Sunday, October 27, 2019

An Evening of Food and Wine at Firriato's Baglio Soria

A week ago I returned from an amazing destination trip to Sicily thankfully hosted by the Firriato winery.  I hadn’t been to Sicily in almost 20 years since I visited Palermo and Taormina.  I had always said if I returned I would love the opportunity to visit Mt. Etna and to better understand these highly talked about volcanic wines of Italy. 
Firriato winery of Baglio Soria
There is no better way to understand the culture, food and especially terroir of wine unless you experience it for yourself first hand.  I’m going to share my trip in a 3 part approach starting with an overview of the history of Firriato and their Baglio Soria estate.  In future blogs I’ll discuss their volcanic wines of Mt. Etna and finish the series with a special treat highlighting their unique vineyards on the island of Favignana.         

When we think of wine history there are wineries that have been producing wines generation after generation for centuries.  Although Firriato was established in 1984 by Salvatore and Vinzia di Gaetano, the amount that they have accomplished and where they are headed is mind boggling.  I’m not so sure our host, Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato the COO of Firriato, ever sleeps.  His father-in-law started the winery on the western side of Sicily in Trapani.  They have 6 estates spanning 470 hectares (almost 1,200 acres) spread throughout the island, mostly on the western side.  Their vineyards are located on 3 different terroirs:     

The mountains (Mt. Etna)  
The sea (the island of Favignana)  
The hills of Trapani 
Italian wine blogger press trip of Scily
That’s why its easiest to break down my trip into a few different parts as each estate produces very different styles.  Federico informed us that there are 12 different soils in the world and Firriato has 7 of them right there in Sicily.  All of their 40 labels across the 4.5 million bottles produced are certified organic and they are even the first winery in Europe to get a certification on carbon neutrality in 2018.  Just an example of what that means: they have lowered their green house gas emission by 41% and 90% of their products come from recycled products.  To be a winery of Firriato’s size it impresses me their efforts to achieve such accomplishments.    
Firriato Baglio Soria wine estate Sicily
Upon arrival to Trapani I visited Firriato's estate, Baglio Soria, for an aperitivo set up high on the hill overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the Aegadian islands for sunset.  Breathtaking!  As Federico joked it was impossible for someone to say no to an engagement with that setting!  
Aegadian islands near Trapani

Firriato's Baglio Soria wine tasting

I wasn’t able to stay right at the Baglio Soria resort due to it being fully booked, but every resort/winery we visited owned by Firriato was so beautifully built and cared for.  I tasted through a number of their wines that evening prior to dinner including the following: 
  • 2018 Firriato Altavilla Grillo Sicilia D.O.C. - This wine spent 3 months on the lees plus another 6 months in bottle.  First produced back in 1988 this wine was very light bodied, clean, crisp, lemon nose with a nice acidity.   
  • 2018 Firriato Jasmin Zibibbo Sicilia D.O.C. - I really enjoyed this wine.  A gewurztraminer type nose with nice aromatics, spice and hints of peach and jasmine also showing through on the palate.  Light body with nice acidity.  This wine spends 3 months fermenting stainless steel and 2 months in the bottle.   
  • 2018 Firriato Quarter Vitis Bianco IGT Terre Siciliane (catarratto, inzolia, carricante and zibibbo) - I’m always intrigued by blends, especially those with this many grapes.  It tends to add many layers and characteristics to the wines.  All the grapes except the carricante that comes from the Etna side are from the area.  The aromatics of the zibibbo grape were showing on the nose with stone fruit.  More towards medium body this wine was well balanced displaying nice fruit with a lingering sapidity on the finish.  Aged in stainless spending 3 months on the lees. 
  • 2014 Firriato Santagostino Baglio Soria Rosso IGT Sicilia (nero d’avola and syrah) - This is Firriato’s flagship wine and the most exported with a production of about 400,000 bottles.  It spends 1 years in French and American oak.  I can see why this wine sells so well.  Very enticing aromas of blackberries and spice.  Bright acid up front on the palate with moderate tannins with some grip.  Dark berries, vanilla, cedar and tobacco notes with a long finish.   
  • 2014 Firriato Quarter Vitis Rosso IGT Terre Siciliane (nero d’avola, perricone, frappato and nerello cappuccio) This wine spends about 10 months in both French and American oak lending the typical vanilla nuances combined with rich in cherries, licorice, spice and a juicy palette with round tannins.   
  • 2013 Firriato Harmonium Sicilia D.O.C. Definitely the pick of wines that stood out to me when I tried Firriato wines for the first time earlier this summer.  The three women on the label represent the 3 single vineyards that the nero d’avola grapes are harvested from.  This vintage was actually the most awarded Sicilian wine according to Federico.  The grapes are seperately vinified and aged and blended before bottling.  Aged 1 year in French and American barrique.  This wine shows juicy plums, blackberry and baking spice on the nose.  Great acid and well-integrated tannins with an elegant finish. 
  • 2014 Firriato Ribeca Perricone Sicilia D.O.C. Firriato is actually the first winery in Italy to produce 100% perricone.  Perricone is a difficult grape to grow, late ripening and difficult to vinify due to the tannins.  It was almost extinct due to phylloxera at one point and is only found in the area around Trapani.  Rich in dark fruits, great acidity and sturdy tannins with the oak showing on the finish lending vanilla nuances, but elegant. 
  • Firriato L’Ecru Passito of Zibibbo IGT Sicilia I’m a sucker for finishing a meal with a good dessert wineFirriato uses a unique process they developedi n 2005 called the infusion method where the harvest the grapes in 2 stages with one part drying the grapes and the other part late harvested.  The aromatics of the zibibbo in this wine are to die for and it’s concentrated flavors rich in apricots with a medium body, not too syrupy as some and not too light either. 
    Process of drying the zibibbo grapes
About half of their production is red and half white wines.  Although I enjoyed all the wines from the tasting if I had to pick some of my highlights it would be the Jasmin for whites along with the Harmonium and Perricone for reds and of course the passito to end the tasting.  

The evening was topped off in their restaurant with the talented young chef, Chef Andrea Macca, that served up these amazing dishes paired with all the Firriato wines of course.  My visit to Baglio Soria was a real pleasure and I really look forward to the next two upcoming features on Firriato’s wines of Mt. Etna and the Island of Favignana.  Stay tuned!     


*This trip was sponsored, but opinions and views are all my own.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Merlot Pairings for #MerlotMe Month

It's been a whirlwind start to October.  October holds a number of reasons to celebrate for me.  For personal reasons it's my birthday, wedding anniversary and one of my favorite holidays.  On the flip side it’s Italian Heritage Month and #MerlotMe month.  This year I was completely honored with the samples that I received from participating wineries.  This meant lots of sampling and brainstorming for pairings to go with each.  On top of it all I leave Sunday for my 10th trip back to Italy for a press trip to the island of Sicily.  Happy Birthday to me! 

So what is #MerlotMe month?  October is International Merlot Month and the hashtag #MerlotMe was created to spread love across the wine world for this beloved grape.  #MerlotMe is celebrating it’s 7th year since it was started and our Wine Pairing Weekend group has teamed up to provide a wide variety of samples pairings to go with merlot.  Let’s get started! 

Thirteen bottles later I wondered what was the best way to tackle this.  To say the least lots of cooking, crazy kids running around the kitchen and lots of wine pouring.  It was a feast of merlot!  I paired up 2-4 bottles per dish and although they really all were great in their own way I had my favs of each night.  There was no method to the wine pairing selection as many of these wines were new to me.   

2018 Rutherford Hill Rose of MerlotAs a sipper to get things started I began with the 2018 Rutherford Hill Merlot Rosé.  Rutherford Hill is located in Napa Valley and is part of the Terlato Family Winery.  Although we’re in the heart of fall here in New England it doesn’t mean that we need to stop drinking rosé.  This was a dry rose’, refreshing, very smooth on the palette with lots of peach and some citrus.  A slight tingle of acidity on the finish leaving a nice crisp lingering flavor.  ABV 13.5% SRP $34 

Merlot Pairing #1 ~ Pulled Pork 
I’m not ashamed to admit that being short on time this past week called for a slow cooker night.  Having participated in a number of these #MerlotMe events I felt pork was the way to go with a couple of my dishes this year.  Going lighter on the sauce with the pulled pork allowed these wines to shine.  With lots of vegetables from our CSA farmshare I was able to prepare some zucchini with a couple of my dishes as I’m trying to encourage my little ones to eat them.  #failure 
2015 Rutherford hill merlot pairingMerlot food and wine pairing

Slow cooker pulled pork with merlot
  • 2015 Rutherford Hill Merlot – This merlot is blended with cabernet sauvignon and syrah.  Ripe black cherries on the nose.  Medium-bodied with moderate tannin and beautiful cherries and plums on the palette with some vanilla.  A well-balanced wine.  ABV 14.5% SRP $34   
  • 2017 J. Lohr Los Osos Merlot – This wine comes from Paso Robles made of 82% merlot, 16% malbec and 2% cabernet sauvignon.  Aromas of cherry and blackberries.  I enjoyed the fruit on this one.  Medium-bodied and balanced displaying violet, blackberries with a touch of tannin and oak on the finish. ABV 14% SRP $15 
  • 2017 Decoy Merlot – Decoy falls under the Duckhorn Vineyards brand and this Sonoma County wine comes from quality that can be enjoyed in its youth.  Made of 96% merlot with 4% cabernet sauvignon aged in 100% french oak.  Lots of licorice and herbal notes on the nose.  An interesting palette, almost a cherry cough syrup taste.  Not what I’ve experienced in the past with this brand.  ABV 14% SPR $25  
  • 2016 Seven Hills Winery Merlot – Coming from the Walla Walla Valley of Washington. The nose was initially lighter making it tricky to decipher some of the aromas, but with time opened up to green pepper, raspberry notes.   Bright fruit, plums, currants and blackberry with nice acidity and spice.  A nice silkiness with some tannin and oak showing up on the finish.  I actually didn’t taste this one with the pulled pork as it came in too late, but I wish I had a chance to pair it with a dish.  ABV 14.% SRP $25 

Merlot Pairing #2 ~ Classic Meatloaf 
Nothing says home cooked meals like some comfort food.  What I love about meatloaf is that you can always play with the way its prepared with adding ingredients or how it is dressed on the top. Nothing far outside the norm on this dish, but I loved how these 2 choices went so well with it. 
Meatloaf pairing with Merlot
  • 2017 Bonterra Merlot – It's been years since I’ve had a Bonterra unfortunately and won’t be the last.  Made from organic grapes and a SRP of $16 this was definitely a favorite of mine in the lineup.  With a small blend of petite syrah and malbec added the wine was aged 1 year in French and American oak.  With aromas of plums and blackberries on the palette this wine was rich in dark fruit with toasty, vanilla and spice nuances.  ABV 14% 
  • 2016 L’Ecole Walla Walla Valley Merlot – I enjoyed both of the merlot wines from L’Ecole in  Washington state.  This wine hails from 2 of L’ecole’s prime vineyards, Ferguson and Seven Hills Vineyard.  A dense wine rich in dark fruits and tobacco notes with a solid backbone of acidity.  ABV 14.5% SRP $37 
Merlot Pairing #3 ~ Boneless Pork Chop with a Fig Sauce and Risotto 
I love when a dish comes out like I was hoping and this was my favorite pairing of all.  The fig sauce stole the show and combined with the pork and these wonderful merlot selections it was a win wine all around.  Although it was a close call on my favorite pairing of the three the Duckhorn inched out to lead the pack.   
Merlot pairing with boneless pork chop with fig sauce risotto
  • 2016 Seavey Vineyard Merlot – This merlot from Seavey Vineyard in Napa Valley is blended with 5% cabernet sauvignon and aged 100% in french oak.  Lots of layers to this full-bodied wine.  Aromas of blackberries and blueberries.  Silky and round on the palette with a hint of green bell pepper.  ABV 14.% SRP $65 
  • 2016 Duckhorn Merlot – Duckhorn is a wine I’ve tried over the last few years and always seems to impress.  Duckhorn Vineyards is located in Napa Valley and this wine is a blend of grapes from their own estate as well as select independent growers.  Plums, raspberries with toasty notes a rather full-bodied wine with elegance.  ABV 14.5% SRP $56 
  • 2015 Markham Vineyards Merlot – Another winery I’m familiar with in prior years and I was a big fan of the red fruit aromas in the glass on this one.  A wine with structure displaying black cherry and ripe raspberries, vanilla, tobacco, cedar notes and moderate tannins.  ABV 14.5% SRP $55 

Merlot Pairing #4 ~ Turkey Burger topped with swiss cheese and sauteed portobello mushrooms 
I wish I paired this dish with angus burgers instead of the turkey burgers as they turkey lends a certain taste to the dish and I feel the other flavors would have paired better.  The portobello mushrooms were a must though as this always seems to be a natural pairing with merlot.   
Swiss Turkey Burger with Sauteed mushroom merlot pairing
  • 2018 Casillero del Diablo Merlot Riserva  - This was the only wine I tasted out of country coming from The Central Valley appellation in Chile.  It was noticeable the difference in taste where the other wines were more fruit forward.  Medium in body displaying blackberries, currants, raspberries and spice with vanilla and oak showing on the finish.  ABV 13.5% SRP $12 
  • 2016 L’Ecole Merlot - This other merlot from L’Ecole comes from the Columbia Valley, the largest in eastern Washington state.   A blend of 78% merlot, 16% cabernet franc, 3% petit verdot and 3% malbec. Aged for over 18 months in small oak barrels.   In comparison to the L’Ecole Merlot from the Walla Walla Valley I found this wine to shower brighter red fruits.  Nice acidity and well balanced.  Both beautiful wines and this one only priced at $25.  ABV 14.5% 
  • 2014 Northstar Merlot - A second time for me featuring this wine in a different vintage.  Also coming from the Columbia Valley of Washington state.  Made of 76% merlot and 24% cabernet sauvignon.  More towards fuller bodied lending on the side of dark fruits including lush black cherries and plums with some herbal notes and spice.  ABV 14.5% SRP $41 

Plenty of merlot food and wine pairings with my fellow food and winelovers below.  Join us live on Twitter this Saturday 11am EST with #WinePW and enjoy some Merlot throughout the month of October.  I can't wait to hear some of your favorites!


*All wines were provided as samples, but opinions are strictly my own.