier blog this week with a lineup of wines from Vinilandia's portfolio at The Wine Steward. The wines we tried included:

  • 2012 Cappella Saint Andrea Vernaccia di San Gimignano
  • 2011 Tola Grillo Sicilia IGT (I wrote about this earlier in the week)
  • 2007 Luigi Baudana Dolcetto d'Alba Piedmont
  • Villa di Corlo “Giaco di Viano” Rosso Emilia, Emilia-Romagna
  • Scagliola Primo Bacio Moscato d'Asti Piedmont

My favorite wine from the whole tasting was the Luigi Baudana Dolcetto d'Alba. The owners Luigi Baudana and his wife Florina reside in the Serralunga d'Alba part of the Langhe section in the Piedmont region. In 2009 G.D. Vajra family took over the family history of winemaking in the Baudana family. The dolcetto d'Alba was a beautiful medium bodied wine, soft tannins and a nice acidic backbone following by some juicy black fruit with a little bit of spiciness. 

Dolcetto grape from Piedmont
Vinilandia recommends some veal chops, game hen or some wild mushroom ravioli to food pair with it. When you're looking to pair food with wine think of food from that region the wine is from or search for what foods are from that region online. It's the best way! On September 13th I will be sharing with you a wine and food pairing group I belong to with our theme of the month, which is regional wine and food pairings. I will be featuring the Piedmont region of Italy. With Italy there are so many great food and wine regions so it's hard to chose, but I am a big fan of Piedmont and I don't think it gets the recognition that it is due.

truffles from Piedmont

If you aren't familiar with dolcetto it is one of the most popular red grapes of the Piedmont wine region in Italy along with nebbiolo and barbera. Dolcetto, meaning “sweet little one”, is mostly enjoyed in its youthfulness. It's a deeply purplish hued wine that is typically very accessible with plump juicy fruit. Dolcetto d'Alba comes from the town of Alba. It became a DOC in 1974, but there are 7 other DOC's with dolcetto including:

  • dolcetto d'Asti
  • dolcetto d'Alba
  • dolcetto di dogliani
  • dolcetto di diano di Alba
  • dolcetto d'acqui
  • dolcetto delle langhe monregalesi
  • dolcetto di ovada

I've had some really great dolcetto's from a few of these regions and for your first red wine as an introduction to the region of Piedmont a dolcetto or barbera is a great way to start. Don't miss out on their whites as well. We'll cover that some more in the future. Have a great holiday weekend and try lots of wine!

On your next voyage to Italy, hopefully Piedmont, make sure to use this beautiful and detailed map.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Grillo from Marsala, Sicily & I'm not talking grasshoppers

I went to a fun Italian wine sampling last week at one of my local wine shops, The Wine Steward. They specialize in small wineries that you may not see at all the big retailers in mass production. Kevin Powell, from Vinilandia, conducted the tasting and provided a very fun and informative tasting paired with his personal experiences meeting some of the owners in Italy himself. I'll cover a couple of these wines this week starting today with the grape grillo from Sicily.

Grillo is a grape that has always been understood for its contributions in the fortified wine, marsala. Marsala is not just the fortified wine, but is also a town located in western Italy. Most of the grillo grapes are used in production for the gold, oro, or amber, ambra, levels of marsala wines. Over the years grillo, also known as riddu, has been making it's way to being produced more as a still wine either blended with other grapes or being able to express itself solo as it was in the wine I sampled.

Marsala, Sicily sunset
Marsala, Sicily sunset by Amaya and Laurent

The struggle with this grape for production of a still wine are the temperatures in Sicily.  With the sun beating down and the hot days that the climate there provides the grapes can potentially over-ripen, hence why it's always been successful in producing the fortified marsala wines. Luckily they have sea breezes blowing in to mediate the affect of the temperatures, but it's important to harvest these grapes before it gets to that point. 

Tola winery in sicily with grillo grapeI sampled the 2011 Grillo from producer Tola. It is made of 100% grillo. The Tola family has been making wine for three generations. This grillo was soft pressed and fermented in stainless steel. On the palate it shows citrus with lemon shining through, combined with some ripe pineapple and fresh acidity. It's good to pair it with chicken or fish that has a lemon or cream based sauce.  

Tola winery in Marsala, Sicily
Tola Winery

I have another wine from this tasting that was my favorite of the evening. Next, we will be covering Dolcetto d'Alba from one of my favorite wine regions, Piedmont. Don't miss it! 

You can find more about the Italian wine regions including Sicily using this beautiful and detailed map.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Concrete and cement tanks in winemaking

Anytime I mention to some folks that some Italian wines are aged in concrete tanks I get a funny look and the curiosity sets in. Before stainless steel was introduced into winemaking in the 80's, concrete was a common method for aging or fermenting. You will find a lot of european “old world” producers still use cement today, but the idea is expanding into other parts of the world and you will find wineries in California using them as well.
Poliziano winery concrete / cement tank
Concrete tank at Poliziano winery

Benefits of cement tanks in winemaking
One of the biggest benefits to aging in concrete is the fact that the thickness and mass of the concrete creates a fantastic insulation for the contained wine. It's a less hands-on approach for the winemakers in terms of controlling the temperature where they don't have to fuss with it as opposed to the stainless steel tanks. Plus, concrete is much more cost effective than purchasing the oak barrels that hold less and have a high price tag to follow.

How does concrete affect the wine?
Typically when oak is used in winemaking it gives a lot of nuances to the wine including vanilla and butter. With the oak, some winemaker sometimes don't want the oak flavors imparted into the wine and will use older oak barrels than new barrels so that these flavors aren't as strong and overpowering.  With concrete tanks you may get a little minerality in the wine. It is similar to wood where it's a porous material. Some producers line the inside of the concrete with glass or wax so that it provides a neutral experience to the taste of the wine, plus it's easy to clean. 

A follow-up article will feature one producer in particular that uses this method in producing their wine. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Decoding and understanding how to read Italian wine labels

I once had a conversation and told someone I thought French wines were confusing including their labels. They laughed and found Italian wines and their labels much harder to understand. I think for me I'm fortunate enough to speak the language and have traveled to many regions in Italy so it's easier for me because of this knowledge. Let's face it, Italy has over a thousand grapes and living in the United States we don't always see all these grapes.  Many of them are native to Italy and these are the ones that many people don't truly understand. The best way to get to understand many of those obscure grapes is to sample them when you can and the differences between producers.  Need I twist your arm? Go to tastings and support your local wine shops. Better yet, join me on any of our all-inclusive tours to a number of regions in Italy.

In Italy there are 4 classifications that wine is classified under, but there has also been a 5th addition in the Chianti Classico wine region of Tuscany in particular called the Gran Selezione, which is the highest designation. Since that is the latest edition let's highlight the original top 4 Italian wine classifications from the most strict regulations to the least:

  • DOCGDenominazione di origine controllata garantita – this is the highest classification
  • DOC Denominazione di origine controllata
  • IGT Indicazione geografica tipica
  • Vino da tavola – table wine

These classifications are the standards that Italy holds the wineries to that need to be met in

order to classify the wines they produce for each particular class. Each level is held to different standards that involve the types of grapes being used, the percentage of each grape being used, the aging requirements, yields and alcohol content level.

For now, let's explore a bottle from a producer whom I had a great experience with on my visit to Piedmont that I look forward to writing about soon. This should give you a better understanding of what you're looking at.

Carlo Giacosa Barbaresco Piedmont

Carlo Giacosa = producer
Narin = single vineyard site
Barbaresco = type of wine 
Denominazione di origine controllata garantita = classification DOCG
2006 = vintage
Imbottigliato  all'origine dall'Azienda Agricola Carlo Giacosa di G Maria Grazia = estate bottled by producer Carlo Giacosa
Barbaresco ~ Italia = location of the wine in Piedmont

Now the tricky part about this wine is you may be wondering what type of wine it is if you haven't heard of Barbaresco (although it is one of the top wines of Italy).  Barbaresco is produced from nebbiolo grapes and you wouldn't know that exactly if it wasn't labeled that way unless you knew or asked someone. 

I've also included some common Italian wine vocab if you feel like being a student again and becoming familiar with the Italian wine language. I also feature Italian Wine Word Wednesday on my social media every week so make sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter.  It will benefit you when searching for Italian wine and observing the bottles, but there is always someone in a store to help so never feel intimidated. You could be missing out on some great wine if you don't ask.

  • Azienda Agricola (Az Agr) – estate grown
  • bianco – white
  • bottiglia – bottle
  • classico – the heart of a wine region

  • fattoria – medium wine producer
  • frizzante - semi-sparkling
  • imbottigliatto – bottled
  • imbottigliatto all'origine – estate bottled
  • nuovo - new
  • passito – partially dried grapes
  • podere – small wine producer
  • produttore - producer
  • recioto – made with dried grapes
  • riserva – aged
  • rosso – red
  • secco – dry
  • spumante – sparkling
  • superiore – high level of standards
  • tenuta – large wine growing producer
  • uva – grape
  • valle – valley
  • vecchio – old
  • vendemmia – vintage
  • vigna/vigneto – single vineyard
  • viticolture/vignaiolo – wine grower
What do you find to be the most difficult about reading Italian wine bottles?

Try one for yourself that is a little easier!  Ciao for now!
2011 Feudo Maccari Saia Nero d'Avola
You can lean more about the classification system and where all of the regions are with this beautiful map and index.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The sweetness of enjoying Moscato d'Asti

I don't know about you, but I have a sweet tooth and when I can combine that need with wine it's a win win situation.  The solution, Muscat.  There are many varieties of grapes from the Muscat family, but one of the most popular is Muscat Bianc a' Petits Grains, which is the grape that makes up Moscato d'Asti.    This variety is also known as moscato bianco in Italy or Moscato Canelli with Canelli being one of the main locations near Asti in Italy where it's produced.  

Continue learning about Moscato d'Asti in Piedmont and what you can pair it with......
Moscato d'Asti in Piedmont

You can find more about the Italian wine regions including Asti in Piedmont using this beautiful and detailed map.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Donnafugata wines and the unique grapes of Sicily

Last week I attended a wine tasting at the Tuscan Market  where I had the opportunity to meet Silvio, whom is the North American Director for the Donnafugata winery of Sicily. Silvio is also a certified sommelier by the Italian Sommelier Association (AIS). 
Wine tasting at Tuscan Market with Donnafugata Silvio di Silvio
Silvio of Donnafugata

Giacomo and Gabriella Rallo with Jose and Antonio
Rallo family, Left to Right: Antonio, Giacomo, Gabriella and Jose'
The Donnafugata winery holds 160 years of experience with owner Giacomo Rallo combining his experience with his wife Gabriella and her experience in the industry. The two combined, along with their two children Jose' and Antonio, are one of the limited wineries in Sicily that produce estate grown wines. Only 2% of wines produced in Sicily come from estate grown wineries according to Silvio. The rest are produced by cooperatives.

Donnafugata vineyard in Pantelleria Sicily
Terraced hills of Pantelleria
Donnafugata, translating to “woman in flight”, references Queen Maria Carolina, whom during the time of Napoleon's arrival in Italy, fled the area and resided in the place where the winery stands today. There are 3 areas where Donnafugata grows its grapes including Pantelleria, Marsala and Contessa Entellina all located in southern Italy in Sicily. Marsala and Contessa Entellina are located in western Sicily where Pantelleria is an island off the coast of western Sicily. The Marsala sight is the main establishment where all the wines are aged and bottled. 
Donnafugata vines
Weather of Sicily
Sicily's weather consists of considerable differences in day and night temperatures that allow them to produce aromatic and mature grapes in their vineyards. The vines, as shown here, in Pantelleria are low, broad bushes so that the grapes don't get fried by the sun and have a canopy of leaves to protect them.

Wines of Donnafugata

One of the eye catching things about Donnafugata wines are their labels, which were created by Gabriella. The woman on the label is actually a self-potrait of Gabriella when she was in her 20's. I tasted a full flight of wines from their two whites, Athilia & Lighea, to their 3 reds, Sedara, Tancredi and Mille e Una Notte, finishing with their dessert wine, Ben Rye. My favorites from the tasting that I want to share with you are the two whites and the red Tancredi.

Donnafugata Lighea with zibibbo grapesI chose both whites because they both had unique qualities. The Donnafugata Anthilia is made of a grape indigenous to Sicily called Catarratto that has some Inzolia blended in. Inzolia is most similar to a chardonnay and is also known as ansonica in Tuscany. Catarratto is the most planted grape in Sicily and is only found there. It's best blended with other grapes as it is in Anthilia. This wine was crisp, juicy and fresh with a little saltiness and minerality on the lengthy finish. The Donnafugata Lighea is made of 100% Muscat of Alexandria, also known as moscato bianco or known in Sicily as Zibibbo. This wine had a florally, beautiful nose and was a dry, crisp style muscat. Very enjoyable!

Donnafugata Tancredi nero d'avola
For the reds I chose the Donnafugata Tancredi. This wine consisted of mostly nero d'avola and cabernet sauvignon, but also had 10% tannat, which is typically very austere and tannic. It was very structured with intensity and the cabernet lended nice body to the wine. It's aged 14 months in barriques and another 24 months in the bottle. A great wine to pair with some food.

Wines in Sicily, Donnafugata
I can't ever pass up a good dessert wine as well and Donnafugata makes the delicious Ben Rye made from the moscato, zibibbo, grapes on the island Pantelleria.  This wine is made in the passito style where the grapes are dried to provide that deep concentration of fruit making for a very enjoyable, unctuous wine. Rich sweetness of honey and apricot.  Need I say more? 

Donnafugata's sustainability
Night harvesting of Donnafugata
Night harvesting
One of the admirable qualities of Donnafugata is their focus on sustainability. One of the biggest actions they take part in is night harvesting. By harvesting their grapes at night they save 70% of their energy that is normally needed to cool off the grapes for fermentation. They also use a lot of solar panels for energy and their latest cellar is built underground for additional savings. I have always been conscious of conserving energy and recycling, but it wasn't until my recent trip to Alaska where I saw the effects due to the glaciers retreating. I can appreciate their efforts and I hope you can too!
visiting Donnafugata winery
Underground barriques
This winery participated in the recent event, Cantine Aperte, which I recently wrote about. You must explore it if you are in Italy during May. They also have a great part of their website where you can enter what you are eating to see what wine they recommend or vice versa where you enter the wine you have purchased and they suggest recipes to pair along with it. I offered my own wine and food pairing from a Wine Pairing weekend event that I'm involved in monthly where this month's theme was “summer's bounty”. I paired some light summer appetizers with Donnafugata wines so don't miss it! 

Food pairings with the wines of Donnafugata
Pairings at Tuscan Market
Antipasti served with sicilian wines
Pairing at Tuscan Market
Tuscan Market wine tasting with Donnafugata

If you want to learn more about the unusual grapes of Sicily including the ones mentioned above check out this detailed wine grape varietal table.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Tomato, toe-mah-toe: Summer's bounty with Sicilian wines from Donnafugata

Another wine pairing weekend is upon us and what better way to finish off the summer months by sharing some of the summer's bounty whether it be from our own personal gardens, farmers market or just your local supermarket. I can't believe that we are nearing the end of our summer. Where did the time go? I personally look forward to this time of year and walking out to my garden to cut some of the fresh produce out of my own garden. Although this year I'm fighting the pesky critters that seem to enjoy sneaking in and digging holes to eat my veggies. Nonetheless, I was still able to pull some produce together to be able to create some light, simple appetizers to be enjoyed.

Today I'm sharing with you a wine from a tasting that I attended this week where I had the opportunity to meet Silvio di Silvio whom is the National Brand Director for the Donnafugata winery of Sicily. I'll be sharing a lot more information about the winery itself and their other wines on my blog next week so stay tuned.

Silvio from Donnafugata winery in Sicily
Myself with Silvio di Silvio of Donnafugata winery

I prefer to eat on the lighter side during the summer like most and wanted to share some appetizers that I shared with my family from the well known author, Frances Mayes, and her latest cookbook “The Tuscan Sun Cookbook”. I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Frances Mayes earlier this summer and taste her new line of wines and hear about her latest book. I prepared her bruschetta topped with melted red peppers in a balsamic glaze.

I prepared the bruschetta brushing it with extra virgin olive oil and rubbing fresh garlic that I slightly toasted in the oven. While the bruschetta was toasting I sauteed a few red bell peppers from the garden in a pan with chopped black olives in some olive oil along with salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. This cooked for about 45 minutes until the peppers seemed “melted”, which I then topped the bruschetta with. It was a big hit with the family and a different twist than your classic bruschetta with tomatoes. Since tomatoes are in abundance in my garden I also served a caprese salad consisting of fresh tomatoes and mozzarella topped with basil freshly picked and extra virgin olive oil.

Frances Mayes bruschettacaprese salad

With the red pepper and balsamic bruschetta I paired the Sedara red from Donnafugata because it was a great everyday wine with soft tannins and nice red fruit. The Sedara is made primarily of Nero d'Avola, but has small percentages of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and syrah blended in.

With the caprese dish I paired the Donnafugata Anthilia. The Anthilia is a white wine made primarily from a grape you may not be familiar with, Catarratto. Catarratto is a grape that is planted primarily in Sicily and is the most common grape found there. There is also some Inzolia blended in, which is most comparable to a chardonnay. This wine was drier with a nice crispiness and minerality that I enjoyed with this. There were some other great wines that I tasted from Donnafugata that I look forward to sharing with you, but I felt this was the best pairing to what I prepared.

Sedara from Donnafugata Sicily made of nero d'avolaAnthilia catarratto from Donnafugata

Wine Pairing Weekend # 3 Bloggers: Be sure to check out what my fellow bloggers have come up with for the August Wine Pairing Weekend!  Look forward to sharing more with you next month!

Pull That Cork will share "Wine for Summer’s Bounty. Will Garnacha Do the Trick?"
Meal Diva will pair "Summer Vegetable Red Sauce with Amarone"
Culinary Adventures with Camilla is posting "Pan-Seared Padròns with DeRose Vineyards' Négrette"
Grape Experiences is pairing "Cecchi Chianti Classico 2010 and Vegetable Lasagna"
Curious Cuisiniere will share "Chipotle Garden Salsa with Wild Hare Petite Sirah"
ENOFYLZ Wine Blog is posting "Grilled Paiche with Fresh Corn and Poblano Peppers"
Take a Bite Out of Boca will share "Quinoa-Crusted Eggplant and Heirloom Tomato Stacks paired with Monrosso Chianti"
foodwineclick is sharing "Summers' Bounty or Attack of the Killer Turnips?"
Confessions of a Culinary Diva will blog about "Lobster Paella and Albarino"
Tasting Pour will share "Summertime and the Cooking is Easy"
Cooking Chat is pairing "Linguine with Pesto, Fresh Tomatoes and a Sauvignon Blanc"

Join the #winePW conversation: Follow the #winePW conversation on Twitter throughout the weekend and beyond. If you're reading this early enough, you can join us for a live Twitter chat on our theme "Wine for Summer's Bounty" on Saturday, August 9, from 11 a.m. to noon Eastern Time. You can also visit our group Pinterest board to pin some great pairing ideas for later! Stay tuned for the September Wine Pairing Weekend, which will focus on "Regional Food and Wine Pairings" on Saturday, September 13.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Summer evenings in Santa Barbara with Morello wine & The Pasta Shoppe

This week I share with you Samantha Bearman whom is involved in social media and public relations of food and wine and other areas, but also is a freelance photographer, writer and lover of travel.  She shared with me her summer experiences living in Santa Barbara.  Enjoy!

Santa Barbara evenings in June, July and August are truly the epitome of summer nights. The weather is warm but the coastal breeze keeps the temperature between a cool 65-75 degrees. The city plays host to tourists both from within California and the USA to those hailing from Europe and South America. In an effort to enhance the community spirit and showcase all of the delicacies that Santa Barbara has to offer, First Thursday was born. Within the Santa Barbara Public Market the sleek, modern, glass hosting room was filled with a variety of people, couples, singles, young professionals starting their night after a hard work day, and those already enjoying their summer in Santa Barbara. 

Morello wine tasting was the first table to greet patrons as they were offered up to 5 wines to sample. The sommelier said that he liked to see people holding some wine because it made them speak slower and listen better, thus he was quite attentive to the needs of everyone in the room. He even tailored the wine tasting to several patrons who preferred only to taste white and he let them top off their glasses several times with their wine of choice. 
Pasta Shoppe Santa Barbara, CA
The Pasta Shoppe in Santa Barbara
However the big star of the night was by far The Pasta Shoppe! They had gnocchi in a pesto sauce that was light and left every plate licked clean, a flat noodle dipped in a red tomato sauce was gobbled up by those lucky enough to snag a nibble, and for those with certain food allergies there were gluten free pasta options. This was a lovely evening for the community to come and not only explore the inner workings of the Public Market – a fantastic spot for lunch, dessert, or a meeting -  but to get to know the people behind the Pasta Shoppe and create a comraderie with the local business. Many of those who visited the First Thursday event quickly made their way to the Pasta Shoppe store front and loaded up on some larger portions as well as grabbing some Morello wine for the weekend ahead. If you missed this first Thursday never fear, the Pasta Shoppe will show you the same warmth when you visit them inside the public market, their hours are Monday- Wed: 10:00am- 8:00pm, Thursday – Sat: 10am – 11:00pm and Sunday: 9:00am – 8:00pm. Also don’t think that the Pasta Shoppe is just a hot spot for lunch and dinner it is also a unique location for breakfast and drinks too! Follow them on Twitter/Instagram @eatlovepasta Pinterest: The Pasta Shoppe LLC

Pasta Shoppe Santa Barbara, CA
Pasta Shoppe Santa Barbara, CA
Pasta Shoppe Santa Barbara, CA 

Pasta Shoppe Santa Barbara, CA
All photography is compliments of Samantha Mae Photography.