Articles in Drinking
You’ve heard of Positano, of course; Amalfi and Ravello, too, no doubt. How about Furore? Maybe not. Don’t worry; you’re not alone. Furore, Italy, is a just a little bit of a place, a random collection of houses, vineyards and lemon groves strung out across a series of near-vertical terraced slopes perched precariously above the shimmering Amalfi Coast.
Even residents describe it as “un paese che non c’è” — a village that’s not really a village. So why mention it? Because Furore is home to the Marisa Cuomo boutique winery, which, as Carla Capalbo observes in her vade mecum “Food and Wine Guide to Naples and Campania,” has become “synonymous with the rise in quality of — and interest in — the Costa d’Amalfi DOC wines.”
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Wine has been made for centuries up in this rugged hinterland of the Amalfi Coast, but it was of inferior quality, sold in bulk and never destined to stray far from its homeland. Marisa Cuomo and her husband, Andrea Ferraioli, both from local winegrowing families, recognized the potential of the terroir and also of the indigenous grape varieties planted here, some of them unique to the area. About 20 years ago they resolved to take the village’s winegrowing in a new direction. “They put Furore on the map,” confirms their daughter Dorotea Ferraioli, who is responsible for marketing and also for tours and tastings. “They wanted our little paese to be known worldwide.”
Why it works in Furore
Realizing that the only way to go was up, they decided to focus relentlessly on quality. They improved practices in the vineyard, invested steadily in the winery, carved a breathtaking cellar straight out of the rock face behind the house and hired an enologist to oversee winemaking. They began to bottle all their own wines and to age some of them in small oak barrels and proceeded to market them with flair to an eager public — Italians first, swiftly followed by an international audience thirsty for wines from the much-loved, much-visited Amalfi Coast.
Today the winery works with 20 hectares (50 acres) of vines, planted on vertiginous slopes all the way from Furore round to Vietri. The vineyards in and around Furore are wholly owned; the rest are worked by the winery in a cooperative arrangement.
You need to see the vineyards above Furore to understand the extreme challenges involved in working this terrain. The vines, almost all pre-phylloxera and ungrafted, are planted at the foot of the walls that prop up the steeply stacked terraces, at altitudes ranging from 100 to 750 meters (328 to 2,460 feet) above sea level. Their branches sprawl out horizontally along pergolas made from long, tapering poles, which are cut from the chestnut trees that proliferate high in the Monte Lattari way above the village.
Training the vines along pergolas in this way, explains Dorotea, is not just a picturesque regional tradition; it’s also the most convenient solution, perfectly suited to the rigors of the terrain while making the most of the limited space available. The branches provide a dense canopy of leaves beneath which the grapes dangle, protected from the relentless sun. On the ground below, zucchini, pumpkins and other vegetables flourish gratefully in the shade. Two crops are thus grown in one tiny, precious, precarious space.
The winery makes white, rosé and red wine from a whole bunch of little-known, indigenous vine varieties that are still part of Italy’s precious heritage. Top of the white range is the barrel-fermented Fiorduva (“flower of the grape”), a fragrant blend of Fenile, Ginestra and Ripoli, three varieties unique to the Amalfi Coast. Furore Bianco, described by the sommelier at the Casa Angelina restaurant in nearby Praiano as “semplice ma non banale” (“simple but by no means ordinary”), comes from Falanghina and Biancolella grapes, both typical of Campania. Rosé and reds are made from Piedirosso (“red-foot”) and Aglianico in varying proportions.
Next time you’re on vacation in Positano or Amalfi, look out for Marisa Cuomo wines. They’re are widely available in restaurants, bars and shops along the coast. Best of all, find your way up the winding road to Furore and pay the winery a visit (from January to August only). Then look out for the wines when you get back home. (Wines are exported to the U.S., Canada, Japan and Switzerland). When you’ve tracked down a bottle of Fiorduva or Furore Rosso Riserva, uncork it, close your eyes, picture those dizzying slopes and sun-baked terraces, take a gentle sniff, breathe in the scents of the Amalfi Coast and remember the sheer back-breaking labor of love that has gone into the bottle.
Top photo: Grapes growing at the Marisa Cuomo winery in Furore, Italy. Credit: Cantine Marisa Cuomo
Italy’s less well-known wine appellations provide a continuing supply of truly interesting wines at very reasonable prices, like the fresh, juicy 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano. It’s the first vintage of this dark, intense red with a taste of pure fruit from an organic winery in the district of Montepulciano, southeast of Siena in Tuscany. It was a perfect partner to rich pasta Bolognese at a weeknight dinner.
Elin McCoy’s Wine of the Week
Region: Tuscany, Italy
Grape: 100% Prugnolo Gentile Sangiovese
Serve with: Pasta Bolognese, roasted turkey
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Salcheto is the brainchild of winemaker Michele Manelli, who purchased the property in 1997 and added two partners about a decade ago. Together they began exploring ways to improve wine quality while creating a more sustainable, energy-efficient cellar with a low environmental impact.
In 2011, they built what they call Italy’s first “off-grid” winery, which uses no traditional power sources and generates its own energy with solar photovoltaic panels. And it gets by on less than half the energy conventional wineries require, thanks to using only natural lighting, recycled water and gravity. The cellar is built into the side of a hill, with plants on the exposed wall to absorb the sun and help keep the interior cool, and an automated system of opening and closing windows to circulate cooler night air.
The trio also commissioned a research study to document the carbon footprint of a bottle of wine. Including the carbon emissions from vineyard to packaging, it “costs” the equivalent of three and a half pounds of CO2 to produce a bottle of this wine. Last summer they completed the first certification of a water footprint and are working on establishing a biodiversity footprint.
Montepulciano developing its red wines
In Tuscany, wines like Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino get most of the attention, but the Montepulciano zone is working hard to catch up by reinventing itself. Over the past 25 years, the wines have gone from a blend of several varieties to reds based almost totally on a local clone of Sangiovese, as this Salcheto is.
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the grand wine of the region, aged longer and in wood. The Rosso is fresher, brighter and easy-drinking. The Salcheto Obvius, released in September, uses grapes from young vines and Manelli ferments and ages the wine in stainless steel, without any cultured yeast or added sulfur. He calls this a “from grapes only” wine.
The Latin name of the wine, Obvius, doesn’t mean obvious, as you might think. It has many meanings, including open and accessible, which the 2012 Salcheto Obvius certainly is.
Top composite image: 2012 Salcheto Obvius Rosso di Montepulciano label and vineyards. Credit: Courtesy of Salcheto Winery
Several years ago, while visiting my family in Michigan for the Christmas holiday, my dad told me about a mysterious collection of wines stashed in his basement. The wines had been passed down to him by an old Italian judge, who had died before he had a chance to drink them.
Naturally, I was curious about what sort of wines they were. My dad hadn’t bothered to go through the couple of cases he was given, instead leaving them for me to pick through when I arrived. I was practically rubbing my hands together in anticipation of the treasures I might find in Dad’s basement.
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When I went downstairs on Christmas morning, what I found was mostly disappointing — white wines from the ’70s that had turned brown, unremarkable reds never meant to be aged, cork-tainted wines that had to be poured down the sink. But there was one bottle that made my heart palpitate: a 1967 Antinori Chianti Classico Riserva from Tuscany.
I brought it upstairs and popped the cork, and found that the wine had held up beautifully over the years. It had lovely mature character, and managed to retain much of its fruitiness. I poured glasses for our little gathering — my dad, stepmom, husband, sister and brother-in-law — and we all agreed that the wine was something special. Truth be told, it was a little past its prime, but that didn’t stop us from finishing the bottle.
While we waited for the rest of the family to arrive for dinner, my husband searched the Internet to find out more about the wine we’d just polished off. “Wow, that wine is selling at auction for $200!” he announced. My frugal father, a man who drinks wine daily but rarely spends more than $10 on a bottle, was thunderstuck. “If I’d known that,” he said, “I would never have opened it.”
He was only half joking. But what better time could there be to open a special bottle of wine than the holidays, when you’re surrounded by family and friends — the people you love most?
Even if you don’t have a 1967 Chianti hiding in your cellar, chances are you have a bottle or two stashed away from a winery visit or vacation. What are you waiting for? My dad’s Italian judge was waiting for the right occasion to open his wines, too. If you don’t already have a special bottle set aside, why not make this the year to splurge on a memorable wine to share with your favorite people?
Here are five wines that fit that description nicely. These Napa Valley and Sonoma stunners taste great now and will improve with age, so you’ll be able to enjoy them at future holiday celebrations too. The wines are balanced and food friendly — none containing more than 14.1% alcohol — so they’ll pair wonderfully with your holiday brisket or standing rib roast.
Pine Ridge Vineyards Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($85): This gorgeous wine has an enticing aroma of red fruit, along with cherry and berry flavors accented with baking spices. It’s elegant and balanced, with soft tannins.
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Napa Valley Fay Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($95): With aromas of raspberries and cedar, this is a beautifully balanced wine with bright red cherry flavor, silky texture and well-integrated tannins.
Clos Du Val Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 ($80): Here’s a classic, age-worthy Napa Valley Cabernet with rich aromas of leather and black fruit. It has black cherry and chocolate flavors, along with good structure and moderate tannins.
Cobb Wines Sonoma Coast Jack Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($70): This lovely cool-climate Pinot smells of ripe raspberries and cherries, and has delicious red fruit flavors to match. The wine’s fruit-forwardness is balanced by a good bit of acidity.
Inman Family Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2009 ($35): With its aromas of red fruit and cinnamon spice, this wine was made for Thanksgiving dinner. It’s medium bodied and elegant, with soft tannins and flavors of red fruit and cola.
Top photo: A selection of holiday wine. Credit: Tina Caputo
Entering the Great American Beer Festival with a plan of attack is like going to Eataly with a three-item shopping list: Good luck sticking to it. This year, the exhibition hall at the Colorado Convention Center in downtown Denver was packed with more than 600 brewers showcasing more than 3,100 products. Though my editor and I had discussed the recent resurgence of true Pilsners, I realized the second I walked in the door that I could no more limit myself to crisp Bohemian- and German-style lagers than I could pass up white truffles because I need button mushrooms.
Yet a general focus on lighter, low-to-moderate-alcohol styles was not only doable, but prudent if I hoped to leave the festival in one piece. Beyond that, I asked myself, which samples would cut through the palate fatigue with enough panache to warrant further investigation? Now that the fog has cleared, I stand by the following list in all its arbitrariness.
Cambridge Brewing Co. Shadows and Light
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At 10% alcohol by volume, this was an exception to my rule of sticking to more sessionable beers. Described as a “Maderized and Blended Experimental Very Old Ale,” it presents a mesmerizing port-like profile, showing raisins, baking spices and a touch of soy sauce. As brewmaster Will Meyers explains, “Shadows and Light was inspired by the techniques of oxidation and exposure to sunlight as well as extremes of heat and cold. All of these are things you are specifically instructed not to do when brewing beer (or wine, sake, cider, etc.) because ordinarily they’d destroy it, and yet beverages such as Madeira, sherry and Banyuls, not to mention some spirits, are treated in this specific way. I decided to find out if I could incorporate these techniques successfully — and after eight years of considerable effort, I was lucky enough to have achieved my goals.”
Sadly, only those within commuting distance of Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass., will have opportunity to try it; first released in May of this year, it will be tapped just once more, at the brewpub’s 25th anniversary party the first weekend of May 2014. Boston beer buffs, mark the date.
Elevation Beer Co. Engel Weisse
From a newcomer in Poncha Springs, Colo., this oak-fermented and -aged Berliner Weisse would, as my friend Amy observed, make a fine alternative to lemonade on a hot day, throwing shades of gingerbread and yogurt into the citrusy mix (4% ABV). According to sales manager Alexander Bustamante, it’s named for a snow-pack formation called the Angel of Mount Shavano “that looks over us here at Elevation,” it’s currently available seasonally only in Colorado.
For the record, I also appreciated two other refreshingly straightforward variations on the theme: one from Crabtree Brewing Co. in Greeley, Colo. (4.3% ABV), which garnered a gold medal in 2011, and one from Nodding Head Brewery in Philadelphia, which proved a pioneer when it debuted the gracefully fruity Ich Bin Eine Berliner Weisse (3.5% ABV) in 2000. Brewer Gordon Grubb observes that while the style’s reputation as “the Champagne of the North” might be overstated, “it does have some white wine characteristics, more tart than truly sour.”
Elysian Brewing Co. Great Pumpkin Ale
Sampling this Seattle brewer’s take on the predominant fall favorite at this year’s beer festival media luncheon was a revelation. So many of its peers come across as muddy or cloying; this was anything but. Crisp and sparklingly clean, it showcased its namesake ingredient not by letting it run rampant but by treating it and its baking-spice trappings with restraint. 8.1% ABV.
Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales Seizoen Bretta
This haunting saison, which nabbed a gold for its Hood River, Ore. , producer at last year’s festival, spoke to me in fleeting, delicately effervescent tones of musty cider houses, honeypots and savory herb gardens. Bottle conditioned with pear juice to 8% ABV, it stood up remarkably well to the milk chocolate-pumpkin mousse cake it was served with.
The Lost Abbey Framboise de Amorosa
By the time we cut through the crush surrounding the booth, this San Marcos, Calif.-based cult leader was fresh out of the Red Poppy Ale that had just scored a medal in the American-Style Brett Beer category for the second year running. But the barrel-aged sour we settled on instead was hardly sloppy seconds. (Indeed it took a silver back in 2011.) Despite whiffs of its own bretty funk, its raspberry juiciness remained breathtakingly pure from start to long finish. 7% ABV.
New Belgium Coconut Curry Hefeweizen
The name of this brew, released in July as part of the Fort Collins, Colo., giant’s Lips of Faith series, says it all. Creamy touches of coconut and banana combine with spikier, more savory hints of garam masala, yet the effect is surprisingly smooth and relatively subtle. 8% ABV.
Scratch Brewing Co. Carrot-Ginger Saison
Specializing in the use of locally farmed and foraged ingredients, this Ava, Ill., brewer impressed me with the easy balance it struck between warm, earthy sweetness and a cool, clean bite. Of the inspiration for the farmhouse ale, first released in July at 6% ABV (but available only locally), co-founder Marika Josephson says, “Squash and sweet potatoes have obviously been done in a lot of fall beers, and we figured that roasting carrots would give a similar flavor. But we wanted to spice up the carrot a little, so we decided to use wild ginger and a small amount of peppercorns.”
Smuttynose Straw-Barb Short Weisse
If, as my friend Mark suggested, the name of this fruited Berliner Weisse out of Portsmouth, N.H., alludes to shortcake, it does itself a disservice. Rather than conveying any sugary, baked-dessert message, it delivers the floral perfumes of strawberry and rhubarb to back its tartness. Smuttynose enjoys fairly wide distribution on the East Coast, so keep your eyes peeled for the recent release. 3.5% ABV.
Weyerbacher Eighteen Weizenbock
Forgive me for including this dark, malty wheat beer. Not only does it break my style rule at 11.1% ABV, but as a one-off made in honor of its Easton, Pa., producer’s 18th anniversary in June 2013, it will soon be sold out across Weyerbacher’s distribution network if it isn’t already. Should you track it down, though, you’ll be treated to a veritable chocolate-banana milkshake of a pour.
Top photo: A beer being poured at the Great American Beer Festival. Credit: Brewers Association
Discrimination is a strange thing. On the one hand, no one likes being its victim, and hardly anyone confesses to being its practitioner. On the other, connoisseurs and critics discriminate all the time. That’s because the primary Oxford English Dictionary definition of the verb “to discriminate” is “to make or constitute a difference … to distinguish [or] differentiate.”
We generally consider discrimination to be a bad thing when we think the standard being used is inadequate for the distinction in question. For instance, we disapprove of employers using skin color, ethnic origin or gender as a basis for hiring (or not hiring) someone. At the same time, though, we value discrimination — indeed, we rely upon it — when we judge the standard to be legitimate. We do so, for example, when we trust a critic to help us decide whether to read a particular book or watch a particular movie. Much the same happens with food and drink.
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A website like Zester Daily helps us choose what to eat and drink. It thus is chock-full of discrimination, as privileging one object (say, Mennonite tomatoes, to cite a delightful recent article by Susan Lutz) over another (cold storage tomatoes) is itself an act of discrimination.
Even though I live fairly close to Lancaster, Pa., the heart of Mennonite country, I have not tasted the tomatoes that Susan loves so much. And although I enjoy cooking and (even more) eating, I cannot honestly say that my food standards are sufficiently well defined to allow for more than personal judgments. But as a professional wine writer, I rely on certain non-personal criteria to distinguish between a good and a bad wine, or between an exceptional and an average one.
Unfortunately, few of my wine writing colleagues seem to think that specifying standards is important. Perhaps because serious wine criticism is relatively new, it lags far behind criticism in other areas — in the arts, for example, in literature and, yes, in food. Wine writing lacks a rich history; we have no Brillat-Savarin, Grimod de la Reynière or M. F. K. Fisher to inspire us. And although we are fortunate to be able to read the work of some superb stylists (Gerald Asher, for example, and Hugh Johnson), contemporary critics tend to offer little more than sterile scores, numbers that suggest objectivity but in actuality do little more than mask subjective opinions.
Pick up any introductory guide to wine and you almost always will read that you should ignore the critics and trust your own judgment — nonsensical advice, since people wouldn’t buy such guides if they already felt confident in their ability to judge. The world of wine is getting bigger and more complicated every year. It desperately needs what the 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume called a well-defined “standard of taste.”
Any such standard has to be based upon what actually is in the bottle. It also must reflect an awareness of the past, the wines that can serve as benchmarks or models for current ones made with specific grape varieties or coming from specific regions. As Hume, who was thinking about both aesthetic and gustatory taste, wrote, we cannot ignore “the consent and experience of nations and ages.”
Wine lover’s standards
So what criteria other than “it tastes good to me” or “it got 95 points” can we use to discriminate between a truly fine wine and an ordinary one? Let me suggest five:
1. Balance. A top wine works as a whole, with no single element (e.g., acidity, tannin, sugar, etc.) dominating over the others. When those elements are in balance, the whole becomes harmonious.
2. Depth. The same wine also needs to have substance and presence. Even if it’s light-bodied, it demands that you pay attention to it.
3. Length. The best wines invariably have long, lingering flavors and so leave lasting impressions. You can taste them long after you have swallowed them.
4. Complexity. A great wine never leaves a single impression. It instead is multilayered, conveying many different flavors and sensations.
5. Typicity. Finally, a truly fine wine will taste as it should taste, meaning that it will be true to its many origins — the varieties with which it is made, the place where those grapes were grown, even the vision that inspired it.
There may well be other criteria to include in any standard of taste for wine lovers, and a full understanding of these five certainly calls for more than the simplistic explanations I have provided here. But at least for me, this is a good start, an initial step toward more informed, honest criticism. That’s because I’m convinced the world of wine today needs more discrimination, not less.
Top photo: Glasses of red and white wine. Credit: iStockphoto
Back in 2011, in a piece on mountain rums, I briefly provided some context to explain how Colorado had managed to become such a liquor mecca — not just the beer capital it’s best known as, but also a distilling hub. (Granted, my state’s wine industry is still fledgling, but it’s got potential.)
That discussion really hit home just the other day, when I attended the fourth annual Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival. It surely will again when I hit the Great American Beer Festival — more on that in another story. As a mining settlement turned ski resort, Breckenridge was born to be a hard-drinking town. There were already 18 saloons here in the late 19th century, including the Gold Pan, established in 1879 and still going strong. The city’s Heritage Alliance even conducts a tour on the subject. No wonder, then, that it’s proving the perfect place to showcase local distilleries, welcoming more than 20 of them, along with 600 guests, to the Riverwalk Center this year (compared with eight producers and 100 attendees at its inauguration, according to Ken Nelson, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association).
Some of the names may already be familiar to outsiders, including Peach Street Distillers in Palisade, which sources from neighboring orchards and wineries to make fruit brandies, eaux-de-vie and grappa, among other things; the pioneering Denver-based Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey; and Montanya Distillers, whose rums are available far beyond its home base of Crested Butte. Others were new even to me — but if quality alone guaranteed distribution, products like the following would be everywhere.
Golden Moon Crème de Violette
Many present-day spirits producers talk the talk of ancient recipes and Old World methods, but few walk the walk quite so boldly as Stephen Gould’s Golden Moon Distillery (based, of course, in Golden). A “trained saucier” and former brewer, he got interested in collecting old, rare bottles a decade ago. Upon “stumbling across a case of 1950 Spanish absenta and really enjoying it,” he says, “I started doing a little digging — and now I own, I’m told, one of the largest collections in private hands of books on distilling in North America.”
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His wonderfully evocative crème de violette, for instance, is a true distillate of the namesake flower. He hit upon the recipe for it after “studying how French perfumers worked with violet to keep it stable.” The result is higher in alcohol (at 30% ABV) and lower in sugar than any that I could find. Sadly, I couldn’t sample his take on the legendary orange bitters Amer Picon, which he calls Amer Dit Picon, because he’s awaiting label approval. In any case, his version replicates not the current but the original recipe, “with the exception of one ingredient, calamus root, that the FDA has forbidden.” Although there are substitutes on the domestic market for the otherwise unavailable French liqueur, Gould says they’re much less complex than the 100-year-old bottles he’s had occasion to try, compared to which “ours is a little more peppery and a little harder — but then, after a century of aging, it’s natural that they’d have mellowed. I think we’ve come about as close as possible.”
Feisty Spirits Elementals
Unless it’s specified as bourbon, rye, etc., “whiskey can technically be made from any grain. Only four or five are generally used, but there are hundreds out there; why not try them?”
So wondered Jamie Gulden, co-founder of Feisty Spirits in Fort Collins, when he and his partner, head distiller David Monahan, set about experimenting with cereals beyond the blue corn, oats
and rye they use for their single-barrel bottlings. Not all of them worked, he admits — amaranth, for one, “isn’t something you’d want to drink straight” — but four others now compose Feisty’s single-grain line, Elementals: Kamut (aka Khorasan wheat), Millet, Triticale and Quinoa. I liked the roasty, toasty qualities of the Kamut; as for the Quinoa, which wasn’t on offer at the festival, Gulden calls it “a polarizing whiskey: some people really love its grassiness mixed with nuttiness, some don’t.” It may be awhile before non-Coloradans can judge it for themselves; Feisty’s distribution, after only a year in business, remains limited to the Front Range.
Santa Fe Single-Malt Whiskey
Speaking of whiskey, I have to give a nod to one of the festival’s few non-local exhibitors. Santa Fe Spirits is rolling out a single malt in which the barley is smoked not over peat à la Islay Scotch, but rather mesquite. Perhaps I’m swayed by fond memories of Christmas in New Mexico, but its tangy notes of wood smoke yet surprisingly mellow character immediately won me over. (Availability is slowly expanding from the Southwest to the West Coast.)
Dancing Pines Black Walnut Bourbon Liqueur
I first met ex-paramedic firefighter Kristian Naslund a couple of years ago, not long after he’d launched Dancing Pines Distillery in Loveland. Offered samples of his chai, caramel and cherry liqueurs, I was thoroughly skeptical — they sounded like just so much commercial cough syrup. But boy, I was wrong; though certainly sweet, they lacked any trace of sharp artificiality, their profiles warm yet clear. So it is with this newer release, which begs for a fireside armchair; Naslund and crew do distribute out of state.
Billed as the world’s highest-altitude spirits producer (the facility sits at 9,600 feet), Breckenridge Distillery likewise enjoys some presence on the national market, primarily thanks to its well-received bourbon. Its strikingly heather-honeyed small-batch bitters are built on the discovery by master distiller Jordan Via, while hiking close to home, of some plants that turned out to be related to those used in génépi, an Alpine liqueur. Along with the brand’s own vodka, they serve as the foundation for a blend whose 10 other proprietary botanicals make for a smoother, gentler, more rounded variation of the European model — neither quite as bitter nor quite so intensely sweet.
Top photo: Feisty Spirits was one of several Colorado distilleries to showcase its products at the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival. Credit: Jessie Unruh
Sicilian wines made from vines planted on the slopes of the famous Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, have been getting well-deserved buzz for the past few years. The fresh, savory 2012 Tascante Buonora Carricante, a white with aromas of flowers and flint, bright acidity, and an intense taste of green apple and slightly smoky rocks, really reflects Etna’s distinctive terroir and has plenty of personality for its very reasonable price.
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Region: Sicily, Italy
Grape: 100% Carricante
Serve with: Rich fish with lemon sauce, pasta and truffles
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Tascante is one of five Sicilian estates operated by Tasca d’Almerita, founded in 1830 and now run by the Count Lucio Tasca and his two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto. On my first visit to the island, I spent a day at their 500-hectare (1,235-acre) Regaleali estate in Sicily’s center, where Anna Tasca Lanza presides over a stellar cooking school. Eight generations of the family have been intertwined with Sicily’s history. In the late 1990s, Giuseppe became fascinated by Mount Etna, and eventually bought 21 hectares (51 acres) of land in the best zone on the northern side of the volcano, where vines are planted on steep terraces. The name Tascante combines the family name and “Etna” spelled backward.
This is a wine area of extremes, with an unpredictable brooding volcano, often covered with snow, dictating unpredictable weather, rough, steep slopes, lava-and-rock-laced soil. Costs to grow grapes and produce wines here are high, which is one reason vineyards were mostly abandoned. About 30 years ago, there were only a handful of producers; now there are more than 80. Old gnarled vines and the diversity of terroirs at elevations from about 1,000 to 3,000 feet were a draw for the new producers who’ve made Mount Etna one of Italy‘s most exciting wine regions.
Tascante Buonora ‘extremely special’
Though Etna’s reds seem to get the most attention, the whites, like this one, are also extremely special. The Tascante Buonora is made from the ancient, rediscovered variety Carricante, which people say has grown on Mount Etna for a thousand years. It’s aged in stainless steel tanks, which keeps its flavors very pure.
Back in 2010, Tasca d’Almerita began working with Italian scientific research institutes on a project of sustainable agricultural development and is to be commended for using more solar energy, reducing the company’s carbon footprint, managing water resources, reducing chemicals in their vineyards.
Sicily, like all of Italy, is a source of fascinating wines made from unusual grapes with highly individual flavors. This 2012 Tascante Buonora is one of them.
Top photo: 2012 Tascante Buonora label and the vineyards in the shadow of Mount Etna. Credit: Courtesy Tasca d’Almerita
I’m just back from more than two weeks in Australia, where I spoke at Savour, the first wine conference put on by Wine Australia, which was held in Adelaide. I tasted dozens of stunning wines during my visit, though many of the best, sadly, are not available in the U.S. — at least not yet. This intensely limey 2012 Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, with its chalky, slatey finish, is great and available here. It — and the 2013 arriving later this year or early next year — are pricey but worth it, and will age brilliantly. (A recent survey conducted by Wine Ark, an Australian storage provider, listed Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling as the ninth most collected wine in Australia for 2013.)
Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week
Region: Clare Valley, South Australia
Grape: 100% Riesling
Serve with: Seafood curry, baked oysters
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On a tour of the hilly Clare Valley, a two-hour drive north from Adelaide, I stopped by the winery to talk and taste with owner-winemaker Jeffrey Grosset and his partner Stephanie Toole, owner of Mount Horrocks winery, whose wines I’ll write about at another time. Thanks to recent rain, the picturesque Clare, which I discovered isn’t a valley after all, was very green and magical, like an English shire, except that you see lines of gum trees and spot the occasional kangaroo. Thanks to Adelaide traffic, I was late.
The Clare has a long history as a wine region, going back to the 1840s, and is noted for its dry Rieslings. An enjoyable way to sample some of them is to bike or hike the 36-kilometer-long Riesling Trail, which passes near a dozen wineries, including Grosset, at the region’s southern end.
A top Aussie Riesling maker
One of the most celebrated Riesling makers in Australia, Grosset founded his winery in an old milk depot in 1981 and now makes three different Rieslings, including the lovely off-dry Alea bottling. The first vintage of the bone-dry Polish Hill, which comes from an organic vineyard planted on gravel, shale and blue slate at an elevation of 1,500 feet, was the 1980. The flavors are tightly wound, intense, steely and focused, with lemon-lime notes, zingy acidity and an elegant purity. Quality is surprisingly consistent from year to year. Older vintages we sipped and spit, 2005 and 2001, have developed more complexity and are filled with power and precision.
Grosset advises either drinking this wine right away or keeping it for at least six years. No worries about finding a corked wine when you finally open it, since Grosset pioneered using screw cap closures instead of corks. He was a driving force behind a group of 14 Clare Valley winemakers who collectively launched their Rieslings under screw cap in 2000.
Top photo: Owner-winemaker Jeffrey Grosset and the label of his 2012 Polish Hill Riesling. Credit: Courtesy of Grosset winery