Unlike any other, COS Rami 2011

Cos Rami, 2011

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 50% Insolia and 50% Grecanico

Price: 35$

Being a wine nerd has its perks, now I know some producers name, and I get very excited when I see one of their wines I never had on a restaurant menu. This past Tuesday I was dining at a reputable Italian restaurant in Harvard Square and I was giddy because I saw earlier that they had a COS wine I never had.

I have reviewed several COS wines this past year, including their Nero d’Avola or their Cerasuolo di Vittoria. All excellent wines but I was particularly impressed by their Pithos Bianco. A white wine that was the most original thing I ever tasted, they used maceration and fermentation in clay amphoraes to bring character to the traditional Sicilian grape varieties. When I saw the other white from COS on the menu, my choice was made.

The two grapes are traditional Sicilian white varieties, Insolia tends to be flavorful but lacks acidity and Grecanico is vibrant and acidic but more neutral. The Rami differs from the Pithos in 2 ways, the Pithos is 100% Grecanico and it has longer skin contacts and use of the clay containers.20140826_201957

Eye: a deep gold

Nose: Clean, medium intensity. Citrus fruit with a rocky, mineral backbone, not steely like a Chablis but rather organic, earthy.

Palate: Dry, medium acidity, medium body, lots of aromas to taste, I get walnuts, a bit of citrus fruit, some flowers (I read someone describe it as “pot-pourri”). There definitely is some minerality under the fresh aromas. The body is nice, compact while not being underwhelming.

COS never disappoints. The Rami is a little less original than the Pithos, it’s not as marine and salty but it remains a UFO of a white wine. You don’t expect the color, you don’t expect the taste, you just have to enjoy them. I’d say it’s the missing link between the Pithos and a more normal white wine.

Food pairings: It’s an original wine so you can be creative with the pairings. I’m not sure fish would be the ideal candidate, I would recommend veal actually.

Overall opinion: In one word: Awesome. In more words: COS does Sicilian wines well. I encourage you to try their wines. Their reds are excellent but their whites are original on top of being top notch. Try this wine, I’m sure you never had anything like it.

Grade: 9/10


Rose and whites, it’s summer after all

Now that I am back to a more regular posting and drinking schedule, my weekend tasting nights have picked up again. As the picture below will show, life was good. Here is the lineup from that evening.

soiree rose

Philippe Tessier, Cheverny 2013

I am not normally a rose fan but I had a good feeling about that Loire Valley offering. Cheverny is an appellation that produces red, white and rose wines. The rose is made from Gamay and Pinot Noir grapes. It had a nice salmon color with some almost orange tinges. Red fruit notes with a bit of underlying spice, a very refreshing combination, perfect for summer, BBQ, appetizers… It is also quite cheap, you can find it for $10 or so. Stock up before summer ends!

Cheverny tessier

Arianna Occhipinti, Tami Grillo 2010

Ah, Arianna… I like many of her or her uncle’s wines, Tami is her affordable, varietal wine line. Grillo is mostly known for being used in Marsala but is beginning to be used as a varietal. Things got interesting because Grillo is supposed to be fresh, simple, meant to be drank young, but we actually drank a bottle of 2010, the wine had aged and it was not a bad thing. A lot of oxidation notes gave it a unique character, it should have gone terribly wrong, but it didn’t. Now I need to get a bottle of a more recent vintage to try it the way it’s supposed to be drank. This one is also pretty cheap, around $15 I believe

Tami Grillo

Badenhorst Family Vines, Secateurs Chenin Blanc 2013

Finally, the most classic South African Chenin Blanc ever. Clean, crisp, acidic, a very good example of what Springbok Chenin Blanc is supposed to be with lots of citrus notes and white peach. A very solid selection, especially for the price: $15

Copy of Secateurs Chenin 2009

And for the swing and a miss of the night, we had that bottle of Fume Blanc 2011 from Grgich Estate. It was by far the most expensive and acclaimed bottle of the evening, it was supposed to rock, and it was corked.

The sad part is that you could still get the awesome aromas behind the cork taste, but, I guess it was finally not to be. Well, the other wines provided plenty of material and a lot of enjoyment. The evening was a success.

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.

Fooled by a Sicilian, COS Nero di Lupo

COS Nero di Lupo IGT Sicilia 2010

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 100% Nero d’Avola

Price: around $29


The second Sicilian wine of the weekend was served blind by a friend over diner and of course I fumbled the tasting pretty bad! I didn’t even come close on the variety or the region. Turns out the wine came from COS in Sicily, the winery that did the Pithos Bianco that I liked so much. They’re based in Vittoria, (Southeastern Sicily) like Occhinpinti. It’s a relatively recent winery that uses biodynamic methods, no chemicals, only natural yeasts and small amounts of SO2. The name of the wine, Nero di Lupo means Black of the Wolf, I’m not sure it sends the right message, wolves are scary, but let’s not dwell on semantics.

Eye: light to medium ruby

Nose: Clean, medium intensity, red and black fruits along with something deeper, more elusive that reminded me of Burgundy reds (clearly I was wrong).

Palate: dry, medium to high acidity, light to medium body, medium tannins.

That’s a smooth wine. The Nero d’Avolas I had before were a little on the rougher sides with intense tannins and a darker, more powerful feel. This wine is one smooth Nero d’Avola. Aromas of red fruits are present but the wine is also well structured and really, I couldn’t get past the smoothness. I actually thought it might be a Pinot Noir from Burgundy which was of course way off but it gives you a rough idea of how much I was impressed. It reminded me of a late summer afternoon on a Syracuse terrace watching the quiet sea lapping around Ortiggia.

Food pairings: I had it with spicy Italian sausage and pasta in tomato sauce. I think it’s a great pasta wine and it would work with any Sicilian or Southern Italian dish.

Overall opinion: I learned two things by drinking this wine; first, I need to step up my tasting game. Second, I definitely like the COS winery, I’ll try to get my hands on a bottle of their Cerasuolo di Vittoria (the one Sicilian DOCG) for instance that was reviewed by the Wine Wankers a while ago.They described it as “strangely interesting”’ it sounds about on par for the course for COS wines.

A black rock in a bottle, SP68 Sicilia Rosso

SP68 Sicilia Rosso IGT 2011

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato

Price: around $25

As promised, my first Sicilian wine from last weekend. I went to dinner at West Bridge, a small plates restaurant in Boston. A bottle on their wine list caught my eye, a blend of the two primary red grapes from Sicily, Frappato and Nero d’Avola. This blend is used for Sicily’s only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria, but this particular wine is an IGT, the global appellation for Sicily (outside of any DOG or DOCG).

After some research I found out that this wine was made by a wine world star, 30 year old Arianna Occhipinti who’s been making wine in Sicily for the past 10 years (first vintage at 21…) and gathered attention because of her age and commitment to natural, organic methods. She’s the closest thing to a rock star the wine world has. She grows vines and olive trees near Vittoria, in southeastern Sicily and her wines are named SP68 after Strada Regionale 68, the road that runs near her vines. You can find an interview of Arianna here definitely worth a read.


Eye: light to medium ruby

Nose: Clean, light to medium intensity. Red fruit notes along with something smokier, earthier. Not quite tarry but close, earthy comes closest of all the adjectives I can think of.

Palate: dry, medium to high acidity, light to medium body. Medium to intense tannins. Red fruits and spices (Frappato and Nero d’Avola respectively).

The feature of the wine that made an impression has to do with the tannins. There are notdemesurately pronounced in terms of strength but they give the wine a texture that is hard to explain. I’d say it gives the wine a rocky feel. Not in the mineral notes sense like a Chablis, rather the sensation of drinking something that is tight, that holds well together like a rock in your hand. Having been to Sicily I picture the rock as being a little black volcanic thing from the slopes of the Etna. To be honest, it reminded be a bit of hiking those volcanic slopes with sparse vegetation and baking under the sun.

Food pairings: We share some small plates with this wine, carrots in coffee sauce with chickpeas, quinoa salad, brisket with horseradish. The wine supported all of it easily. Lamb comes to mind as a good match too.

Overall opinion: Liked it, I felt like the flavors, notes, aromas took a backseat to the tannins and texture but that was not a bad thing at all.

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.


Tasting Notes : COS Pithos Bianco Sicilia 2011

COS Pithos Bianco Sicilia 2011

Region: Italy, Sicily

Grape: 100% Grecanico

Price: around $30 online

COS Pithos Bianco 2011

For my 31st birthday I went to have dinner with a friend at Island Creek Oyster, a renowned seafood place in Boston. My friend actually works in the wine industry so she was tasked with selecting the bottle and her eyes lit up when she saw that particular bottle on the list. It’s a wine from Sicily, made from Grecanico, a common white grape in southern Italy but there are 2 twists in the wine-making process. First, they leave the grape skins soak with the juice, which is the normal process for a red wine but out of the ordinary for whites. Second, the entire fermentation process takes place in terracotta amphorae. A unique wine-making process should translate into a unique wine, so I waited for the bottle with unfeigned interest.

Eye: medium gold with pretty intense tinge of orange

Nose: clean, medium intensity, a definitely saline tone. To me it smells like the sea, a salty odor almost like the smell of a lean oyster

Palate: medium to low acidity, medium body, medium to long finish

This wine humbled me as a wine lover and a writer both. It is so far out of my system of reference that I’m having a hard time writing about it. It is, literally, unlike anything I ever had. The wine is very well structured, with tannins that mesh well with the acidity and provide good balance. The aromas are definitely salty, with some bitterness and some gamey flavors. Even the color is unusual. I think it’s all because of the approach chose by COS to treat a white grape as if it were a red, in any case it worked, I’m sold.

Food pairings: I had raw oysters as an appetizer, took one sip with them then didn’t touch my wine until I moved on to the entrée. It was a bad combination; the slight bitterness of the COS didn’t mesh with the oysters at all. It worked well however with the swordfish I had afterwards. I thought this bitter quality helped make the creamy sauce lighter. I would love to try this wine with white meat. It certainly opens the door to interesting pairings.

Overall opinion: Wow. My overall opinion is “Wow”. It’s a unique wine; at least it is for me so far. It’s like nothing I’ve ever had before and it’s, among other things, undoubtedly interesting. That’s one thing I love in wine, sometimes you find a UFO, a wine that makes you forget all those Bordeaux Superieurs that all taste the same. They are not bad, they are just, well, a little bit boring. Sometimes you are surprised, and it’s a good thing. If you get the chance to try it, do not hesitate. I know I will hunt down other wines from this producer anyway.