Saturday, April 29, 2017

Italian Grapes in the Finger Lakes of Upstate NY

It's always my mission to find wineries in the US producing wines from Italian grapes grown on American soil. I had always taken a trip to upstate NY to the Finger Lakes wine region for many years annually, but had taken a break over the past 5 years as I had traveled to some other places around the world. It was nice to make it back here and we couldn't ask for better weather and accommodations as I write from our beautiful villa right on the water of Seneca Lake in Geneva. 

A couple days prior to my arrival the Seneca Lake Wine Trail called out to my attention that Ventosa Vineyards located in Geneva at the top of Seneca Lake was working with a few Italian grapes. I had been to Ventosa Vineyards years ago, but this was well before my wine blog so I really couldn't recall the wines that they produced. Thankfully a private tasting and tour was arranged for myself and family with their winemaker and vineyard manager, Jenna Lavita. 
As Ventosa Vineyards states that their winery is “a taste of Tuscany in the Finger Lakes”. Upon arrival you can't miss this massive, gorgeous villa that is eyecatching from route 96A. The winery was established eleven years ago and the owners are Italian lovers themselves taking trips often over to Italy, but providing folks with a Tuscan setting right in the Finger Lakes as well. They produce about 3,000-3,500 cases on 22 acres. The owners believe in finding peace in the craziness of wine life within their vineyards therefore the vineyards are sacrosanct, blessed by the priest and located around the property and within the vineyards themselves are religious statues all around.
The tasting we had with Jenna on their patio overlooking their vineyards below and Seneca Lake was a treat. Jenna was such a pleasure to spend time with. She actually graduated from the local college, Williams Smith, back in 2008 and learned winemaking under the winemaker of Fox Run Vineyards, Peter Bell. She had actually gone to school for law, but making friends and getting acquainted with the wine industry drew her in. It's amazing to me how many folks I have met in the wine industry had previously been lawyers. I guess that profession leads you to drink converting many on it's journey ; ) She also owns a small brewery in town as well, Lake Drum Brewing. 
Jenna Lavita
We tasted through many of their wines, but of course I was mostly interested in the Italian grapes they are working with: pinot grigio, tocai friulano and sangiovese. To see Italian grapes grown in such a cold climate area is rather interesting and I only remember coming across 1 other vineyard in the Finger Lakes wine region working with Italian grapes, Red Tail Ridge produces a teroldego grape, which I didnt get to revisit on this trip. 

There are about 3 acres planted to the pinot gris grape. The 2015 Ventosa Vineyards Pinot Gris is a very easy drinking, clean, light bodied wine with green apples most prevalent on the palate. The interesting wine for me was the 2014 Ventosa Vineyards Tocai Friulano mostly found in the wine region of Friuli in northeastern Italy. I know this sounds crazy, but I picked up almost pickle juice on the nose. It's partially aged in American oak imparting tropical notes into the wine. Lower on the acid scale the wine had more weight than the pinot gris. We finished with the Ventosa Vineyards Tocaice, which is their ice wine made from the tocai friulano grape. They don't freeze the grapes on-site, but instead take them to Ontario to a commercial freezer where they are frozen for 1-2 months. They are pressed onsight though at Ventosa Vineyards with a hard press (2.5 bars) over 24 hours to extract as much juice as possible. They usually get about 150 gallons from 3 tons of grapes. For those with a sweet tooth and that enjoy a dessert wine at the end of your meals this had nice rich honey and orange zest notes. An unctous wine indeed!
Following the tasting we proceeded to the production facility underneath. Walking through the vineyards it was just the start of bud break for a few of their grapes including sangiovese, pinot and chardonnay. The last few winters have been colder in the Finger Lakes and many wineries having been losing their primary buds. 
bud break
For me the highlight was the Ventosa Vineyards Owners Reserve Sangiovese. We tasted their sangiovese in the fermentation room comparing the 2011 and 2012 vintages. I preferred the 2011 vintage as it was more similar in style to that of Tuscany than the 2012. It was drier in style where the 2012 showed more ripe red fruit. The 2011 had more earthiness and dried fruits, which is personally more my style. It's medium bodied and aged in American oak for 2.5 years plus an additional year in bottle. These sangiovese had soft tannins.
Overall, it was a great way to start the day and taste the difference of Italian grapes grown on American soil in the Finger Lakes region of NY. 
My son learning how to smell wine

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wines Around the World with Dave Phinney and Locations Wines

The concept behind the Locations brands is one of creative thought.  Dave Phinney, co-owner and winemaker, started Locations with the vision to create wines that represent not just a particular wine region of a country, but a whole country in and of itself.  Dave has traveled to wineries worldwide meeting with some of the finest winemakers to source their best fruit to ultimately produce a wine representative of that country.  There are so many rules and restrictions when it comes to winemaking in particular winemaking areas and regions that Dave’s goal is to have creativity and freedom without being held by these rules and regulations.  Their targets are low yields and old vines from some of the highest quality vineyards with forward thinking growers.  Dave’s motto is based on “simple, complex and fun”. 
Dave Phinney Locations wine
Dave Phinney
The beginnings of Locations
Dave’s journey began as he was visiting France in 2008 due to the intrigue of a friend’s discovery of a vineyard in Maury located in southern France.  This area borders Spain and was an area that hadn’t really been discovered yet.  Dave ended up purchasing this vineyard of 300 acres of vines and began producing single vineyard wines. It made me laugh the beauracrcy we face in the United States as Dave mentioned that he was able to get permits and build a winery in France in 6 months where in Napa it would take 6 years. As he ventured all around France the concept of blending grapes from other winemaking parts of the country peaked his interest.  Of course this isn’t allowed by the AOC laws and if a  wine was to be created this way it would need to be without a vintage date and only be listed as a table wine.  Two years later as Dave was saying goodbye to his friend at the airport and they were discussing more of these frustrations a license plate showing the later F forced a lightbulb to go off in Dave’s head and what if they made wine in many other countries than France with the same blending ideas.  Locations was created!

dave phinney locations wine italian red wine blendDave stated that 95% of the winemaking takes place in the vineyards. It's all about finding great vineyards, getting the right crop and picking at optimal times. Every vintage the blends are similar and sourced from similar areas without changing it up too much and going outside the lines. The wines are vinified and bottled in their country of origin. Locations now produces wines in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Corsica and the United States (CA, WA, OR and TX). They're about to release a vermentino from Corsica and a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand as well as rose' from France. Dave wouldn't be surprised as well if a sparkling wine is in their future also. Location's first vintage in 2011 totaled around 15k cases. The different vintages are labeled by numbers with the first vintage labeled as 1 and so on and so forth.

The most touching part of the virtual meeting with Dave was when one of the bloggers asked Dave of his proudest moment. Getting choked up and taking a minute or two to gather himself, Dave simply explained it was during the time of when he had nothing but a plain business card with his name on it and how he wouldn't put winemaker on it unless someone hired him. Starting off as a young, struggling winemaker and fighting to get where he is today still gets to him. For me it was beautiful to see humble pride one feels from their own accomplishments. 
Locations Italian red wine
Of course I was intrigued by the Italian red wine that Locations produced because how can one choose from the large amounts of indigenous grapes grown all throughout Italy and make a wine representative of a whole country.  Dave studied abroad in Florence, like myself, and when he started Locations he traveled to Italy for 2 years without finding a profile for the wines there.

Locations Italian red is based primarily on nero d’avola and negroamaro grapes from Puglia, specifically Torricella and Manduria, as well as some Barbara from Alba in the Piedmont region.  There is also a bit of nero d'avola, dolcetto and sangiovese. It’s aged in barrel 10 months before release.  The wine incorporated everything including juicy, ripe blackberries paired with good structure acidity and solid tannins.  According to Dave some wines cellar better than others obviously, but Italy is the most serious of all the wines for him. It has the most structure.
Locations Italian red wine blend
With these wines having a SRP of $18.99 it’s amazing the efforts put forth behind the scenes to produce wines of this caliber with such affordability. Dave's completed our virtual tasting sharing that he gets to taste amazing wines, visit amazing vineyards and people from all over and it never gets old. It's these experiences that get him out of bed every day to share with you these wines from “locations” all around the world.


*all wines were received as samples, but opinions are my own. Pictures were sourced from Balzac Communications and Locations Wine.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Vino Travels turns 4!

I can't believe it, but another year has passed and Vino Travels is celebrating it's 4th year of existence. It's been a long journey venturing through the map of Italian wines and we're not even close to done. This past year has brought one of the greatest gifts and blessings to my life, the birth of my first child, my son Remy. Navigating through raising a newborn while also trying to educate and share my adventures has been a challenge, but I appreciate all you sticking with me. 
wine blogging about Italian wine
My new life combined with Italian wine of course
A look back over the last year and what Vino Travels has been involved in:
  • Attending wine dinners, wine events and online virtual tastings immersing myself in not only Italian wine, but also wines from around the world
  • Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel (#ItalianFWT) group continues to grow and expand monthly incorporating all 20 regions of Italy with a different feature the first Saturday of every month
  • I've written articles for a number of different magazines and publications including Primo Magazine, L'Italo Americano, the Bostoniano, We The Italians and more.
I already have a couple big happenings lined up so far to start off my new year including a trip to upstate New York to the Finger Lakes wineries at the end of April. I used to travel to this area annually and haven't been in a few years and is actually how I first fell in loe with wine. I recently received an invitation to travel back to Italy in June and spend a couple days with the Pasqua winery in the Veneto region located specifically within the Valpolicella wine making area. Plus, I may stay a couple extra days and venture around as I love to explore and the more I see the more I can bring to you.
As always I love hearing from my readers. Want to know more about something? Have an idea that you'd like to see presented in an upcoming article? Just want to say hello and send me your comments? Please don't be afraid or hesistant to shoot me a message. It's what drives me and keeps me going. Here's to another year with more to come! Thank you everyone! Grazie a tutti! 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Easter Celebrations in Puglia

Our Italian Food Wine & Travel group today is sharing with you traditions, foods and wines for Easter in Italy.  I’ve been to Italy many times, but never during the Easter holiday season.  So what better way to get the best perspective on how Easter is celebrated in Italy than reaching out to fellow bloggers, Orna of her blog Orna O’Reilly, and Tom of The Palladian Traveler to get each of their own perspectives.  Both recently moved from the Veneto region in northern Italy to Puglia in the south so we’ll mostly be highlighting this region today, but of course every region has their own traditions and ways of celebrating.

First off, Orna gave me her perspective on some questions I asked of her.  So let’s begin!

What is the best way you would describe how Easter is celebrated in Italy?
The emphasis here in Italy is on the combination of food and family. And the more of both, the better! Easter is traditionally a huge family occasion with all generations sitting down together around the table and feasting. 

How do you typically celebrate Pasqua in Italy and what are some of the Easter dishes enjoyed? 
Easter in Italy is a great family holiday occasion with many families travelling long distances in order to get together for a few days of feasting and celebration. Religious festivals abound and traditional foods such as lamb, including its innards, are on every table. 

Typical Easter dishes begin at breakfast time and consist of a breakfast of sweet and savory breads, hard boiled eggs and casatiello, a type of bread containing hard boiled eggs in their shells. 
Easter casatiello
breakfast for Easter in Italy
A typical Pasqua breakfast
Easter lunch usually consists of a continuation of the foodie marathon beginning with corallina salami accompanied by sweet and savory breads called pizza di pasqua.
Easter breakfast of corallina salami
Cheeses and corallina salami

Easter dishes in Puglia pizza di pasqua
Pizza di Pasqua

Next is a plate of pasticcio (lasagne) filled with fresh asparagus, followed by coratella di agnello - lamb 'pluck' (veal innards) and a dolce of crostata di frutta (fruit tart).
coratella for Pasqua
Pasquetta - Easter Monday -  consists of more feasting with the extended family sitting down together at the longest table imaginable. Usually there are many tables pushed together and many signoras happily doing the cooking together and rushing around with heaped plates of food, while babies are perched on high chairs and parked in their buggies alongside their mammas. Needless to remark, it can get quite noisy!

Typical cakes are served after the meal: colomba (cake shaped like a dove) and campana di pasqua (cake shaped like a bell).
Colomba for Easter
What are the suggested wine pairings with these foods?  
Here in Puglia I would begin with an aperitivo of rosato frizzante, for example the Leone de Castris Five Roses Metodo Classico.   

I would pair my antipasti with fiano from Villa Schinosa.  For my meat courses I would choose aglianico, also from Villa Schinosa. These are two of my favorite wines since moving to Puglia. 

For dolce I would wind up my meal with vino passito Le Recordanze from the vineyard of Cosimo Taurino. 

Pasquetta is just like Easter Sunday except it's usually MORE!! 

Orna also spoke with a local lady from the town of Ostuni about Puglia and we’re lucky to hear her thoughts on Easter in Puglia as well below.

She described Holy Week in Puglia as being dedicated to Easter religious services and a pretty busy week for all Pugliese.

On every Easter menu here you will find eggs, a symbol of fertility, and lamb, which in religious terms means 'Lamb of God'. 

Puglia has a culinary tradition which is strongly linked to what produce is yielded by their fertile red soil, depending on the season. Easter dining, therefore, comes with vegetables and fruits in season, along with the wonderful Pugliese extra virgin olive oil. 

Beginning with the appetizers/antipasti on Easter Sunday, there is what is known as the Benedict.  The Benedict is a typical Foggia dish consisting of boiled eggs blessed by the priest during Easter Mass and eaten with salami, fresh ricotta and asparagus which is typical of this season. 

There are also Easter Turnovers, which are fried and stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese. For first (primi) course, the traditional food is often tiella, a type of pie made with rice, potatoes and mussels. Lamb or kid invariably served for the second (secondo) course, cooked in many different ways. In Foggia it's all about the broth made from pieces of kid, usually served with boiled asparagus, beaten eggs and grated cheese. In Trani, lamb is served with peas and grated cheese. Typical of the Murgia plateau is delicious browned lamb with tomato slices and cardoncelli mushrooms, all served with beaten eggs and grated pecorino. 

However, the real stars of the show are the Easter desserts. Scarcelle are simple cookies of different shapes, synonymous with children's parties. These are usually in fun animal shapes, covered with different colored icings and sugar and given to ones friends at Easter.  There are also pastatelle, little cakes prepared only with local olive oil and filled with homemade jams as well as mustacciuli, typical of Taranto, which are almond biscuits with chocolate icing. 

If all that wasn’t enough to get you salivating we have Tom’s delicious suggestions.  These are dishes that Tom has enjoyed this time of year and are ideas for the perfect feast in Ostuni where he resides.

Along with the centuries-old religious traditions, la cucina povera (the poor kitchen) pulls out all of its zero-kilometer ingredients as Pugliese from all corners of Italy's heel enjoy a bounty of foods, sweet and savory, that are traditionally eaten during this time.

Aperitivo: Ursi Bianco Frizzante, a bubbly blend of Verdeca (85%) and Chardonnay (15%) from the Leone de Castris Estate in Salice Salento in the province of Lecce.

Antipasti: A true bounty of flavors opens the Easter feast featuring zucchini flowers tempura stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies, a flan of peas and ricotta topped with a warm fondu of cacio cavalo cheese, mozzarella and roasted almonds, fried breaded wild mushrooms, thin slices of the prized capo collo (cured ham from the pig's neck) from Martina Francasaut├ęd meatballs stuffed with mint, crushed wheat with white trufflesrustic wild-onion focaccia bread, homemade taralli seasoned with dry fennel, and DOP cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil for dipping.
Wine pairing: Falanghina, a robust white varietal from the Villa Schinosa Estate near Trani in the province of Bari.

First course: Tortelli made with farro wheat (spelt) flour stuffed with cream cheese and nuts and topped with black truffle shavings, and orecchiette (little ear pasta) in a lamb ragu topped with grated pecorino cheese.
Wine pairing: Parchitello, a rich, aromatic Bombino Nero rosato from the Giancarlo Ceci Estate in Andria in the province of Barletta.

Second Course: Roasted black pork ribs coated with honey, and slow-cooked leg of lamb with sides of artichokes, turnip tops, spring peas and roasted potatoes.
Wine pairing: Castel del Monte Reserva, a deep, ruby-red DOCG-rated Nero di Troia varietal from the Torrevento Estate near Corato in the province of Bari.

Dolce: Sporcamuso (a cream-filled puff pastry topped with powdered sugar), crostata (pie) filled with ricotta and pears, and a crunchy fennel and apple salad topped with a dollop of plain yogurt.
Wine pairing: Le Ricordanze, a Salento sweet passito, from the Cosimo Taurino Estate in Guagnano in the province of Lecce.

Easter crostata in Italy
I think after all that we need a trip down to Puglia for next year’s Easter.  What do you say?!

Wait!  There's more!  Here are a variety of other Easter dishes and wines to enjoy.  If you catch this in time, chat with us live this Saturday April 1st on Twitter at #ItalianFWT @ 11am EST.  

Jen from Vino Travels features Easter Celebrations in Puglia
Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla features Il Verdetto di Pasqua + Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Riserva Carignano
Susannah of Avvinare features Easter Traditions in Rome
Jill of L'Occasion features 5 Italian Easter Dishes and Wine Pairings
Gwendolyn of Art Predator features Easter Bread and other Italian Traditions Paired with Wine
Mike of Undiscovered Italy features Colomba di Pasqua
Li of The Wining Hour features A Quaint and Peaceful Pasqua in Pienza

Join us next month on May 6th as Gwendolyn from Art Predator hosts Italian Sparkling Wines.  See you then!


*All pictures copywright of Orna O'Reilly.