Archive for the ‘italy’ Category

Last night, DGS veered away from our usual format of a long tasting at someone’s place in favor of a short and semi-formal tasting at WineStyles, a new wine store in the neighborhood. It was a delightful and stress-free night, since the folks at WineStyles were in charge of selecting the wines and the hosting, research and clean up – all we had to do was to choose a theme and show up to drink. For the night, we decided on Italian wines:

1. Sergio Spumante – This prosecco was a great hit with everyone present. Nice tight bubbles with a bit of a sweet fizz, but not overwhelmingly so. The finish was just a little tart, leaving one wanting more – a lot more.


2. Rocca Pinot Grigio – others liked the crisp and refreshingly light palate, but I like my wines with more oomph. I likened the Pinot Grigio to drinking Bud Light/Tiger Beer instead of Wee Heavy. Nonetheless, it’s a delightfully simple and light wine to knock back, especially on a hot summer’s day.


3. Castello delle Regine, Bianco (literally, Castle of the Queen) – Now, this blend (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc)from Umbria was quite a bit more interesting, with quite a bit more weight. Evidently, this is a really young winery (first vintage in 2000).


4. Carpineto Dogajolo – This “Super Tuscan” had a strong, pleasant smell of wood, and little wonder because it has been aged in small wooden casks. Made of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvingnon, the wine is bottled between the last week of March and the first week of April of the year following harvest. Should be a wine that would age well, with its strong tannins.


5. Il Cuore, Barbera 2005 – Literally translates into “The Heart” in Italian, I found the Barbera fascinating, not least because one doesn’t usually find the grape outside of Piedmont. According to the folks at WineStyles though, they are also going to bring in a Barbera from Argentina, which I’m really keen to try, just to see the different styles. The Il Cuore is made from grapes grown in Mendocino County, California, and is only the winery’s third release. It’s a blend of 89% Barbera with 11% Old Vine Zinfandel for the plum and spice notes.


6. Catello delle Regine, Rosso – Some blackberry notes, a little bit of chocolate, and quite tannic on the mouth.

Here’s some information on the wine from Wine Legacy:

A young winery to watch. In 1994, Paolo Nodari, a lawyer from Milan, decided to purchase Castello delle Regine, a historical piece of property nestled between the towns of Narni and Amelia in the hilly region of Umbria.

Castello delle Regine covers around 1000 acres, located midway between Rome and Orvieto. It has a long (and often disputed history) as part of a fiefdom that has been held by various aristocratic families over the centuries.

Paolo’s dream was to restore and modernize the estate without compromising its charm, rich heritage, and respect for the surrounding natural environment.

Today, the estate includes a wild game preserve, and a breeding facility for rare Chianina cattle. Under the direction of Livia Colantonio, the ancient farmhouse was carefully restored and a restaurant and guesthouses were developed to welcome visitors.

With the help of Fabio Busetti and after years of careful study, 150 acres of vineyards were planted on the best south-facing hillsides where the sandy clay soil is ideal for Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah. These vineyards complement the plots of old vines that have been growing on the estate for generations.

Consulting oenologist Franco Bernabei was brought in to direct the transformation of the barrel aging cellar and the construction of a state-of-the-art vinification cellar. The estate produces highly acclaimed wines, olive oil, and beef.

Rosso delle Regine is the newest addition to the Castello delle Regine line. This blend of equal parts of Sangiovese and Merlot are fermented in stainless steel and aged for six months in French Allier barriques.

This wine is enjoyable to drink now, and can be aged for another few years. Serve with Osso Bucco and grilled, marinated, olive oil drizzled vegetables.



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DGS went wild last night, with a tasting of wines from all over the world, in what we’d dubbed Dead Grapes Society Adventurous Wines. We had ~25 people and 16 bottles of wines (some doubled up).

1. Taberno Brut Champagne Style Charmat Method (Peru) $10

We kicked the tasting off with two bottles of Taberno, a Peruvian sparkling. It was a hit, everyone expressed surprise at how well done it was, nice and dry on the palate, with tight concentrated bubbles.

2. Lambrusco Cantine Ceci La Luna 2006 (Italy) $14

Most people haven’t had Lambrusco before, but since Wendy discovered the wine (Lambrusco Reggiano, slightly different from the one we had last night, this being a sweeter version) at Trader Joe’s a few years ago, this has been my favorite pairing with spicy food, especially curry. With a sandalwood perfume and big cherries mouthfeel, there was just the slightest fizz at the finish, as if the wine didn’t want to go without a fight. Really fun and delicious wine.

3. Chateau Bela Riesling Sturovo Region, Muzca 2003 (Slovakia) $14

This was a dry riesling from Slovakia, which doesn’t really produce much wine, especially not since it split from the Czech Rebpulic in the early 1990s. To be honest, I don’t remember much of this wine, except for the fact that it was drinkable, though not memorable. We started to play some wine trivia at this point. Did you know, for instance, that Prohibition lasted from 1920 through 1933? And that it only ended because of the Great Depression? The government, after thirteen long years, finally realized that the mobs were getting out of control running the speakeasies and smuggling operations, and that the population condoned the mobs because they needed their drink. Of course, they might have chosen to stubbornly – and pig-headedly – stick their stand if not for the fact that they were losing millions and millions of dollars from alcohol tax. Anyway.

4. Dragon’s Hallow Unoaked Chardonnay 2005 (China) $10

Did you know that China has actually the world’s fifth largest vineyard area and is the seventh largest wine producer??? Even so, I think the Chinese should stick to making rice wine. The chardonnay we had could be likened to a thick-headed fellow, stout and completely insipid and stupid. I gulped it straight down; some others (notably the Chinese people in the room) tossed it out. However, some people professed to liking the unoaked style, so perhaps there’s hope for the Chinese wine makers after all. Oh, in case you were wondering, Jesuit missionaries are believed to have been the first to encourage the planting of vines in China in the mid 19th century.

5. Kerner Slifskeleni Neustift Abbazia di Novacella 2006 (Italy) $17

This was one of the favorites of the night. Sihao said it had all the characteristics of a Gewurztraminer, and I have to agree – a little spicy, with strong notes of lychee and roses. Interestingly, the two bottles I picked up were from Italy (at the enthusiastic recommendation of the Sam’s wine expert), although this is a grape most commonly found in Germany. It’s a cross breed from a red grape Trollinger and Riesling. Speaking of cross breeds, another trivia question: what is Cabernet Sauvignon crossed from? Answer: Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

6. Tinta da Anfora Vinho Regional Alentejano 2005 (Portugal) $12

Mm, quite a few people said they really liked this wine, which was quite tannic, but otherwise full bodied with lots of fruit and spices. It’s a blend of Portuguese grapes, including Trincadeira, Aragonez, and a little Cabernet Sauvignon. Oh, and did you know that Portugal is the largest producer of corks in the world?

7. Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato 2006 (Italy) $16

Another favorite of the night – those Italian wines really are something! Given the huge popularity of the wines Barolo, Barbera, and Moscato in Piedmont, it’s little wonder that Ruche does not get in the spotlight too much. I really enjoyed this smooth, and light-bodied wine.

8. Bull’s Blood Egi Bikarer 2003 (Hungary) $8

There’s a story behind the label, “Bull’s Blood” (don’t you love stories??). Anyway, as the story goes, in 1552, when the Eger fortress was under attack and looked to be giving way, the defenders, in a last desperate bid, downed copious amounts of red wine for liquid courage. Their hands must have been shaking from terror, for they spilled the red wine all over their chests. When the attackers saw these men running towards them with red chests, they thought the defenders had been drinking bull’s blood, and their courage faltered and they fled. And so the Eger fortress stood for another day. I think I’d have to bring this bottle to parties – it makes for a great conversation opener (I think anyway), and is really fun to drink.

Wine Spectator writes:

“Bull’s Blood must be made from at least three approved red varieties. Most producers use a fair amount of Kékfrankos, because its sturdy character and acidity provide backbone. Also used are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

The wine’s hallmark, though, is the indigenous, spicy Kadarka grape. During the Communist era, Kadarka nearly disappeared from Hungary because its sensitivity to rot and its tendency to grow close to the ground made it very labor-intensive.

But today, Kadarka — which can produce balanced tannins and complex flavors, such as black pepper, cherry jam and cloves — is viewed as essential for a quality Bikavér, and producers are scrambling to return Kadarka to the vineyards.”

9. Skouras Red Saint George 2004 (Greece) $7

I’ve had this light bodied wine on a few occasions already, and really enjoyed it – it is a great pairing with meatballs and pasta, and I might even stock up on more as my house wine. After all, at $7, it’s really a bargain, especially when you consider that Yellow Tail costs the same amount.

10. Garnacha Marco Real Navarra 2005 (Spain) $10

I think our palates were tiring by this point for I still have half a bottle of this sitting at my desk right this moment. Anyway, Garnacha is the Spanish name for the grape Grenache. Flavors of dark berries, it is juicy and great to drink on its own and with food.

11. Chateau Henye Tokaji Dry 2006 (Hungary) $13

I first came across Tokay in Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and had been lusting after it. Tokay is normally a dessert wine, but this version we got was off dry, and so wasn’t cloyingly sweet.

12. Four Seasons Collection, Muscat Red Dessert Wine, Dionysos Mereni (Moldova) $6

I had to look Moldova up on the internet to see where it was… – somewhere in Eastern Europe. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “Moldova may be one of the geographically smallest states of the former Soviet Union but it has more vineyard, 108,000 ha/267,000 acres in 2002 according to the OIV, than any other apart from Ukraine and the table grape producer Uzbekistan. It has the greatest potential for wine quality and range, thanks to its extnesive vineywards, temperate continental climeate, and gently undulating landscape sandwiched between eastern Romania and Ukraine.” We rounded off the evening with a bottle of Muscat, which was surprisingly palatable. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so.

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Every Friday, I look forward to reading the WSJ with much anticipation, waiting to see what Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher have to recommend in their latest wine article.

As usual, I wasn’t disappointed. This Friday’s article presents invaluable suggestions on everyday wines to drink – and to store in your wine fridge. Invaluable because as I’ve been cooking and consequently digging into my wine fridge for that pairing, I’ve finished most of my cheaper bottles and am now left with the dearer ones that I can’t really justify drinking alone on a weekday night.

With each new case, we’d be more and more adventurous. Our most important advice is to try new things and trust your own taste. Stock types of wine that you like, but force yourself to get out of your comfort zone. You’ll find many delicious surprises, wines that will be new friends to greet you at home, wines that make you smile. Here is a case of wines that would make us smile, that we know would pair with anything we might cook for dinner tonight. They are listed from white to red.

• Muscadet from France. It’s the classic wine to have with fish — fun, easy to drink and inexpensive.

• Riesling Kabinett from Germany. This is a must-have with pork and veal, but also lovely to drink on its own.

• Alsatian white from France, probably Pinot Blanc or Gewürztraminer. If we’re calling in spicy Asian food, this would stand up to it. And it’s great with pork roast with herbs or pork with simmering apples, prunes and raisins.

• Inexpensive Chardonnay from the U.S. Most inexpensive Chardonnay these days is sweet, heavy and unpleasant, but there’s a reason Chardonnay is still America’s favorite wine. When it’s good, there are few wines as enjoyable and casual. When we were young, our house Chardonnay was Estancia. We bought it by the case and always had a bottle in the refrigerator when we had informal, happy food like quiche. Over the years, we’ve liked Beringer, Bogle, Cambria, Gallo of Sonoma, Hahn, R.H. Phillips and others as our house Chardonnay, but this is one you really need to decide for yourself. This can pair with anything from fried chicken to seafood dishes. If we saw a lower-priced Grüner Veltliner from Austria or Torrontés from Argentina, we might substitute one of those because they’re more delightful than Chardonnay to sip on their own, before dinner, but those are harder to find than Chardonnay.

• Better Chardonnay from the U.S. or, if there were a reliable one, a white Burgundy from France. Sometimes we make a special meal that needs a white of some stature, and this would fit the bill. We’d probably look for a Montagny, Rully or Saint-Véran from Burgundy, since we’ve had good luck with those. The American Chardonnay would probably be anything we hadn’t tried before because there’s always a new one out there and it’s fun to experiment. By having it in our drink-now cooler, we’d open it instead of waiting for a special occasion.

• Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, Chile or South Africa, depending on how much we wanted to spend. Sauvignon Blanc is mouth-watering and hunger-inducing and there are so many good ones today from so many places. These pair with a variety of foods, including salads, hearty grilled vegetable dishes and seafood.

• Beaujolais from France. Inexpensive, good both chilled or warmer, perfect with just about any food from salmon to hamburgers — how could we not have a bottle around? We might simply have a Beaujolais-Villages, but we’d probably have a bottle from one of the villages (See related column).

• A red Rhône from France or a Portuguese red. We often eat comfort food, like meat loaf or macaroni and cheese, and comfort food requires comfort wine. We’d get a Portuguese red if we could find one — we love their earthiness and their low prices — but, if we couldn’t, we’d probably go with one of the lesser-known (and therefore lower-priced) Rhône wines, like Vacqueyras.

• Mid-range Bordeaux from France. If we were having steak or short ribs, we’d have to open a good Bordeaux. We might actually go to the bigger cellar for this and break out something with age, but if not, we’d want to have a bottle of Châteaux Gloria, Phélan-Ségur, Beychevelle, Gruaud-Larose or Pontet-Canet. There’s nothing magical about those five names except they’re wines we’ve enjoyed for decades, so they give us a smile.

• Pinot Noir from the U.S. We’d probably spend about $20 or so on a California or Oregon Pinot Noir to include in the cooler because, these days, there are few wines as reliably food-friendly and delicious. We also find that Pinot is especially fun to linger over, so we’d open it when we got home and sip it through dinner. Good ones always seem like several bottles as they change through the night, and they’re great with a wide variety of dishes from salmon to roast chicken to lamb.

• An informal red from Italy. We imagine many people, like us, eat lasagna, pizza and other casual Italian dishes pretty often, so we’d want to have a wine to pair with those. We might just go with Antinori’s delightful, inexpensive Santa Cristina, but perhaps we’d have a bottle of Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto instead.

• Malbec from Argentina or Carmenère from Chile. We don’t often have game, but if we had anything that reminded us of game — a rich stew, or an herbed roast — these would be perfect. Malbec is far more widely available, but Carmenère is the kind of fun, different, often-inexpensive wine that reminds us that there are always new tastes out there to be discovered.

Remember: If you buy wine by the mixed case, you will usually get 10% to 20% off. And wines always taste better with a discount.

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Tomorrow, our wine group will be conducting a tasting of Champagne and other Sparkling wines – at brunch, no less. 🙂 

As part of my research, I’m looking into Spumantes, otherwise known as sparkling wines in Italy. Italian sparklers hold a place near and dear to my heart, since they were one of my early introduction to wine. I fondly remember one cool October morning, where I sat with three other friends in a piazza in Turin (one of the Piedmontese cities in northwestern Italy), sipping a tall glass of Moscato D’Asti. That, was life.  


Spumante: Italian for sparkling
You can find most of Italy’s spumantes in the northern (and thus cooler) regions. Unlike champagne, most Italian sparkling wines are made using the Charmat method, where the second fermentation is done in tanks instead of in bottles. This technique produces young, crisp and low alcohol wines that should be consumed within a few years of purchase.

Astis are made from Moscato grapes (white), from Asti in Piedmont, the northwestern region of Italy. The craggy, limestone soil in the areas excellent for growing grapes, and Piedmont is one of the powerhouse regions of Italian wine country – non-sparkling wonders like Barolo, Barbera, and Barbarescos are other examples of the region’s wide
repertoire of grapes. Asti is light, sweet, with hints of peaches. High acidity. It’s typically a non-vintage wine and should be drunk early.

Moscato D’ Asti:
This is the higher class version of Asti Spumanti, if you will. Comes from the same region – Asti, though there are plenty of good fizzy moscatos in other Piedmontese regions like Alba as well, but these are less well known, and not readily found in the US. It’s less fizzy, and is light and crisp with typically 5%-7% of alcohol. Delightful summer drink, and makes for an elagant apertif. Good Moscato D’Asti is not over poweringly sweet, unlike many of the cheap commercially made crap for American palates.

Another sparkling wine from Piedmont is the Bracchetto. I haven’t tried this personally, but it’s a red sparkling wine, made from Brachetto grapes. According to some of the tasting notes I’ve read online, the wine is light, with hints of strawberry and cherry; makes for an excellent pairing with fruit/cheese or a light dessert, but is also a good pairing with pizza.

Trader Joes sells a delightfully cheap and easy to sip Lambrusco. It’s simple, unpretentious: fizzy and slightly sweet red sparkling wine. Best served chilled, and is an excellent, excellent pairing with spicy food. Lambruscos are found in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy (central).

Prosecco (derived from its grape) comes from the northeastern region of Italy, in Veneto (where Venice is). It’s the base for Bellinis (recipe: blend peaches into your prosecco). Light and refreshing, it has a lovely bouquet of melons, pears, and almonds. The wine is dry and crisp.

I’ve never tried this wine before either. Franciacorta is a name of a region in the Lombardy Lake District of Italy, and is made from a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco (or Blanc), and Pinot Noir. Unlike most other Italian spumantes, Franciacorta is made using the French champagne method – i.e. wine is fermented in bottles. This results in tighter, smaller bubbles. Tasting notes online say that it is a dry, somewhat complex wine, with hints of almond, vanilla, and yellow ripe fruit. According to Italian wine law, Franciacorta must be aged for at least 18 months, vintage Franciacorta for 30 months.

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