Category Archives: Italian regions

Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia di Schierano Nero from Piedmont

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This week’s indigenous grape variety is called Malvasia di Schierano Nero. This aromatic grape comes from Piedmont and produces either frizzante or spumante red or rose style sweet wines. The grapes are occasionally dried and made into a passito style wine as well. The wines are said to be of low alcohol and to pair well with regional desserts. I have never had a wine from this particular denomination but it seems to be relatively popular in the Torino area. I found the names of a few producers and I think I may look them up at Vinitaly in two weeks. One is called Carlin de Paolo while another is Terre dei Santi. The grapes tend to grow near Castelnuovo Don Bosco and some other villages in the Astigiano area such as Albugnano, Passerano Marmorito, Pino d’Asti, Berzano and Moncucco. Another producer is Casa Vinicola Franco Francesco. Cascina Gilli also makes this sweet wine. I have had many of their other wines so I think this may be my first stop. The must be cooled down and then refermented with yeasts in an auto-clave. The cold temperature enables the grapes to keep their fresh, lively, primary aromas of fruit and flowers.

To have the Malvasia di Castelnuovo don Bosco DOC designation which includes sweet, sparkling, red and rose wines, the wines must be made from 85% Malvasia di Schierano grapes. This area of Piedmont is farther inland and has higher elevations. The climate is more Continental than Mediterranean and the grapes retain their freshness. I always feel that Piedmont is one area of Italy that I haven’t spent enough time in. Turin, like Milan, is a city that has undergone many changes throughout the areas. It is a city that surprises you and offers unexpected beauties. I think maybe I am due for a visit. I have some friends who live there so it could be the right time. Perhaps later this Spring. Five more Malvasia varieties to describe. This is my 169th post in this series….

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia di Casorzo Nero (Piedmont)

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This week’s variety hails from the province of Asti in Piedmont and is known as Malvasia di Casorzo Nero. This Malvasia belongs to the same family of grapes that we have been visiting each week but this one is a red grape.

This Malvasia can be made into sweet wines, either frizzante or spumante versions or more infrequently into a passito.

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I found a couple of producers who describe the wines made from this grape as being fruity and floral but who swear it is not unctuous and cloying. There is a historic Cantina Sociale Sometimes the wine is made with a percentage of Barbera which gives it a more sapid note but often it is made from 100% Malvasia di Casorzo.

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On wine-searcher.com, I was able to find this wine and the price which was about $15.

Malvasia di Casorzo Nera seems to lack a presence in the U.S. for the moment but that may change as more people turn to sweet red wines. When I think about the popularity of Bracchetto d’Acqui, I smile and think Casorzo has a future too.

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Discovering Tasca d’Almerita, A Sicilian Icon

I first heard of Tasca d’Almerita  many, many years ago. I knew it was one of Sicily’s great wineries with a long and noble past and family behind it. What I didn’t know was how innovative the winery is as well.

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Tasca d’Almerita is its 8th generation of their history. They have five estates and
about 600 hectares of vines in Sicily. They are exported all over the world and are brought into the US by Winebow

They also have two amazing resorts and a serious commitment to sustainability.
The estates are Capofaro on the Aeolian island Salina, Tascante on Mount Etna, Sallier de la Tour in Monreale, a joint venture, with the Whitaker Foundation on Mozia, and the Regaleali estate which now stretches over 500 hectares in the very heart Sicily. They also have Villa Tasca (formerly Villa Camastra) in Palermo.

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I first met one of the two brothers running Tasca today –  together with their father Count Lucio –  at Vinitaly in 2011. I was translating for the Wine Spectator at meetings they had with groups of 10 wineries from each region. All of the Sicilian wineries that day were impressive but Tasca was something more.

Every year I spend a long time at the Tasca stand at Vinitaly. It is always artfully done with interesting materials and with vegetation from Sicily. One year they brought orange trees, another herbs that grown on the island. It is usually so packed it’s hard to get a space to taste but I always taste through all of their wines.

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I’d be hard pressed to say which one I prefer because honestly I love almost all of them. One that of course stands out is Almertia Extra brut. It is made from 100% Chardonnay and has the Contea di Sclafani D.O.C designation and hails from the Regaleali Estate. It stays on its lees for 36 months. It has rich, apple flavors with a great almond note. I also love that Tasca has a female winemaker, Laura Orsi on their team at Regaleali. Tasca planted Chardonnay in Sicily in the 1980s, the first to bring Chardonnay to Sicily.

Another Tasca wine that has always appealed to me is their Regaleali Rose made from 100% Nerello Mascalese. I drink a lot of rose all year and this one went well with the lovely pizza I had this weekend. I was surprised at its freshness but then I remembered that the estate is located at 400-900 above sea level and therefore the grapes do get to rest from the heat of the hot Sicilian sun.

Regaleali Rose

Tasca is not only at the forefront of Sustainability but they also are trying to make wines without sulfites. I tried a version of their wine Antisa that was made without sulfites in 2015. Antisa means “wait.” It had great acidity, again thanks to the elevation at Regaleali.

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Catarratto bianco is a widely planted grape on the island of Sicily. There are two very common types of Catarratto grown: bianco comune e bianco lucido. Antisa is made with bianco comune. The wine was also under screw cap which was interesting. Tasca tries everything it seems.

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Nozze d’oro is another famous Tasca wine. This one is made from 72% Inzolia and 28% Sauvignon Tasca, This Sauvignon clone  has been growing at Regaleali since the First world war. It was soft, fruity and beautiful and I am not even a huge fan of Sauvignon.

Tearing myself away from tasting wines from Regaleali, I did a tasting of their wines from Etna. I was particularly taken with one of them called Buonora. Made with Carricante, it was rich and sapid with loads of minerality. I also love their version of Nerello Mascalese from Etna, known as Il Tascante. It had depth and layers of nuanced flavors much like a great Pinot Noir. It was elegant with finesse as well.

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Before I write more about other Tasca wines, I want to mention that  Tasca is at the head of a group of wineries working on a project called SOStain that is involved in protecting the environment. The mission of the project is to promote sustainable agriculture. Tasca is convinced that the responsibility of each producer is to make great wine and to protect the land and the local flora and fauna while doing so. They have also created a mini-agricultural group called Naturaintasca that involves a group of local farmers who work with typical Sicilian products. At one event I attended, Alberto Tasca d’Almerita showed a film I just loved about his family but I can no longer find it on the website. At a certain point in his speech, Alberto said the following line which I really appreciated as well, “We didn’t receive the gift of our lands from our fathers but as a loan from our children/Non abbiamo ricevuto la terra in eredita dei nostri padri ma in prestito dai nostri figli.” So much more to say about this project but for now I will go back to the wines.

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Three more wines which I must mention are  their Riserva del Conte 2010, Contea di Sclafani D.O.C. made from 67% Perricone and 33% Nero d’Avola. The grapes are vinified together with ambient yeast.  The wine then ages in 500 liter wooden barrels made from Chestnut wood for 26 months. After 40 years, they wanted to commemorate the first vintage of the Riserva del Conte  and made this wine in 2010.

Ruby red in color with developing aromas of earth, fruit, animal skin and bacon, the wine was dry and full-bodied on the palate with flavors of oak, chocolate, and vanilla. It had sweet ripe tannins and a velvety mouthfeel.

Rosso del Conte is their flagship “SuperTasca.” Count Giuseppe planted vineyards of Perricone and Nero d’Avola in 1954 with a desire to create a wine to rival  French wines for both their elegance and longevity. The true expression of their family and their terroir. It spends 18 months in 100% new French oak (Allier & Tronçais) 225 liter barrels and 6 months in bottle before being released. According to their exhaustive website, it is  made from a selection of best Nero d’Avola grapes (63%) and other red vaieties among those authorized by the DOC (37%). I always find it a sensual wine with sweet tannins and a long finish.

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The last wines to mention are from their incredible estate Capofaro on Salinia. I went on an amazing sailing trip to Salina but didn’t get to Capofaro. I hope to spend time their one day. Their amazing Malvasia are always the perfect ending to these exquisite tastings. They have two and every year I try to decide which one I like better. One is sweeter, Malvasia Capofaro and the other Didyme which I was told means twins but is also the ancient name for Salina is dry with great acidity.

Tasca also makes interesting wines with Cabernet Sauvignon, Grillo, Grecanico and Syrah which I have tasted but the ones I mentioned were my favorites among their very vast range.

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I am an unabashed fan of this fantastic Sicilian winery and I look forward to this year’s mega tasting. Tasca is at almost every big wine event in the U.S and in restaurants and wine stores all through the country so everyone should have the occasion to try their wines.  Don’t miss out, I’m sure you will become a fan as I have.

Join the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel Group (#ItalianFWT) later today  as we virtually return to Italy’s southernmost wine region, and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea – Sicily! We’ll be posting and chatting about our discoveries with a live chat on Twitter 8-9am PST/11-12 EST . Come join us!

Italian Food Wine and Travel is a bloggers group that focuses monthly on a particular region of Italy showcasing our experiences with the food, wine or travel from that region.

  • Cam of Culinary Adventures With Camilla with be sharing Gnocchi Con Salsa di Pistacchi + Donnafugata Sherazade Rose 2014
  • Jill of L’Occasion offers a Winemaker Rendezvous: Lucio Matricardi of Stemmari
  • Susannah of Avvinare will be Discovering Tasca d’Almerita, A Sicilian Icon
  • Jennifer of Vino Travels will be serving Sicilian Steak with Eggplant Caponata & Nero d’Avola
  • David Crowley of Cooking Chat Food will be offering Pairings That Work With Sicilian Wine
  • Jeff of FoodWineClick with be having Sicilian Fun with Frappato, Grillo, Swordfish and Artichokes
  • Lauren of the Swirling Dervish – A Week-Night Dinner in Sicily
  • Gwendolyn of the Wine Predator will be serving up Sicilian Wine and Food by Candlelight
  • Martin of Enofylz Wine Blog will be exploring Two Tastes of Sicily’s Autochthonous Grape – Nerello Mascalese!

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia di Candia Aromatica Bianca (Emilia)

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This Malvasia di Candia Aromatica Bianca hails mainly from Emilia Romagna and can be found in the DOCs Colli Piacentini, Colli di Scandiano e Canossa, Monterosso Val d’Arda, Trebbiano Val Trebbia. It also grows in Lazio and can be used in the DOCs Cerveteri, Circeo, Cori, Genazzano, Montecoprati Colonna and my favorite, Zagarolo. A

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I recently had the pleasure of tasting wines from the Colli Piacentini at Slow Wine’s New York event last month. The winery is called La Tosa They make a wine called “Terrafiabe” COLLI PIACENTINI D.O.C. VALNURES. It’s a sparkling white which uses 40% Malvasia di Candia aromatic, 40% Otrugo, and 20% Trebbiano. They think of the Malvasia as bringing significant aromatics to the blend.

Emilia-Romagna has a number of DOC wines, although few that are very well known. I spent a considerable amount of time tasting wines from the Colli Piacentini while staying with friends in Bobbio, a wonderful town in the northern part of the region.

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Parma is another city that I love and I have tasted numerous wines from the Colli di Parma DOC, as noted in yesterday’s repost of an article I wrote two years ago about these wines. Colli di Scandiano e di Canossa DOC are wines I know less well while the Colli Bolognesi are favorites from my graduate school year in Bologna. Reno DOC, Bosco Eliseo DOC, Colli d’Imola DOC, Colli di Rimini DOC, Colli di Romagna Centrale DOC are all wines that are seldom seen in the States. I’ve tried some of them during the years I frequented the Lidi Ferraresi with my exes. Yes plural. Both of my long term Italian partners had families in different parts of Romagna. Thus, it is an area that was and remains close to my heart.

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Winery of the Week: Cos From Sicily

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I had the opportunity to taste through the Cos wines last month at the Domaine Select tasting. One was better then the next. I loved all of them but today will just mention the ones in the picture. My favorite was their Pithos Rosso DOC. Made from a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola, it purred at me with waves of flavor and depth. I loved its unique cherry flavors and its enveloping floral aromas and nuances. It was pure and perfectly clean. Reading through the website, I learned why. They pay enormous attention to every detail in their wine making and are biodynamic and organic. They also vinify and age their wines in amphora. I love this 30 year history of making wines in this way, very unique for Sicily and at the time, the only one doing so. That takes guts and drive.

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The winery was founded by three friends in 1980: Giambattista Cilia, Cirino Strano and Giusto Occhipinti. The acronym of their last names is where the name for the winery – COS – comes from.
Giambattista Cilia’s father Giuseppe Cilia gave them an old winery and the nearby vineyard of bush trained vines, a total of less than 4 hectares in the town of Bastonaca. The winery follows the principles of biodynamic faming in order to help the vines find and maintain a balance with nature in order to be able to express their true character and that of their terroir. For vinification, they decided to use terracotta vases that left no traces or aromas on the wine but were completely neutral vessels. In 2000, Pithos was created, a Cerasuolo di Vittoria that ferments and ages in amphora. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the only Denominazione d’Origine Controllata e Garantita (D.O.C.G.) wine in Sicily thus far.

I also loved the shape of their bottles. I wondered how it works on the shelves in wineshops but was told it isn’t a problem. I have never visited this part of Sicily but have a dear friend from Ragusa. Growing up, my neighbor who used to make wine with my father in our basement was also from Ragusa. I often credit them for getting me started in the wine industry. I sense a pattern here. Perhaps it is time for a trip to this part of Sicily.

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Wine of the Week: Caiarossa Pergolaia (Tuscany)

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This week’s wine of the week is from a wine called Caiarossa. I first discovered this winery last year at Vinitaly. I was attracted to their labels with the enigmatic bust on them and the esoteric names of their wines.

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The winery is owned by a Frenchman and the grapes grown are mostly international or French varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, etc. He also grows Sangiovese but most of his wines are blends. Usually this would put me off but I persevered and am glad I did.

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I very much enjoyed all of the wines I tried and the gentle hand of the winemaker was pretty consistent throughout the wines. The goal of the owner, Eric Albada Jelgersma who also runs two chateaux in France, Chateau Giscours and Chateau du Tertre is to express the particular terroir of the vineyards. The vineyards at Caiarossa have red soils and “ghiaia” or small stones. They are certified organic and biodynamic. I tasted a couple of the wines again at the Slow Wine event in February. She wasn’t a fan but I found them to be to my liking much as I had a year earlier. I found the blend in Pergolaia, Sangiovese with a small percent of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, engaging and juicy both on the nose and palate with rich red fruits, tertiary earth notes and foral undertones. I thought it had a long finish and would work beautifully with a light pasta or a chicken dish.

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I think this is a winery to watch. Not inexpensive, I thought the wines were worth it.

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Italian Indigenous Varieties: Malvasia Bianca di Basilicata

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This week’s variety is called Malvasia bianca di Basilicata. It is usually blended with other grapes, particularly with Moscato. One can find it in some of the DOC wines in Matera. For example, Matera Bianco. It must be made from a minimum of 70% Malvasia bianca di Basilicata. To make a sparkling Matera DOC, 70% must be Malvasia di Basilicata. Like many of the other Malvasias we have seen, this one also is said to hail from Greece from the city of Monemvasia in the Peloponnese. Malvasia is often used as a term to denote wines that are sweet, aromatic and not too alcoholic. This variety used to be used in Aglianico but now is found mostly in the white blends. Basilicata is a fascinating region and one that I would love to go back to visit. I went to Matera many years ago and was quite taken with it. It is very rugged. Some 47% of Basilicata is covered by mountains and it has two coastlines, one on the Ionian Sea and the other on the Tyrrhenian Sea. In fact, Basilicata for me was something of a jumping off point or better, an arrival. I always said I couldn’t leave Italy until I visited Basilicata. Then I went and still didn’t leave for three more years. I will have to scan my photos of that beautiful region but suffice it to say that it is still very much as it was centuries ago. There is a great movie that takes place in Basilicata that came out some years ago called “Basilicata Coast to Coast.” I loved it although some said it was a bit sentimental. Then again, so I am.

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