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Italy

Solagi 2011Spring has finally sprung, so I’m celebrating the warm weather with something weird, something different… something that screams for attention, like AC/DC. Well, it’s a little less heavy than AC/DC.

That something is from a region called Calabria in the south of Italy, a region of arid beaches, olive trees, and gently rolling hills dotted with vineyards. Calabria hosts a  D.O.C (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) that is also a town, Cirò, which is the site of an ancient winemaking tradition featuring an ancient Italian grape: Gaglioppo. Sometimes referred to as the “Nebbiolo of the coast,” and once thought to be a product of Greek colonization, Gaglioppo flourishes in this area, with its calcareous marl soil and sandy embankments. It is a pretty obscure grape that produces pretty delicious wines well worth exploring, making it a perfect accompaniment to the freshness and optimistic tone of spring.

Which brings me to the 2012 Caparra & Siciliani Solagi Cirò. Made from 100% Gaglioppo and aged and fermented in stainless steel vats, this wine is ruby red in the glass, and exudes superb floral and fruit aromas: juicy cherries, lavender, roses, and hints of loam and herbs. In the mouth, the wine is balanced and harmonious, the soft fruit nicely balanced against acidity and firm tannins. Some decent minerality, as well. With structure and finesse this pronounced, one would assume this wine is expensive, but it is most definitely not: it can be found for usually under $20 a bottle. This would pair beautifully with aged cheese and salumi platters, or can serve as a high-end pizza wine. Go get some.

De Forville Dolcetto 2012Quite often, I really do not want a serious wine. Not every occasion calls for a Grand Cru; not every event merits Screaming Eagle. I cannot count the weeknights where my friends and their respective significant others piled into my Brooklyn apartment with armloads of fresh ingredients and a culinary vision for the evening. Those nights, we swap jokes that made the rounds before, and jokes that haven’t. Dinner, drinks, and laughter until late. Those nights – which end up being most nights – I really do not want a serious wine.

Enter Dolcetto, one of my favorite casual Italian wines. Dolcetto is a grape primarily grown in the Piedmont region in northeast Italy. The best wines made with Dolcetto are generally found in Alba (as is the case with the one featured). Generally, Dolcetto is known for producing soft, fruity wines meant to be consumed when young; quite the opposite of one of the region’s more prominent grapes, Nebbiolo, which arguably produces some of the most structured wines on earth. Tidbit: the Italian word dolcetto means “little sweet one,” but generally Dolcetto is dry. Its exuberance lies chiefly in its expressive fruit, which tends towards cherries.

Tonight’s wine, the 2012 De Forville Dolcetto d’Alba, is produced specifically in the municipality of Barbaresco, a source of red wines of much renown. This particular example, while humble in comparison to the greats from its region, is still delicious all the same, and for good reason: the De Forville family has made wine in Barbaresco for 150 years. Bright ruby red in color, the wine bursts in the glass with dark cherry and licorice aromas, and is soft and juicy in the mouth, with dark fruit and just enough acidity to match. Finishes soft and fresh. $15 a bottle; try some the next time you order a pizza, preferably with friends.

Cannonau di Sardegna RiservaAnd now for a brief post about one of my new favorite values in Italian red wine. More posts to come soon, fast and furious. Winter is coming – for those of you who read or watch Game of Thrones – and for me, that means red wine: red wine in rivers, in torrents… and in glasses on the table by my couch. If you’re in the mood for spaghetti and meatballs or some similar comfort food… and honestly, who isn’t… where better than Italy to find the perfect pairing?

The subject of this post is the 2009 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, a totally delicious Cannonau wine from the northwest corner of Sardinia. Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, and is home to roughly 4 million sheep, making this island one of the areas of the world with the highest density of sheep per capita; right up there with New Zealand, a truly exceptional wine region in its own right. But I digress.

Cannonau, otherwise known as Grenache, is also one of the most widely planted grape varietals in the world. It favors hot, dry climates, and generally creates wines with soft berry fruit, nice spicy notes, and a high alcohol content, making it good for blending – see Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône valley. Our wine of the hour, the 2009 Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna Riserva, seems like pure Grenache.

In the glass, a nice brick red color. Aromas of hung game, violets, and a touch of almost Burgundian funkiness hang above notes of dark red fruit. Very solid structure in the mouth, with a round feel, smooth tannins and delicious plummy fruit backed by earth and spice. $15 says you have a new favorite dinner wine for the cold months. Buy it by the case.

Il PiaggioniBack from wedding planning with a vengeance; back with a fresh post about a fresh red wine that’s begging to go down with some steak before the nights get even more hot! Because it has been hot. Summer is finally here, after weeks of rain. And it’s still raining, on and off. Hot, humid… despite how oppressive the mugginess can get, red wine is still my preferred nighttime beverage – the steaks, like the show, must go on, and they must be paired with something, after all.

Most people turn to their established favorites for steaks; Bordeaux or some mid-range California Cabernet would be usual offerings. But when the t-bones hit the grill, I tend to turn to Sangiovese. The perfect balance between acid and fruit makes these wines exceptional complements to grilled meat, if you can bear to briefly abandon the safety of California’s red offerings. Remember, we’re talking about the grape that goes into Chianti, into Brunello di Montalcino. We’re talking about one of the prime grapes of Super Tuscans. More than enough “wine cred” to match anything you’re cooking.

For those adventurous enough to brave the Sangiovese front, this wine, the 2011 Mocali “I Piaggioni” Rosso Toscano, is a 100% pure and fine example of the breed. Mocali is a noted producer of Brunello di Montalcino; this is their “value” wine. The “I Piaggioni” is not aged for as long in oak as Brunello, and the Sangiovese grapes in this Rosso are not from the very best sites (although they are the same clonal selections as those used in Brunello). The flavors do not quite have the depth and concentration you would find in a Brunello, due to shorter aging in oak. However, in the end, what you get is a delicious Rosso with aromas of licorice and cedar, bright cherry fruit, a smooth mouthfeel, excellent acidity and balance, and a nice lingering finish. At $15, it’s hard to ask for more.

Poggeto La Casaccia GrignolinoFrom time to time I like to go back to wines I’ve tried previously, especially house favorites. This Grignolino was absolutely a house favorite in 2009. It merits another write-up, especially for this fine vintage hitting my table three years after the initial encounter. And yeah, it’s still delicious. So here we have the 2011 La Casaccia “Poggeto” Grignolino. Grignolino is a grape varietal grown in Piedmont, Italy. Not always well-regarded in the past, considering its noble company in the region (Nebbiolo comes to mind), Grignolino has started to reach its potential as a cheery but surprisingly interesting table wine.

Pale cherry red in the glass, with bright, aromas of red berry fruit (particularly raspberry in this bottling) and a hint of white pepper. Seriously zingy after the first zip, with quenching acidity, perfectly balanced to flavors of mouth-watering fresh red berries. Notes of mineral just crackle through the fruit, and the finish is quenching and invites you to sip again. And again. $13, and still one of the best values in light-bodied reds. I just love Grignolino; if you haven’t tried it, get going! This wine is appetizer fair, and pairs well with olives and feta cheese, or some cured meats such as salami. It’s unusually low on tannin, so won’t compromise foods with a degree of tartness. Enjoy.

Spring is coming fast, and with it, a quickening of the pulse, those first outdoor dinners in Brooklyn back gardens… everything that reminds us life for the past few months was worth living after all. I felt like writing a quick post with that in mind, on something celebratory, light, refreshing. Today’s little update highlights a very celebratory wine: Lambrusco. A good wine for drinking while you anticipate the warm weather. Good for sipping while writing bad haikus. Also delicious with a platter of hard cheeses and salami.

A quick review: Lambrusco is produced in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy, in Modena (same region famous for its Parmesan cheese and prosciutto, and the appellation for balsamic vinegar), and is another wine that’s seen a resurgence in trendiness, as well as great strides in quality. Produced from the Lambrusco grape, this wine comes in red, white, or, occasionally, pink (as is the case with this rosato). It’s always frizzante, or slightly frothy, and generally has a very fruit-driven, juicy style that makes it approachable to a wide range of palates, although artisanal versions are also made, which are drier and have more depth and mineral notes. Great party wine.

So if you’re looking for a fun and no-frills bubbly, the non-vintage (NV) “Primarosa” rosato Lambrusco by Cantina Puianello is just the ticket. The grapes are harvested by hand, and the juice is run off the grapes quickly after they are crushed to produce a delightfully bright rosé pink, which stands out in the glass. Bouncy aromas of chilled red strawberries and cherries, with some slight violet floral notes. Nothing too serious here, just a great bottle to pop and enjoy with anyone and everyone, for $12.

Say you’re feeling like having a glass of red wine so earthy it makes you pick at your teeth for leaves. You want a wine with minerals. Today’s post is about a wine that walks up to you, punches your jaw, and says “Have you been outside lately?” If you’re not an outdoors kind of person, don’t touch this beverage. You will feel strangely ashamed of yourself.

This wine hails from Troia, a village in Puglia, Italy, which is normally known for producing Primitivo wines. Made entirely from grapes of the same name, Troia, it exists to remind us that it’s good to go off the beaten path, with wine or otherwise. The producer, Cantina Diomede, takes its name from the Greek hero Diomedes who, according to legend, destroyed Troy in the Trojan War. An emphasis on reviving local oenological traditions is definitely reflected in the wines that make it here to the United States. On the company site, Diomede describes their wines as “megaphones of traditions.” Tasting their Troia, I would agree with this statement, and in fact strongly encourage wineries everywhere to employ similarly awesome metaphors.

So what do we get when we drink of the earth? We get some good dirty wine. Ruby red in the glass, with aromas of loam, almonds, dried leaves, violets, and some nice fresh berry notes. Definitely some oak showing here too; this makes sense, since the wine gets aged six or more months in French barrels before release. Great, round, mouthfilling stuff, with an attractive mineral component, an acidic edge to round out that lush fruit, and rustic tannins. Medium finish, lingers on that earthy quality. A fine bottle to pair with pot roast, mashed potatoes and sautéed broccoli rabe. Especially for $12. Now there’s a price for people of the earth, if I do say so. And I do.

For the new few months, we’re living in precious balance between warmth and chill weather. We’re starting to wake up. And we want to celebrate this new energy with the best bubbly we can find. Those of us like me, anyway.

Mia provides an extremely affordable means to this end. Their NV Prosecco, produced in the Valdobbiadene appellation within the Veneto region, is a delightful foray into springtime spritz. For those of you who need to know (and that’s everyone), Prosecco is the name for the wine and the grape from which it is made. Pretty much the standard in Italian bubbly. This showing is good for parties as an aperitif; nothing too complicated going on here. The nose shows lively citrus and peach notes, and it follows with a light body, fine mousse and a good bead.

Don’t bother pairing this with anything. Just buy a case and invite your friends. Celebrate the changing weather. Crisp, fun. $7.

Cooking is the one pleasure I deny myself most often in this busy life. We all know the satisfaction of making a meal from scratch. Usually there will be some initial resistance, remnants of an “I don’t wanna!” attitude I’ve kept towards cooking for no good reason – then out come the pans, the butter, the pepper and salt. While water boils, tomato sauce simmers; spaghetti strands soften and curl. At the end of the day, it all amounts to beans (or noodles, or rice and beans on a tortilla, or hummus). The worst mood can be banished with the right food, and the right glass of wine to make that food shine. Appreciation is the key.

So this is a post about spaghetti and meatballs. But what are spaghetti and meatballs, really? A platform for Chianti. You didn’t know this? Don’t care. It’s true. Anyone who wants to understand my reasoning will need an understanding of Chianti. Here goes.

Chianti is a red still wine produced in a region by the same name (Chianti) in Tuscany, Italy. The region is designated by a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC), which guarantees certain methods of production: set yields, vinification practices, grape types, and production methods. Chianti is primarily made with Sangiovese – at least 75%. Sangiovese is a fun grape, with characteristics that make it perfect as a companion to food: nice acidity, earthiness, and fruit ranging from bright to dark. Younger Chianti tends to show lots of fresh raspberry fruit with notes of sage and spice, complete with sharp but not searing acidity, while older Chianti (such as a Riserva) is generally much more complex and balanced, with blackberry and other dark fruit balanced by earthy components such as leaves, cocoa, and floral or mineral notes. Sangiovese has a number of clones (genetic offshoots that exhibit distinct flavor profiles), and also displays different flavors and aromas depending on the amount of aging the wine sees. Besides being the source of Chianti, it is also the only grape varietal permitted in the prestigious Brunello di Montalcino (Chianti’s brooding older sibling, made from the Brunello clone). Other grapes permitted in Chianti include up to 10% Canaiolo and up to 20% of a few other red grapes: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Syrah. The use of white grapes like Trebbiano has been prohibited for Chianti Classico.

Chianti Classico is considered the finest appellation (production zone with a legally-defined boundary) in the Chianti region, a 100 square mile region with Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status – theoretically superior in quality – near Florence; however, nice wines can also be found in Chianti Rufina, another appellation. Chianti Classico must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12%, and must go through at least seven months aging in oak, while Chianti Classico Riserva must be aged for at least 27 months at the winery, with a minimum alcohol level of at least 12.5%.

The subject of today’s post, the 2008 Loggia del Conte Chianti, is a far more modest fine, only provided with DOC status. Made with 100% Sangiovese, it has what wine drinkers refer to as typicity – the flavors and aromas are true to what would be expected of the grape. A nice garnet color, it’s just a bouncy, fruity, accessible Chianti with cherry fruit jumping out of the glass, some mineral and baking spice notes, and good acidity. Red sauce’s best friend. $8 a bottle. I recommend this wine to people as ideal for spaghetti and meatballs: the acidity cuts through any meat sauce, but the wine is in a softer style, so it doesn’t come across as lean to the point of meanness. Quick finish, but you will have moved on to your next bite anyhow. We paired this wine with (surprise) spaghetti and meatballs: the red sauce was perfect, with garlic, basil and oregano and crushed fire-roasted tomatoes, with meatballs I made by hand out of pork and beef with Worcestershire sauce, garlic, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, egg, seasoned breadcrumbs and shredded Parmesan cheese. Appreciation is the key.

With a totally different style of rosé the subject of my previous post, why not delve into another here? This wine is a frizzante style as well, meaning that it has some effervescence – in the manner of all Lambrusco wines from Emilia-Romagna in Italy. The producer, Lini Winery, was founded in the town of Correggio in 1910, and is gaining momentum across the United States as a known producer of fine sparkling wines. They strive to keep the philosophy and traditions of their forebears at the core of their wine-making; the outcome speaks for itself, because this just tastes great.


A rich salmon red in the glass, much darker than most other rosé wines I have tried. Strong cherry and cranberry aromas on the nose lead to some floral notes: lavender, lilac. Bold and fruity in the mouth, but light-bodied, with a zingy acidity to match the fizz. Totally surprising, completely delicious. We paired this with ribs roasted in a clay pot after being covered in home-made dry rub and slathered in BBQ sauce, home-made potato salad, and sautéed greens. $15.