Articles in Review

Feudo Arancio Dalila. Credit: Courtesy of Feudo Arancia

Sunny Sicily is in the throes of a wine revolution. This rich apricot-and-citrus-toned white, 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila, is an example of just how much has changed since the island turned from producing industrial plonk to quality wine from native grapes. With a 2,000-year wine history, Sicily is now one of Italy’s most exciting, cutting edge regions — and the source of dozens of current bargains. This is one of them.

Dalila is one of the two blends in the Stemmari portfolio, which also includes single varietal reds and whites made from native and international grapes. The Dalila blend is mostly Grillo, a local Sicilian white varietal used traditionally to produce fortified Marsala. Highly fragrant, with exotic notes of mango, Grillo can be exciting on its own, but the addition of some Viognier, a Rhône Valley grape, gives this wine a round, rich texture and contributes aromas of honey and wildflowers. I’m guessing the wine’s name is supposed to evoke the Dalila (of the Bible and the opera), who renders her former lover Samson powerless by cutting off his hair.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila

Price: $13

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 80% Grillo, 20% Viognier

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Seafood risotto, soft cheeses


More from Zester Daily:

» Rare white from Mount Etna in Sicily

» 2010 Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne offers charming value

» 2011 Inama Soave Classico climbs the Soave ladder

» 2011 Masseria Li Veli Askos Verdeca is more expressive than the price suggests

Stemmari is the Sicilian project of Mezzacorona, a company originally founded more than a century ago in northern Italy as a winegrowers’ association. In Sicily, the company sources grapes from its 1,700 acres of vineyards at two large estates on the island’s south coast, near Agrigento and Ragusa, where winds sweep in from the Mediterranean. The winery is built in traditional rustic villa style.

Considering this is a fairly big project, Stemmari’s commitment to “green” ideas and sustainable winegrowing is commendable. Though the vineyards are not organically farmed, the company uses “good” insects as an alternative to chemical treatments, as well as “sexual confusion” — a biological system that fights destructive bugs by limiting their reproduction. Thanks to Sicily’s hot, dry, windy climate, it’s also relatively easy to use few chemicals here. Solar panels generate the winery’s electricity, wastewater is recycled, and Feudo Arancio even desalinates seawater to keep its reservoirs full.

Sicily’s long winegrowing history began even before the Greeks arrived to colonize the island in 750 B.C. On a wine tour a few years ago, I wandered the ruins of magnificent ancient temples just outside Agrigento that they left behind. The group of eight buildings, strung out along a road of big stones, is deservedly one of the island’s most famous archeological attractions.

For most of the 20th century, Sicily was known for industrial-quality bulk wine. The wine renaissance started in the 1990s, as forward-thinking producers planted international grapes such as Chardonnay and focused on quality instead of quantity. The 2000s brought the rediscovery of fascinating native grape varieties such as Grillo. The 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila is a tasty, food-friendly blend of the two revolutions.

Top photo: 2013 Feudo Arancio Dalila. Credit: Courtesy of Feudo Arancio

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2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards

The snow outside has me longing for the beginning of rosé season. But sampling this bright 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado, with its lively flavors of cassis and pomegranate, at dinner recently reminded me that you don’t have to wait for hot weather to enjoy savory, medium-bodied pink wines. This food-friendly example was perfect with grilled pork chops and sautéed kale and would be delicious with tapas like olives and sharp cheese.

The wine’s origin, Lodi, Calif., surprised me, as did the varietals in the juicy blend. Bokisch Vineyards has made a specialty of growing Spanish varietals and two found their way into this wine. Made mostly from Barbera, it includes percentages of Graciano and white Albariño that add notes of dark cherry, smooth tannin and a nice crispness. Graciano is a very old variety in Spain, supposedly dating back before the Romans arrived. Aging in stainless steel preserves the wine’s acidity and fruit.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard

Price: $16

Region: Clements Hills, Lodi, Calif.

Grape: 86% Barbera, 8% Albariño, 6% Graciano

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Barbecued chicken or pork chops; tapas; paella


More from Zester Daily:

» Taken with a Spanish red from Cune

» Generous red from France warms up winter

» Crowd-pleasing party red wine from the Loire Valley

» Rare white wine from Mount Etna

Markus Bokisch, who owns the eponymous winery with his wife Liz, has a deep family connection with Spain, where he spent summers in Catalonia with his mother’s relatives. He started his career at Joseph Phelps in Napa, but spent a few years working in the wine industry in Spain, where he fell in love with Spanish grapes. When the couple returned to the U.S., they bought land in Lodi, planting varietals such as Tempranillo and Garnacha. Now they farm 1,000 acres, selling the grapes to 40 wineries.

I’ve always thought of the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area), southeast of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevadas, as the place big producers such as Sutter Home and Gallo turn to for grapes for their basic, somewhat boring blends. Few realize it has a 150-year-long vineyard tradition; many families have grown grapes — especially Zinfandel and Tokay, used for brandy — for a century or more.

Although Zinfandel is still the most planted grape, a new generation of adventurous growers is branching out. The Bokisches are at the forefront of the experimentation. Many of their vineyards are organic and others are certified green according to “Lodi Rules.” This complicated system includes using solar and biodiesel energy and monitoring the land ecosystem and water, but also permits some use of synthetic pesticides.

The 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado leans toward the bigger, fruitier Spanish style of rosé, which makes it ideal for drinking at any time of the year. So don’t wait for summer to sample its delights over a long brunch or dinner.

Top photo: 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards

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2012 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay label and vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Tenuta Sant'Antonio

Red wine blends are booming in popularity in the U.S., and I predict that in 2014 white blends will follow suit. The floral and citrus-scented 2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay is a bargain Italian example: dry, fresh, fruity, tangy and perfect as an apéritif or with steamed mussels. It also happens to be more interesting than you might expect for an under-$15 wine.

Satisfying white blends have a long history in European wine regions, and in the past few years innovative California winemakers have turned to Italy for inspiration.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay

Price: $13

Region: The Veneto, Italy

Grape: 60% Garganega, 40% Chardonnay

Alcohol: 12.5%

Serve with: Aperitifs, mussels in broth, vegetable risotto


More of Elin's wine picks:

» 2011 Inama Soave Classico

» A rare white from Mount Etna

» A generous red warms up winter

The Veneto region in northeast Italy, where the Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia comes from, has a mild climate, thanks to nearby Lake Garda, and a winemaking history that goes back to the ancient Greeks. It’s a region of wine contrasts, home to Amarone, a unique red made by a labor-intensive process of semi-drying grapes, and mass-market commercial companies that pump out millions of boring bottles a year.

The Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia blends a familiar international variety with a local Italian grape that’s widely planted throughout the Veneto. Late-ripening, Garganega is the variety that dominates Soave Classico, which must be made in a specified district near the city of Verona. The grape resembles Chardonnay in that both vary widely in taste depending on where they’re grown, when they’re picked, and how the wine is made.

Garganega grown on the Veneto’s flat plains for quantity rather than quality becomes simple, mediocre plonk. At Tenuta Sant’Antonio, grapes are planted on rolling hills, yields are kept low, and bunches are harvested by hand, all in the name of quality.

The four Castagnedi brothers — Massimo, Armando, Tiziano, and Paolo — who founded Tenuta Sant’Antonio worked as viticultural and technical wine consultants before starting the winery in 1989. They bought land in the Valpolicella zone adjacent to their father’s vineyard property, joined the two, then planted grapes and began making wine.

The Castagnedis produce a wide range of classic reds and whites under the Tenuta Sant’Antonio label, and are best known for their more expensive, top-quality Amarones, Valpolicellas, and Soaves. They describe the Scaia wines (the word refers to stone flakes in the chalky soil where the vines grow) as “modern interpretations” of traditional classics.

Happily, this doesn’t include aging in oak, which overwhelms the Garanega grape. The 2012 Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay is fermented at cold temperatures and aged in stainless steel, which preserves fruit and crispy acidity. The wine is much better than the ocean of easy-drinking whites from the Veneto. While it doesn’t have the character and style of the very best Soaves, it does have a juicy, mouth-filling personality and an attractive, everyday-drinking kind of price.

Top composite photo: 2012 Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Garganega/Chardonnay label and vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Tenuta Sant’Antonio

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2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas. Credit: Courtesy of Château de Saint Cosmé

When the temperature drops to zero and snow piles up in drifts outside my door (as it did last week), I want a rich, filling stew for dinner and a warm, generous red wine to match. The ripe, plummy 2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas is a classic choice, meaty and structured, yet fresh, savory and exuberantly fruity, with notes of blackberry and pepper. It was one of my highlights at a recent tasting with Gigondas producers at New York’s Rouge Tomate restaurant.

Gigondas is a village with a very pretty town square and an appellation in France’s southern Rhône Valley that produces only red wine. It lies in the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail, jagged limestone formations with 2,600-foot peaks that resemble sharp teeth or a rooster’s comb.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas

Price: $34

Region: Gigondas, Southern Rhone, France

Grape: 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 18% Mourvèdre, 2% Cinsault

Alcohol: 14.5%

Serve with: Daube of beef with olives and tomatoes, braised short ribs


More from Zester Daily:

» A juicy, organic red from Montepulciano

» Mandela legacy in a bottle

» A crowd-pleasing party red wine from the Loire Valley

» A rare white wine from Mount Etna

» A vibrant value from Montalcino

The wine, based on the Grenache grape, is often called the the poor man’s version of more famous and expensive red from Châteauneuf-du-Pape 10 miles to the south. It’s not a comparison producers like. At the dinner, Château de Saint Cosmé owner and winemaker Louis Barruol pleaded, “We want to be loved for what we are, not as a cheap Châteauneuf!”

In fact, the terroir in Gigondas is different from that of Châteauneuf, and wines from vineyards at higher elevations, like those from Saint Cosmé, can have more perfume and finesse, though usually less complexity. The blend of grapes must include no more than 80% Grenache, at least 15% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre, and up to 10% other Rhône varieties.

Saint Cosmé Gigondas

Built on what was once the site of a Roman villa, Saint Cosmé is the most ancient estate in the region, with cellar vats that were carved into rock in Roman times. The Barruol family has owned the property since 1570, and Barruol, who took over in 1992, is the 14th generation.

Saint Cosmé produces several single-vineyard Gigondas bottlings in addition to this standard cuvée, which includes a greater percentage than usual of the gnarled old vines around the château. Tucked into the hills above the valley floor, the vineyards are shaded by the Dentelles, which helps preserve the wines’ bright acidity. A regime of aging in old oak barrels keeps them from being too oaky.

I plan to savor more 2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas again very soon. The end of winter is a long way away.

Top composite photo: 2011 Château de Saint Cosmé Gigondas bottle and label. Credit: Courtesy of Château de Saint Cosmé

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2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano Terre del Poliziano. Credit: Courtesy of the Lohsa Estate

After splurging on plenty of great (and expensive) wines during the holidays, I’m ready to retrench. At $15, this bright, juicy 2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano is the right kind of deal, a medium-bodied red packed with generous flavors of cherry, raspberry, earth and spice, and intriguing aromas of dark cherries and violets. It’s yet another example of the fine values to be found in Italy’s less well-known wine regions.

This red comes from the Maremma, a hilly coastal strip in western Tuscany on the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the local name for the Sangiovese grape is Morellino. Wine was produced there back in Etruscan times, but it wasn’t until Bolgheri, the northern part of the Maremma, gained prominence as the home of Super Tuscan wines like Sassicaia that anyone looked farther south and discovered Morellino.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano Terre del Poliziano

Price: $15

Region: Tuscany, Italy

Grape: 85% Sangiovese, 15% Ciliegiolo

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Roast pork loin, braised lamb shanks, mushroom ragu with polenta


More of Elin's wine picks:

» A juicy, organic red from Montepulciano

» Mandela legacy in a bottle

» A crowd-pleasing party red wine from the Loire Valley

» A rare white wine from Mount Etna

» A vibrant value from Montalcino

Thirty-five years ago there were only about 10 wineries that grew their own grapes in the district of Scansano, which includes 3,700 acres of vines in most of the towns in the southernmost area of Tuscany. Now there are several hundred wineries, fueled by a mini-land rush of buying and planting.

The reputation of the wines climbed, which is why the Morellino di Scansano appellation finally gained DOCG status starting with the 2007 vintage. Few wine drinkers, I’ve discovered, understand what those letters mean — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — and often don’t realize they stand for Italy’s highest quality wine category. Rules govern everything from where the grapes can be grown to which ones must be used. To be labeled Morellino di Scansano, a wine has to contain at least 85% Sangiovese and come from a historic area that surrounds the medieval town of Scansano. Unlike most DOCG wines, Morellino is usually released less than a year after the harvest, which translates into fresh, lively reds. This one is aged for eight months in old oak casks.

Lohsa sets the table

The Lohsa Estate in Magliano belongs to the Carletti family, which established the beautiful Il Poliziano winery in Montepulciano, farther north in Tuscany, in 1961. Federico, son of the founder Dino, like so many restless enologists, wanted to experiment in other regions, and he expanded the family holdings into the Maremma in the 1990s as an independent “Terre del Poliziano” project. He produced his first Morellino in 1998.

The 2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano is a simple wine, but it has an enticing, gulpable charm. The appellation’s sunny mild winters, cool winds from the sea in summer, and stony soil all combine to make reds that are softer, rounder and more succulent than other Tuscan wines from the same grape, like Chianti. In other words, they’re delicious, especially for the price, which is why they’re wildly popular in Rome’s wine bars.

Top composite photo: A view of the Lohsa Estate and label for 2011 Lohsa Morellino di Scansano Terre del Poliziano. Credit: Courtesy of the Lohsa Estate

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Makaziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela's daughter, and Tukwini Mandela, her daughter and Nelson Mandela's granddaughter, with the family's wine. Credit: Elin McCoy

After the death of great South African leader Nelson Mandela, I’ve been thinking about his political and moral legacy and a family wine I encountered in October. This 2012 House of Mandela Thembu Collection Pinotage, with its earth, plum and cherry flavors, is an easy-on-the-palate red produced by his daughter and granddaughter. Think of it as part of Mandela’s wine legacy.

An affordable red from South Africa’s signature grape Pinotage, it’s graced with a colorful label based on Mandela’s traditional dashiki shirts. Part of the profits will go to the family foundation and to the Africa Rising Foundation, which aims to alleviate poverty. It’s certified Fair Trade, which means producers get a set minimum price for their grapes and workers get a living wage.

Elin McCoy's Wine Of The Week


2012 House of Mandela Thembu Collection Pinotage

Price: $15

Region: Western Cape, South Africa

Grape: 100% Pinotage

Alcohol: 14.3%

Serve with: Spicy pizza, rich beef stew


More from Zester Daily:

» Reconsider Pinotage

» A plummy Pinotage

» Eliminating hunger, one loaf at a time

Back in October, I tasted through the House of Mandela lineup with Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe (Maki) Mandela, 59, and her granddaughter, Tukwini, 38, the team behind the wines. “When we explored the idea,” Makaziwe Mandela told me, “we found out very few black people owned wineries.”‘

The two women asked U.K.-based Master of Wine Lynne Sherriff to help them find winemaking partners to create their wines. (They hope eventually to have their own winery.) Highly conscious of their family heritage, they gave Sherriff a list of requirements: In addition to producing quality wines, the wineries had to be family owned, use good labor practices and respect the country’s biodiversity. They selected several, including Fairview Estate, and use winemaker Erlank Erasmus to oversee the 10 wines, but members of the Mandela family taste and vote on the blends. Of the three whites and three reds in the more affordable Thembu Collection, this Pinotage was the most interesting.

A cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut, the Pinotage grape was created by a South African professor in 1925 and is regarded as the country’s own variety. The best wines from it have the bright fruity flavors of Pinot Noir as well as the robust, plummy-earthy ones of Cinsaut. Most of the grapes for this House of Mandela version come from the hot, dry Swartland region north of Cape Town, a hotbed of old bush vines and winemaking experimentation.

Mandela, who loved white wines, gave his blessing to the House of Mandela wine enterprise. Which makes this 2012 Thembu Collection Pinotage a worthy drink to celebrate peace on earth this holiday season.

Top composite photo:

Makaziwe Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s daughter, and Tukwini Mandela, her daughter and Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, with the family’s wine. Credit: Elin McCoy
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Chateau du Coudray Montpensier and wine label for Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon. Credit: Courtesy of Chateau du Coudray Montpensier

One of my favorite bistro restaurants in New York City is Le Philosophe, which offers a delicious, reasonably-priced blanquette de veau as well as a list of wines that won’t break the bank. This gulpable 2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon, with its fresh ripe spiced-berry flavors and soft tannins, is one of them. Its refreshing fruity style resembles that of Beaujolais-Villages, but this red has more spice and depth. It was perfect with the creamy main course I savored at Le Philosophe.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon

Price: $14

Region: Loire Valley, France

Grape: 100% Cabernet Franc

Alcohol: 12.5%

Serve with: Blanquette de veau, roast pork


More holiday party selections:

» Red wine: 2010 Calcu Cabernet Franc

» White wine: 2011 Morgan Sauvignon Blanc

Chinon is a historic town in the Loire Valley and also the name of an appellation where almost all the wine is red, made primarily from Cabernet Franc grapes. The vineyards, which cover 19 communes, span both sides of the pretty, winding Vienne River. My introduction to the area, though, was through history, when I came as a student to tour the town’s famous stone castle, the grand 11th-century Chateau de Chinon, built on a high rocky outcrop above the river. It has a complex early past: English King Henry II rebuilt it and resided there in the 12th century; later it was captured by the French, and it’s where Joan of Arc claimed divine voices told her that Charles VII, the Dauphin of France, would give her an army to fight in Orleans. Writer Francois Rabelais made Chinon’s wines famous in the 16th century.

U.S. catches up with 2010 Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon

I first drank these delicious, fragrant reds in Paris bistros and wine bars 20 years ago, but they’ve become popular in the U.S. only in the past five or so years. That’s partly because wine lovers are now hunting alternatives to big, alcoholic reds. When Cabernet Franc is grown in cooler climates like the Loire Valley it makes wines that are lighter bodied and more aromatic than Cabernet Sauvignon, but have some of the same character. And the newfound popularity of Loire reds has also been helped because they are often stunning bargains.

Chateau de Chinon. Credit: Franck Badaire / Wikimedia Commons

Chateau de Chinon. Credit: Franck Badaire / Wikimedia Commons

Climate change and improved vineyard practices have helped make Chinon’s wines more appealing. When Cabernet Franc doesn’t ripen fully, the wines taste lean, green and herbaceous. In recent, warmer vintages, the wines have been richer. The 2010 vintage was one of the best of the past few decades.

Chateau du Coudray Montpensier was built in the 15th century, but was only established as a winery 10 years ago. Its 2010 Chinon is well worth seeking out.

Top photo: Chateau du Coudray Montpensier and wine label for Chateau du Coudray Montpensier Chinon. Credit: Courtesy of Chateau du Coudray Montpensier

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2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt is an ideal red wine for Thanksgiving. Credit: Weingut Paul Achs.

Among the 60 or so Austrian wines I’ve tasted in the past couple of weeks I found my Thanksgiving red for this year. The 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt from Austria has cherry aromas, soft fruit and spice flavors, and the fresh acidity that will keep palates alive during an hours-long dinner heavy on rich foods.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt

Price: $20

Region: Burgenland, Austria

Grape: 100% Zweigelt

Alcohol: 12.5%

Serve: With turkey and all the side dishes


More of Elin's wine picks:

» The right white wine for Thanksgiving 2013

» A perfect white wine for parties

» A perfect red wine for parties

» A rosé that's ideal for the holidays

» Sting's 2010 When We Dance Chianti

Everyone worries about what wine can possibly go with the many contrasting flavors on a Thanksgiving table, from sweet potatoes to  creamy onions to rich sausage stuffing to tart cranberry sauce to turkey roasted with a rosemary rub. I used to be a purist, offering only two American wines, a white and a red, to match the nationality of the holiday. But this year I’m branching out. My white pick last week was from Italy. Selecting a California Pinot Noir for the red seemed like taking the easy route. And this Austrian red is wonderfully versatile with all kinds of foods.

Zweigelt (pronounced Tsvy-gelt) , a cross between two other Austrian red grapes, St. Laurent and Blaufrankisch, the country’s best red, was developed in 1922 by viticulturalist Dr. Friedrich (Fritz) Zweigelt, for whom it is named. The popular varietal isn’t hard to grow, like finicky Pinot Noir, but the wines from both have a lot in common. Zweigelt doesn’t share the complexity and ageability of fine Burgundies or expensive California examples, though some producers make mouth-filling single vineyard versions.

Zweigelt also reminds me of Gamay or even a light-bodied Zinfandel. The most planted red grape in Austria, it’s a fruit-forward, easy-drinking crowd-pleaser. Most, like this one, are medium-bodied, with silky tannins, juicy acidity and no new oak flavors, all reasons why they’re so food-friendly.

2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt aged in older barrels

The winery, named after owner and winemaker Paul Achs, is in Burgenland, south of Vienna, in the village of Gols. He owns 58 acres of vineyards, all cultivated biodynamically since 2007. This Zweigelt comes from vines planted on gravel in an area between the village and Lake Neusiedl known as the Heideboden, the source of all his young, fresh wines. This one is aged in older oak barrels, which allows it to retain its bright fruit.

This 2011 Paul Achs Zweigelt also fulfills another of my Thanksgiving wine criteria: affordability. When different generations of a family, all with very strong opinions, gather at a table for hours, the key to party success is plenty of wine to smooth over heated discussions and keep everyone mellow. Happy Thanksgiving!

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