Monthly Archives: August 2014

Wine of the Week: Faro from Palari (Sicily)


This week’s wine pick is Faro from Azienda Agricola Palari from Sicily. I first tasted this wine at a Tre Bicchieri event in New York some years ago. I was impressed with its unique blend of indigenous Sicilian grapes including Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Nocera, Acitana, and Jacche’.

The wine was ruby red in color with loads of berry fruits, spice and a hint of vanilla. It was velvety and harmonious on the palate with juicy tannins. A great wine to age, I was very impressed with this beauty.

I’m having a Sicilian thing this summer with many memories of a couple of wonderful trips I took to Sicily years ago. This winery is located near Messina. Faro is a very ancient wine that was produced in this area for many years. Production was then interrupted both because of production issues and because of Phylloxera. The wine is made in a very particular area with a great micro-climate and on a series of vineyards that change dramatically in terms of their altitude from sea level to 1,475 feet with an eight mile range. The vines grow on very steep slopes and are bush trained requiring hand harvesting.

The wine is fermented in stainless steel but ages in new French oak and then in the bottle for at least 18 months before release. This is a big Sicilian wine and needs hearty dishes to support it. A land of contrasts, this is one side of Sicily – big, passionate and intense.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Fumin from the Valle d’Aosta

Valle d'Aosta

This week’s grape variety is Fumin. It is the last variety that starts with the letter “F.” Amazing to me to note, but I have written 111 of these sorts of posts through the years. Italy has such an endless number of grape varieties, there is always something new to learn.

Fumin is a variety that comes from the Valle d’Aosta. It can be made into a blend but it is also used to make mono-varietal wines and is used in the Valle d’Aosta Denominazione d’origine controllata (D.O.C.) wine. In a blend it brings both color and acidity. In fact, it is a wine that should age a bit before drinking to mellow out some of its robust and rustic aromas and flavors.

Valle d'Aosta

Every year at Vinitaly, I try to spend time at the Valle d’Aosta booth. I like the wines and the people, straight forward and frank. Some examples of great Fumin are from the top producers in the Valle d’Aosta, including Grosjean, Les Cretes, and Ottin, among others.

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Sunday Sipping: New World Wines – The Napa Valley

Thinking of all the members of the wine industry and people who live in the Napa Valley who were impacted by the Earthquake. Hoping everyone will see their way to a better day in the near future. Very lucky that no one lost their lives. I’m posting this blog piece that I wrote last year about Napa as a way of showing solidarity and interest in the region and its fate.


“The Napa Valley, Then and Now: The Evoltion of Grapegrowing and Winemaking” was the title of a seminar I took this past summer at the Society of Wine Educators Conference in Orlando, Florida with Barry Wiss. With the cold weather outside, I am channeling summer and warmth and so Napa came to mind. The seminar was interesting but what I thought was most remarkable was how far the association has come that they are now showing the diversity of terroir, grapes grown and attention to microclimate variations.

I tended to think of Napa as a whole, homogenous region, with a warm climate. I was quite wrong apparently. This above all was made plain in this particular seminar. In the past, I have taken the Napa Rocks seminars about the soil variation but little had been discussed about climate, another fundamental part of what can be defined as “terroir.”

Terroir affects…

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Women in Wine Fridays: A Chat with Ambra Tiraboschi, Producer of Lugana from Ca Lojera (Lombardy)


Earlier this year I was lucky enough to go on a press trip to Lugana. Carlo Veronese, the Director of the Consortium for the region, was wearing the above sweatshirt which really struck my fancy. The first evening of the trip, a small group of journalists and I were invited to a dinner at Ca Lojera where we were greeted by the lovely and extremely coridal Ambra Tiraboschi. Ambra and five of her colleagues from Lugana offered us different wines to try at that occasion along with the traditional foods of Lake Garda. My friend and fellow journalist Dave Buchanan had this to say about part of our trip.

Lake Garda

I was happy to see Ambra in late July at a class on Lugana at Eataly. Lugana is being celebrated at the Italian luxury supermarket this month as I wrote in a previous post on Avvinare.

This post is instead a women in wine Fridays post with Ambra as it’s subject. Before I put up Ambra’s answers to my questions though, I want to mention her wine. I very recently tried the 2013 Lugana made from 100% Turbiana grapes (Trebbiano di Lugana). It was a beautiful and mineral rich wine with good body and acidity. Aromas and flavors of fruits and flowers abounded with a hint of an herbal note as well. It paired beautifully with the dishes that Eataly served at the Scuola and even better with the traditional fare in Italy in April but that’s always the case. Their vineyards are located in Sirmione and have white clay soils typical of this area. I love this wine and it is surprisingly easy to find in New York thanks to Ambra’s importer, Moonlight.

Ca Lojera

Here’s my interview with Ambra:

How did you get into the wine business?

I became involved in viticulture by choice and in winemaking by chance because during the harvest of 1992, our grapes were not sold as they usually were to the typical buyers. It was a difficult time for Lugana, as it was an unknown wine and our grapes used to be used to strengthen other local wines.

What has been the hardest part of the wine business for you in terms of gender issues, if any?

Doing business as a woman can be complicated in all sectors because it calls for a good balance between our emotional life and our determination to reach our objectives. In the wine world, the men were curious at first about how I would do but everything worked out well because the story of a wine needs to be told and women are traditionally great story tellers, look at Scheherazade!

What trends and changes have you seen since you started? What do you see happening in the next 5-10 years in your sector of the business?

In today’s world, consumers want to hear the story of your wine and to read about it on all the communication channels that we now have at our disposition: social media, bloggers, wine lovers,etc. Guides have lost some of their magic and are considered less interesting by some consumers. Today and in the coming years, we will need to open and visit new markets. I personally find this very stimulating because I need to understand the culture and habits of other peoples.

What do you see happening in the Lugana area?

The area where Lugana comes from is small but well-loved and it is in a great geographical position. I’m sure we will have a wonderful and long-lived period of fruitful work.

What do you think about the level of wine education on Lugana in general in the US?

Lugana is getting to be more well-known in the United States. It is already appreciated by those who are well-educated in the wine world and know how to drink well. That’s what we want to see in every market.

Do you think we are still too Tuscany and Piedmont focused?

No, that wasn’t my impression during my visit.

Who is the average wine drinker today?

The average wine consumer today is between 30-50 years old who invests their money wisely and who enjoys trying fine wines.

Where are women going to be in the industry in the next 10 years?

Women will be quite active in industry during the next 10 years as a new generation comes to the fore, especially in the textile industry and I hope in wine & food. Women are already quite present in both the communications industry and in artisanal products and I believe their influence will only grow.

What do you think will happen with Expo 2015?

Expo 2015, which will take place in Milan, will surely be a great occasion for our country. I’m confidant that my countrymen will make it a great success for all.

Do you think Lugana could replace Pinot Grigio on most wine lists?

I’m not sure that is where we are looking for Lugana to go. Rather what I do think is that many consumers will begin to ask specifically for Lugana when they are looking for wine that they are familiar with, that isn’t banal, but that is instead an authentic representation of a particular terroir and a particular history.


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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Freisa from Piedmont


This week’s grape variety hails from Piedmont – Freisa. It is often made into a pure varietal wine but is also blended with Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto.

It is a red grape that has heavy tannins and at times is made into a frizzante wine to make it softer. Freisa’s native area is near the city of Asti, although it grows in various parts of Piedmont. I have always enjoyed Freisa and found it to be quite floral on the nose and on the palate. I first heard of this variety from a producer called La Montagnetta. Domenico Capello and his family collaborate with the University of Turin to study this variety.

A number of wines made from Freisa are available on the U.S. market, among them one from importer Domenico Valentino.

You may find that each one you try is different than the previous version because this grape is quite versatile and can be aged in oak or in steel tanks, made into a sweet version or a frizzante one. What I think you’ll find in any version you try is an interesting wine that you will look for again and again. It’s also a great one to stump your friends in a blind tasting, not that I am advocating for that but I’m just saying…

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Winery of the Week: Cusumano from Sicily


I seem to be fixated on Sicily this summer and with good reason. A beautiful part Italy, I have spent a bit of time there during past summers and look forward to my next viaggio. When I can’t travel physically, I can always travel thanks to the wines I drink and write about. This post is no different. Today’s winery of the week is Sicilian, Cusumano. I met Diego in 2010 during Vinitaly when I was doing some translation work for a wine magazine meeting with numerous producers. I remember his warm and friendly smile and I have seen him at numerous tastings throughout the years.

Thanks to Tony Didio, I finally had the good fortune to sit down with Diego and discuss his family winery a bit more in depth and to sample different wines although the one in the picture above remains a favorite from this winery. Cusumano has a number of vineyards around the Palermo area and can count on grapes from over 500 hectares.

Sagana is a wine I first tasted back in 2010 and have since had the pleasure of drinking a number of times. This latest occasion showed the wine at its finest, paired with a wonderful steak, Sagana made from 100% Nero d’Avola. The wine undergoes malolactic fermentation in 20 hectoliter barrels and then ages in those same barrels before being released to the market. The property where this wine is made is located at 400 meters above sea level. It is also 10 kilometers from the sea and subject to the scirocco.

I thought the wine had a plushy mouthfeel, great minerality and acidity, big juicy tannins, and earthy and chocolate aromas and flavors. It had a gorgeous finish and was balanced and harmonious throughout.


I tried a number of their other wines as well including Cubia, Jale, Noa and Moscato dello Zucco. Cubia 2011 was very a fantastic white wine made with grapes that grow at 700 meters above sea level in what is considered cool climate viticulture at their Tenuta Ficuzza located on the Piana degli Albanesi (PA).

The terroir here has consierable clay. This wine is made with Inzolia. It also ferments in 20 hectoliter barrels and remains on its lees for six months before fining. I loved it. It had great texture and a waxy quality that I always find with Chenin Blanc. It had rich and nutty flavors and according to Diego was a great expression of the terroir of Ficuzza.


Jale is also from Ficuzza but is made with 100% Chardonnay grapes and spends time fermenting and aging in barrique rather than larger barrels. It also has an interesting waxy flavor with classic Chardonnay notes of apple, butter and oak.

Noa was a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Nero d’Avola, a “super Sicilian” if you will.

Moscato dello Zucco

One wine that was a real surprise was the Moscato dello Zucco. Made from 100% Moscato Bianco, the grapes are dried in the cellar and the must eventually ferments in small wooden barrels called caratelli. I am a sweet wine fan so this was right up my alley with waxy, almond notes and hints of orange and pears. It also had great acidity.

Diego also discussed his family project for their new winery called Alta Mora in the Etna area. They have 15 hectares between Castiglione di Sicilia and Randazzo. He is looking forward to the family producing Nerello Mascalese. He seemed quite excited about the new project. They presented some of the wines at Vinitaly and it appears that we should see the wines by the end of the year perhaps here in the US as well.

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Wine of the Week: Conte Vistarino Sangue di Giuda from Oltrepo’ Pavese (Lombardy)

With Lucia on Cape Cod

Friday is the quintessential Italian holiday, Ferragosto. What is Ferragosto you might ask, well according to Wikipedia:

“The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary—the actual physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorruptible body into Heaven. Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday also included honoring of gods—in particular Diana—and the cycle of fertility and ripening, during the time of the Roman Empire.”

Ferragosto for me is much simpler and has always represented the beach, good food and good friends. Usually I am on my way to Cape Cod this week but this year I’ve got other big plans. Very excited about these plans but I do always love the Cape….


Lucky for me, New York unlike Italy, decidedly does not shut down for the holiday. My first summer living in Milan, the entire city was shut down for August but I worked at a financial newswire which never closed its doors. Those were the days when Italy’s Central Bank still mattered and as always, most financial crises began in August. At times, being in the office was almost a relief from the hot, empty streets of the city. When I did have to venture out, I looked forward to the one light on the street, a bar called Le Trottoir. I lived in the Corso Garibaldi area and Le Trottoir was the only game in town.

It has since changed its location and style but at the time, it was the closest thing to a hippy bar that I could find in my chic Milanese neighborhood and it was refreshing. They served popcorn, bad wine and had loud music every night until dawn. When everyone’s tapparelle or sun blinds were down, it was a pleasure to slip into that bar and order whatever they had on the menu, generally a bland Barbera/Croatina from the Oltrepo’ Pavese, an area near the city of Pavia. These wines used to be on every Milanese restaurant and Trattoria menu.

They were not particularly refined wines but went well with some of the local fare. Wines from the Oltrepo’ aren’t that popular in the US but they do make some good Pinot Nero.

This week’s wine of the week hails from Oltrepo’ from Conte Vistarino, their Sangue di Giuda. This wine is made from a blend of Croatina and Barbera.
This semi-sweet sparkler has low alcohol and is a fruity summer wine. I can see drinking some of this and eating a sandwich staring out at the sea on the Cape. It would be a great combination.


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