Donnafugata Ben Ryé

In some strange and decidedly unscientific way, there are two kinds of wine.

There are those wines that make you forget; streets you’ve walked down, dirty, wide or narrow, unique as they are, houses you’ve lived in and how you were rich or poor in them, stones you’ve thrown into the water as a barefoot child, what is real and what is false.

Then there are the wines that make you dream; visions of great cities and palaces, sailing routes across ancient seas, golden mosaics, secret passageways, the ruined and the glorious.

Every once and a while, you find a wine whose emotional impact makes you do both.

Ben Rye, Donnafugata, Jose Rallo

Such is the case with Ben Ryé, a naturally sweet white wine from the island of Pantelleria, produced by Donnafugata.

Named from Arabic for “Son of the Wind”, in reference to the constant wind sweeping Pantelleria’s grape clusters, Ben Ryé is produced from the native Italian wine grape known as Zibibbo or Moscato di Alessandria.

Grown in volcanic, mineral rich soil at altitudes between 20 and 400 meters, grapes are selected and hand-harvested into crates, and undergo a period of withering. Fermentation is carried out in temperature controlled stainless steel tank. Dried grapes, de-stemmed and hand-selected, are added to fresh must in batches. The wine is aged in stainless steel for 7 months followed by an additional 12 months in bottle.

I’ve been fortunate to experience Ben Ryé on many occasions, and recently, while in Verona at Vinitaly 2016, I had an opportunity to taste Ben Ryé poured by José Rallo of Donnafugata, with time for a photo as well.

Tasting Note:

Honeyed fig and apricot, orange peel, citrus, caramel and pistachio nut, Mediterranean scrub bush. Remarkably balanced, penetrating harmony and unique freshness. Insanely long finish. An excess of deliciousness.

Enjoy Ben Ryé with desserts like ricotta-filled cannoli or as an accompaniment to quiet time … reading, listening to music, falling in love … and certainly … to forgetting and dreaming 😉

The Grandi Marchi Experience: Symphonic

The Grandi Marchi – visionary winemakers from across Italy – are here today at Del Posto Restaurant in New York City to lead attendees through a seminar and guided wine tasting of some of Italy’s best terroirs.

Like the Philharmonic minutes before a concert, the “orchestra” Grandi Marchi, is tuning up.

Barolo
As Grandi Marchi members take their seats, tasting glasses clink and jangle, papers rustle, polite chatter and excuse me’s whispered one after another.

Audience iPhone camera shutters clllick away.

Anticipation.

What follows is to be an immensely informative seminar, with each producer/representative speaking with subject matter expert authority about their respective regions, production methods, and unique terroirs.

I won’t kid you – the tasting segment is ridiculously pleasant. And massively instructive. The elegance, vigor, joy and pleasure of Grandi Marchi wines is remarkable.

Vistamare
But, for anyone who is familiar with the Grandi Marchi – member names that include the likes of Gaja, Masi, and Antinori – icons of fine Italian wine – that much is not unexpected.

What has so impressed me at this Grandi Marchi tasting – more so than any single wine or producer – is that, as a group, the wines braid together 13 different appellations and 15 wineries in a way that speaks so vividly, so sonorously, of Italy’s rich and diverse wine tradition.

To put it another way, perhaps in musical terms, the Italian wine tradition is composed not of a single tone, but from many different tones which, as in good music, allow us to experience the symphony.

There are no short cuts to understanding Italian wine. There are, however, some very good places to begin the Sassicaiajourney. Grandi Marchi wines represent a point of departure that grant you exposure to a highly relevant cross-section of Italy’s most important grape varietals and regions, act as model reference points for what wines ought to be like within their respective categories, and help to communicate the cultural values and traditions that unite them.

For more information about the Grandi Marchi, I recommend you to follow the link to Grandi Marchi Institute of Fine Italian Wines.



Aglianico: Do-It-Yourself

Aglianico: Do-It-Yourself

For those of you pursuing an indie do-it-yourself wine education (Really, who else can do it for you?), you might like to take time to explore one of the great and most important grape varietals of Italy’s south, Aglianico.

You’ll probably notice pretty quickly two confounding things about Aglianico: a) that you won’t find it in every wine shop and, b) that when you do, you will likely encounter Aglianico wines from varied regions such as Campania, Sicily, Molise, Puglia, and Basilicata to name a few.

tenuta-del-portale-le-vigne-a-capanno-2009-1All the aforementioned regions produce noteworthy expressions of Aglianico and you must try them eventually. But, do yourself a favor: begin your exploration with Aglianico from Basilicata, Aglianico del Vulture to be specific (takes its name from the region’s dormant volcano Monte Vulture), or from Campania’s Taurasi appellation (named for one of the production area communities), as those two expressions of Aglianico generally set the bar for important Aglianico reference points.

Brief geography: Basilicata is that part of the Italian peninsula that forms the ankle on the boot. You can locate that pretty easily. With only slightly more effort, to find the area for Taurasi, zero in on the Province of Avellino in Campania and you’ll have the place (Hey, don’t complain, I did say “brief” geography, remember? It is do-it-yourself, afterall). Separated by just 40 or so miles, the very common denominator relating the del Vulture and Taurasi production zones is the volcanic soil on which they are situated and in which Aglianico seems to thrive.

I can offer a thumbnail sketch of how the Vulture and Taurasi wines compare: well, actually, I hate doing this kind of broad brush thing, because there are always exceptions, but as you force me:

Aglianico del Vulture wines tend to be wines of complexity and detail, with dark and red fruit tones underlined by mineral character (volcanic, right?) and firm, often dusty tannins, while Taurasi – again, generally speaking – is perhaps the more structured of the two, also has the mineral thing going on, a wine that can show incredible depth and a finish that can go on forever. When cellared, Aglianico wines from either del Vulture or Taurasi areas will reward your patience.

Descriptors for wines from either zone could include red cherry, black cherry, plum, violets, smoke, meat, leather, vanilla, cocoa, menthol and tobacco, and no, that is not a definitive list. Foodie’s will appreciate that Aglianico’s naturally high acidity makes it a great food wine (and also balances alcohol levels that can be north of 14%).

Recommended, reasonable price points and pretty good trade distribution as far as I know:

Bisceglia Aglianico del Vulture
Tenuta Portale Le Vigne a Capanno Aglianico del Vulture
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi
Terredora di Paolo Taurasi Fatica Contadina

Occhipinti Sicilia Bianco 2010

Him: how will I know I am in Istanbul if I cannot see ?

Her: you will smell the sea, hear the call to prayers, the cries of seagulls …. ( Thank you, F 🙂 )

Sometimes I think, as did Judy Collins about clouds (Both Sides Now), that I really don’t know wine at all.

occhipinti-sicilia-biancoTransported by Arianna Occhipinti’s Sicilia Bianco 2010, I sit, eyes closed, unable to see, smelling the sea, hearing cries of seagulls sounding very much like the opening notes of Bon Iver’s lovely cover of a Bonnie Raitt tune.

The power of wine to conjure memory and emotion, to transport us, remains to me a beautiful mystery.

Nonetheless, I remain gratefully willing to go.

Tasting Notes:

A personality of ocean-like calm intensity. Scents of shore grass, lemon, honey, herb and perspiration seem to capture the bittersweet saline perfume which clings to your skin after a day at the seaside. Light in the mouth, yet structured, finishes with a subtle sensation of tannin-laced minerals. Intriguing, fascinating, charming. Let it be said: Arianna Occhipinti continues to raise the bar for natural wines.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Totally enjoyed this wine with Pacific salmon, couscous with petite peas and onion, spinach with garlic / olive oil. ( See Related Post for other food ideas . )

Related Post: Two Wines from Arianna Occhipinti
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Two wines from Arianna Occhipinti: Sicilia Bianco 2009, Nero d’Avola e Frappato 2009

Two wines from Arianna Occhipinti: Sicilia Bianco 2009, Nero d’Avola e Frappato 2009

Sprezzatura, that Italian word which refers to the art of doing something difficult with nonchalant ease, echoes its meaning in Arianna Occhipinti’s SP68 Bianco Sicilia and her SP68 Nero d’Avola / Frappato.

occhipinti-sicilia-bianco-nero-davola-frappato-2009In true sprezzatura fashion, I found both wines to be effortlessly fresh, focused, natural in style and attitude, approachable yet serious, flirtatious and fun.

The SP68 adorning the bottle label, I’ve read, gives a nod to a road used often for vineyard travel which passes nearby Vittoria in Sicily, the hometown of Occhipinti whose passion for wine was inspired in part by uncle Giusto Occhipinti, a partner of the well regarded Sicilian winery COS.

Arianna practices biodynamic methods, eschewing chemical interventions, to produce her wines from indigenous grapes with approximately 5 hectares under vine.

Occhipinti Sicilia Bianco 2009

Occhipinti’s SP68 Bianco Sicilia 2009 is made from Albanello and Moscato di Alessandria (regionally known as Zibibbo) grapes grown at 280m altitude in medium sand soil with a limestone component. Maceration on skins is carried out over 15 days. The wine spends six months in steel tanks and one month in bottle and is bottled unfilitered.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

I felt as though I had stepped through some thin atmospheric membrane into Sicilian air scented with lemons and exotic cardamom. Citrus, honey, pistachio and herb on a deliciously dry, almost tannic palate that keeps magnificent balance. A beguilingly good wine.

We enjoyed this Sicilia Bianco with farro pasta tossed with eggplant, pistaschio, shrimp and tomato. Broccoli rapini with garlic olive and salt. Sheep’s cheese with rosemary rind.

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Occhipinti SP68 Nero d’Avola

Occhipinti’s SP68 Nero d’Avola / Frappato 2009 is made from vineyard and soil conditions similar to those noted above for SP68 Bianco, with winemaking following a like course, however, maceration in this case extends to 30 days.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

As elegant and classy as anything I’ve tasted from Burgundy, this wine stirs the emotions with fantastically fresh raspberry, cherry, pomegranate, cinnamon and herb underlined by delicious minerality. Simply precious.

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Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2008

Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2008

Seats in the upright position, please.

Buckle safety belts low around your waist.

Taxi to runway for take-off.

And then…the incredible lightness of flight.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2008 is so about lightness of being that you may need a boarding pass to experience it 😉

tenuta-delle-terre-nere-etna-rosso-2008The estate of Tenuta delle Terre Nere, owned by Marc de Grazie [ yes, the US fine wine importer ] and located on the north side of Sicily’s Mount Etna, represents an area of Sicily set to redefine the thinking of anyone who believes that words like complex and finesse are incongruous with Sicilian wines.

Tenuta delle Terre Nere makes its Etna Rosso from Nerello Mascalese (98%) and Nerello Cappuccio, varietals capable of producing wines with the airy, ethereal, complex characteristics we associate with Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo.

Grapes are grown in volcanic soil at high altitudes (650-900 meters or so) where wide differences in night / day temperatures encourage elegant character and perfume.

Vineyards are farmed organically in an environment naturally low in pests. Vinification is carried out in steel followed by 6 months aging in steel and wood.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Pretty ruby color and a perfume of red berries, flowers, spices and a hint of balsam that glides above an effortlessly elegant palate seemingly unrestrained by gravity. Good structure and sturdy tannins give great definition and foundation.

Wine lovers who admire the wines of Burgundy or Italy’s Langhe will appreciate this wine.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

MEATS: red and white meats, grilled or roasted, especially lamb, veal, chicken or turkey; if you are a fan of Asian food, do not miss pairing this wine with Beijing duck served with Mandarin pancakes brushed with hoisin sauce; VEGETARIAN: vegetarian lasagna; baked squash casserole topped with toasted bread crumbs and Gruyere cheese; INDIAN: try this wine with mildly spiced mixed tandoori grill or a roganjosh dish; CHEESES: medium aged cheeses.

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Tasca d’Almerita Lamuri 2005, Sicilia IGT

Tasca d’Almerita, Producer Profile:

It’s said that the inspiration to complete the opera Parsifal came to composer Wagner under a giant banyan tree at the grand residential estate of the Tasca d’Almerita family.  Who said there is no connection between wine and music! 🙂

Founded in 1830, the 1200 acre Tasca d’Almerita estate is owned by the aristocratic Tasca d’Alermita family and is located just more than an hour south of Palermo in Sicily.  The family has been making wine for 7 generations and produces 15 or so different wines based on both native and international grape varietals. Approximately 40% of production is exported.

The family history extends back to the 19th century, but it was Count Giuseppe who overcame the trend of bulk production which dominated Sicilian wine making.  Instead, the Count innovatively pushed ahead with a vision that encouraged experimentation and quality over quantity, beginning a new chapter in the family wine business.

Although technologically advanced, the company “mind” is still focused upon history, culture, and especially quality: meticulous care is administered year round in the fields and cellar.  And the family has engaged wine consultant Carlo Ferrini to provide the impeccable guidance for which he is famous.

In the estate vineyards, as vines are replanted every year, vine ages span from 1 to 40 years. Vines are predominately grown on espalier and pruned by single or double guyot.  The area microclimate is ideal, with days and nights ushering in and out significant transfer of heat and the higher elevation of Tasca d’Almerita vineyards allowing slower, gradual ripening and maturity of the grapes.

lamuri-labelTasca d’Almerita Lamuri 2005, Sicilia IGT

Nero d’Avola is the main red varietal of Sicily, producing deeply colored wines that respond well to maturation in oak barrel and have good ageing potential.  Nero d’Avola is bottled as 100% varietal and is often partnered with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot for blending.

Lamuri is made from 100% Nero d’Avola grapes grown from 10-15 year old vines sited in sandy soil at 450m – 750m elevation.  Maceration in contact with skins is carried out over 12 days.  After fermentation in stainless steel tanks, the wine is aged for 12 months in French Oak (20% new, 80% second and third passage).

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

With a polished, gem like ruby red color and redolent of berry fruit, herbs and spice, this wine oozes posh sophistication.  An irresistably sensuous, soft velvet core on a palate of concentrated fruit underscored by good acidity and outlined by silky, but sturdy tannins. Finishes long with a last lick of vanilla spice.  An incredibly well made wine, stylish and balanced, a proverbial “finger pointing to the moon” suggesting just how good Nero d’Avola can be without sacrificing terrior.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Meat:  roasted meats, especially lamb or pork;  Pasta:  pasta dressed with pesto or red sauces, baked pasta, especially lasagne with ricotta & red sauce; Cheeses:  ricotta salata, pecorino, provolone;   Also Consider:   Eggplant parmigiana; Arancini with ragu;    To Note:  This is another great wine candidate for pairing with mild to medium spicy dishes of India, Asia, and the Meditteranean !

Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2007, IGT

Tasca d’Almerita Regaleali 2007, IGT

tasca-dalmerita-regaleali-2-thumb1It’s said that the inspiration to complete the opera Parsifal came to composer Wagner under a giant banyan tree at the grand residential estate of the Tasca d’Almerita family.  Who said there is no connection between wine and music! 🙂

Founded in 1830, the 1200 acre Tasca d’Almerita estate is owned by the aristocratic Tasca d’Alermita family and is located just more than an hour south of Palermo in Sicily.  The family has been making wine for 7 generations and produces 15 or so different wines based on both native and international grape varietals. Approximately 40% of production is exported.

The family history extends back to the 19th century, but it was Count Giuseppe who overcame the trend of bulk production which dominated Sicilian wine making.  Instead, the Count innovatively pushed ahead with a vision that encouraged experimentation and quality over quantity, beginning a new chapter in the family wine business.

Although technologically advanced, the company “mind” is still focused upon history, culture, and especially quality: meticulous care is administered year round in the fields and cellar.  And the family has engaged wine consultant Carlo Ferrini to provide the impeccable guidance for which he is famous.

In the estate vineyards, as vines are replanted every year, vine ages span from 1 to 40 years.  Vines are predominately grown on espalier and pruned by single or double guyot.  The area microclimate is ideal, with days and nights ushering in and out significant transfer of heat and the higher elevation of Tasca d’Almerita vineyards allowing slower, gradual ripening and maturity of the grapes.

The Regaleali Sicilia is made from Inzolia, Grecanico, and Catarratto grapes.  A 15-day fermentation is carried out in stainless steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation is left undeveloped.  The wine is kept for an additional 3 months in stainless steel before bottling.

Tasting Notes / Impressions:

Regaleali has a bright, straw yellow luminesence, as if a bit of Sicilian moon and sun had combined with the wine.  Generously fruity notes of citrus, peach, and melon flow over delicious, racy acidity and good minerality.  Great balance and a persistent, clean, fresh finish. Elegance and drinkability at unusually good value for money.

Food Pairing Suggestions:

Seafood and Seafood Pasta of all types, especially:  Tuna or Swordfish steaks with capers, olives, tomatoes, parsley or basil; Linguine with Mussels (see recipe on Vintrospective.com); Grilled shrimp; Grilled vegetables – try grilled peppers and onions on a roll, or peppers and eggs on a roll, with a salad that includes feta or fresh pecorino cheese; Regaleali will be great with many antipasti and salads; Also consider this wine w. sushi / maki / sashimi !