Texture, sidekick and Buddha : Bocchino Nebbiolo

Eugenio Bocchino, La Perucca Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2001

Region: Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy

Grape: Nebbiolo

Price: 30$

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All life is suffering. I didn’t say that, the Buddha said that. This being said, I think he failed to account for wine. All life is not suffering, sometimes there’s wine, and ice cream. Sometimes your sidekick comes over for dinner, you make some pasta and open a bottle of Nebbiolo. There is very little suffering involved here.

Nebbiolo is still one of my favorite grapes, a tough to grow, temperamental variety from northern Italy, known for complex fruit, flower and smoky flavors. I reviewed several examples of such wines already, this particular bottle is from the Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC. An appellation centered on the town of Alba, like other DOCs such as Barbera d’Alba or Dolcetto d’Alba. This is not a premium appellation for Nebbiolo, unlike Barbaresco or Barolo, but that will not stop us from drinking it

Eye: dark garnet with hints of brown

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Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Mostly red fruits (blackberries and cherries) with a hint of smokiness

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium-plus body, very nice tannins and texture that hit the top of the palate.

Red fruits galore, mostly cherries and blackberries, sadly no trace of the smokiness that was present on the nose. A little bit lacking in acidity but the tannins make up for it as they are structured and smooth. The length is good but it remains a simple, red fruits oriented wine.

Food pairings: worked with pasta arrabiata

Overall opinion: I think it might have been a bit past its prime. It was perfectly drinkable and interesting if only for the tannins. It was disappointing in the sense that you really don’t get any of the Nebbiolo’s complexity. I need to try a younger vintage to investigate.

Grade: 6/10

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A tart Summer red, Le Fraghe Bardolino

Le Fraghe Bardolino 2012

Region: Bardolino DOC, Veneto, Italy

Grape: Corvina / Rondinella

Price: $14

Summer finally decided to come to Massachusetts, and thank God for that. The thing, is, when Summer comes, it does not pretend, it’s really, really hot. Obviously, this is not a problem but rather an opportunity, when it’s warm, you’re thirsty, when you’re thirsty, you drink wine, easy and delicious solution to an easy problem.

Now most people will think that summer calls for white or rose wines and will leave their stock of reds almost untouched until Fall. I believe that’s a mistake, but only because I have been made aware of the power of the Summer Red! Summer reds are those red wines that you can serve lightly chilled (an hour or so in the fridge) and that will refresh you like a nice crisp white. It’s one of my favorite type of wine and it can come from various places. I trotted out my first summer red of the season last night, here’s the result.

The Bardolino DOC is located in Northeastern Italy, in the Veneto region, near Lake Garda. It’s made with Corvina and Rondinella grapes, two local varieties that can also be found in the neighboring, more famous DOC of Valpolicella.

Eye: Medium ruby with purple hints

Nose: Clean, medium-plus intensity. Lots of red fruits (cherries)

Palate: Dry, high acidity, very angular. Medium plus body, medium length of finish

Lots of fresh red fruits notes, mostly sour cherry and redcurrant that transition into darker notes of brambles and black pepper. The wine feels tart and refreshing but still has some body. It has certain elegance, if I had to compare it to anything it would be a red Burgundy with and added spiciness (black pepper notes).

Food pairings: It’s a summer red, perfect for sipping on the terrace with some cheese and lunchmeat

Overall opinion: I love Summer reds, this one is on the tart side which might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes it particularly refreshing. It’s also quite affordable and I think it has good value for the price.

Grade: 6.5/10

First night of summer, Orsolani Erbaluce

Orsolani, La Rustia, Erbaluce di Caluso 2012

Region: Piedmonte, Italy

Grape: Erbaluce

Price: $18

I have been living in the US for the better part of 3 years now and I still hadn’t visited the nation’s capital. That oversight has been corrected last weekend as I flew down to DC to visit a friend. We sat down on the terrace of an Arlington restaurant of a warm Friday night and ordered a bottle of Erbaluce to ease the catching up process.

Erbaluce grapes

Erbaluce grapes

Erbaluce is a white grape from Piedmonte in Northern Italy. It can be used to make sweet, dry or spumante (sparkling) white wines. The sweet passito from Erbaluce grapes is apparently well rated. There is a dedicated wine region appellation for those wines, Erbaluce di Caluso. DOCG is the higher tier of Italian appellations (one step up from DOC). The grape and the appellation have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since the 1990’s but as far as I know, the grape isn’t widely used outside of Piedmonte. The wines tend to be well received though, and they are becoming trendier. I definitely see more restaurants carrying them than before.

orsolani Erbaluce

Eye: Pale lemon with strong hints of green

Nose: Clean, medium minus intensity, lime, grass and peach notes

Palate: dry, slightly sparkling, medium plus acidity, medium body

The aromas were fairly straightforward at first with white peach and lime in the foreground. The wine is lively with good acidity and a very light sparkling quality, very refreshing on a warm June night. Later on more complex notes come to play, more on the herb/flower side (lavender). The body is on the lighter side which reinforces the refreshing aspect.

Food pairings: I think it’s fairly versatile; we had it with some cheese. It would work well with fish, seafood and chicken.

Overall opinion: Very refreshing with a lot of aromas, a good summer wine

Grade: 7/10

Italian- Spanish night

Last weekend’s wine tasting night took a turn for the epic. Freed from WSET studying, my friend Laurie let loose the dogs of wine and it made for a spectacular lineup! We ended up having an Italian-Spanish them to the evening, which was unexpected but much appreciated.

Falesco, Est! Est!! Est!!! de Montefiascone, 2011 from Latium, Italy (Trebbiano, Malvasia, Roscetto), around $15

Est Est Est

An Italian white to start the evening, crisp and dry with citrus, apple and pear aromas. Est! Est!! Est!! (complete with multiple exclamation points) is the actual official name of the appellation (and the most annoying thing to type ever). It’s nothing to write home about but the name of the DOC is just too good to pass up. Mean people on the Internet have said that the name of the appellation is way more exciting than the wine itself. Well, it’s a very exciting name.

Stefano Farina, Barolo, 2009 from Piedmont, Italy (Nebbiolo), around $40

Stefano Farina

That’s a big jump in category from the Falesco. Roses, red fruits and smoky (charcoal) aromas are present in this pretty typical Barolo. I was keeping it for an occasion, taking the WSET diploma qualified. Nebbiolo is a variety I fell in love with a few months ago, it’s a shame it’s so pricey… A very well made wine, just short of being spectacular. I’ll stay on the hunt for Nebbiolo based wines: Barolo, Barbaresco, Gattinara,..

Marina Cvetic, S.Martino Rosso, Montepulciano, 2009 from Abruzzo, Italy (Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo), around $25

Cvetic

Another big Italian red, bold and intense with blackberries, red plums, vanilla and chocolate notes. Interestingly enough after the Barolo, it also had a smoky character, but more in a firewood, earthy way than the Barolo which was more on the charcoal, mineral side. I think it was my first Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ever; I can start to see what all the fuss is about. I need more examples to form an opinion, add it to The List.

La Gitana, Manzanilla, NV from Andalucia, Spain (Palomino), around $15

La Gitana

Ah, a vacation reminder. Manzanilla is fortified wine from Southern Spain, it’s actually a kind of fino sherry that is made in the city of Sanlucar de Barrameda, on the coast. It’s a very dry wine with marine aromas (it’s made by the sea) and also distinctive almond, hazelnut and floral notes. As for the floral notes, manzanilla in Spanish means chamomile and the wine was named that way because, well, there are chamomile notes in the wine.

El Chaparal de Vega Sindoa, Old Vines Granacha, 2011 from Navarra, Spain (Grenache), around $15

El Chaparal

We finished with another Spanish wine, from Northern Spain this time. Fruity and spicy, a playful little wine. The color completely threw me off as I tend to expect a fairly light color from Grenache and this wine looked quite dark. I guess Navarra joins Rioja as the Spanish representatives on The List. Given the fact that their country is out of the World Cup already, they need all the help they can get.

So, as you can see, this made for a very enjoyable evening. A fringe benefit of moving to the US was the increased availability of non-French wines, including, ironically enough, European wines. It would be hard to find that many quality Italian or Spanish wines in Paris (not to say anything of New World wines). Now, when is that next wine dinner?

Summer cocktails 101

If that is alright with you, I will make a small infidelity to wine today by talking about another drink. Something vaguely resembling spring has come to Boston, at long last, and so, it becomes socially acceptable to drink Campari. By the way, don’t bother drinking Campari in winter, I’ve done it, it just doesn’t work for some reason. It’s like drinking pastis when you can’t hear cicadas, the whole things seems off.

campari

What is Campari you ask? Well, Campari is technically a liqueur (a distilled spirit flavored with fruit, herbs, spices… and bottled with additional sugar). It’s more specifically a bitter and its flavor comes from various herbs and fruits, the exact composition being of course a secret. The more distinctive feature of Campari is its red color that originally came from the use of carmine dye.  Campari was created by Gaspare Campari in 1860 in the Italian city of Novara, near Milan. From there it spread to the French Riviera and then to the rest of the world.

How do you drink Campari you ask? Well, you could drink it on the rocks but it’s not my favorite approach, it might be too bitter and a little syrupy. An alternative would be to make it a Campari and soda, very refreshing, not as bitter and actually sold pre-bottled in Italy.

Campari Soda Bottle

Campari is used in some classic cocktails such as the Negroni: gin, vermouth, and Campari or the Campari Spritz: Campari, soda, Prosecco). My personal favorite though is the Americano. It’s simple enough to make: Campari, Cinzano (sweet vermouth) and club soda, served in an old-fashioned glass with a slice of orange. It’s very refreshing, bitter without being overpowering and it’s an absolutely iconic cocktail, James Bond drinks it, and Gaspare Campari, the inventor of the liquor was the one who created the cocktail. That is some solid credentials. Additional bit of nerdery, the Americano is also known as the Milan-Torino, because Campari is from Milan and Cinzano is from Torino.

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Why should I drink Campari you ask? Well, the truth is, you don’t really have to… I love the bitter taste, I think the color is awesome and screams summer, sunglasses and swimsuits. It’s a perfect warm weather drink, a great aperitif and to me, at least, it summons images of Italy, classy summer dinners with relaxed but impeccably dressed guests, a perfect vision of an Italian vacation that probably only exists in my mind.

That is actually a great transition to this song, Voyage en Italie (Trip in Italy), a French summer hit from 1994 that mentions driving down the Italian Riviera, drink Martini, bathe on a Capri beach, dance the calypso while looking down at the Arno river, and of course, drink some Campari. They even include a bad pun in the lyrics : Campari / Quand Paris (when Paris). Of course it’s a song after my own heart.

Sicilian ambush, COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG 2010

Region: DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy

Grape: 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato

Price: around $28

Cerasuolo COS

I was ambushed last night and it was awesome. My wine industry friend called me up to tell me she disagreed with my notes on the COS Nero di Lupo. I apologized and reminded her that I’m really a novice and I need practice (which is true). So she improvised a practice session last night: I had to taste salty water, tea, sweet water and lemon juice to map the sensations on my tongue. Then there was a quick reminder of the tasting process and then, there was wine (tasted blind). And of course the wine was the COS wine I said I wanted to try the day before, of course… That was evil, but a nice kind of evil. Anyway, COS Cerasuolo, the DOCG wine from this winery, my third wine from COS was tasted last night. As an aside, Arianna Occhinpinti is actually the niece of one of the COS owners, it has nothing to do with the price of beer but I love useless information.

Eye: medium garnet

Nose: Clean, medium + intensity. Red fruit notes: cherry, raspberry, and strawberry

Palate: dry, medium + acidity, medium body, medium alcohol, medium + tannins, lengthy finish

The red fruit aromas from the nose are present, especially raspberry and cherry, strawberry takes a backseat and the cherry would be more a tart cherry than a fully ripe one. Cerasuolo means cherry in Italian so the aroma must be pretty topical. The finish is long with an oaky quality. The wine takes you through phases one after another it’s pleasant without being overly complex. Compared to the Nero di Lupo the fruity flavors are a lot redder, probably a Frappato contribution. Over reviewers talk about herb flavors, like rosemary and even a mineral quality. I can see the rosemary lurking somewhere, the minerality eluded me I must say.

Food pairings: Grilled meat cooked with herbs like thyme, rosemary or bay leaves, also pasta with the same type of herbs, a great food wine all around I think.

Overall opinion: I am yet to be disappointed by a COS wine. I loved this bottle and I could drink it all day. It does not try to overwhelm you with oak or tannins, it has fruit but not to the detriment of acidity, alcohol or complexity. I’ll start hunting the Frappato and the Pithos Rosso from COS so that I can show the world I truly have a one track mind.

Sicily, an island, its volcano, its wines

Over the weekend, by coincidence, happy coincidence, I ended up drinking a couple wines from Sicily. Since I already wrote about another Sicilian wine last month, I thought it would be time for a little presentation of the island before I give my tasting notes for the wines. Also, I have actually been to Sicily, and for once, I can actually illustrate the article with pictures I took, not what’s available on Commons…

A square in Syracuse

A square in Syracuse

Sicily is an island in the Mediterranean, it’s actually the largest island in the Mediterranean, it belongs to Italy now but it’s probably one of the regions of Europe that passed hands the most in history. There are Latin, Arabic, Greek, Viking, French, Spanish and Germanic influences in the arts, the culture, the architecture and of course the cuisine of Sicily. I guess everyone wanted to control an extremely fertile centrally located island along the busiest trade routes in the Mediterranean. People are weird.

The main feature of Sicily is the Etna, one of the largest active volcanos in the word, with the particularity of always being in eruption. There are constant clouds of smoke over the main crater; it’s a little unnerving when you hike it. Because you can hike it, in fact I did hike it. The Etna is relevant for wine because volcanic slopes can be quite fertile and lots of vines are planted on its volcanic soils, there is actually a regional appellation (DOG) for wines made from these grapes. The DOG is called Etna (simple yet efficient) and produces white, red and rose wines.

Volcanic rock on the Etna slopes

Volcanic rock on the Etna slopes

Sicily has 7 other DOGs and only one DOCG (higher level geographic appellation). It’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria whose wines have to be a blend of two Sicilian varieties, Nero d’Avola and Frappato. A lot of varieties are used all over the island, Nero d’Avola is the most common variety but other Sicilian, Italian or even French varieties are also used. There is however a recent trend to focus on the more Sicilian grapes.

The Etna erupting

The Etna erupting

For a long time Sicily was mainly known for its fortified and sweet wines like Marsala, Moscato or Malvasia, but along with the return to native grapes that I mentioned earlier, there is more and more interest in developing dry wine production, moving away from the bulk wine production and focusing on higher quality products.

That was Sicily in a nutshell, I’ll go into more details when I do the tasting notes but I encourage you to do two things: visit if you have the chance, it’s an incredibly beautiful and varied place with great food. If you cannot visit, read The Leopard (Il Gattopardo) by Tomasi di Lampedusa, it’s one of the best novels I ever read and it takes place in Sicily. In fact, a Sicilian winery took its name from the novel, Donnafugata, and named its wines after the characters in the novel (or other literary characters).

Donnafugata wine lineup

Donnafugata wine lineup

Anyway, that was my teaser for this week, stay tuned for the reviews and read the Leopard, or watch the 1964 movie with Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale, but get on it, I’m serious.