Sicily


Italian white winemaking has improved greatly in the past decade or so, with producers paying more attention to appropriate soil types and climate, vineyard practices and methods in the winery. Not that seas of nondescript white wines from overcropped vineyards in areas that are too widespread don’t make it to our shores, but the wines under review today are not only delightful but encouraging signs of integrity and authenticity. The first is from Piedmont, the second from Sicily; both were made in stainless steel and see not a whiff of oak. One of the notable aspects of these wines is that they employ grapes that we don’t often — or actually never — see; again this reliance on indigenous fruit is a reflection of a desire to honor place and tradition. These wines were samples for review.
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We drink gallons of Vietti’s Roero Arneis by the glass at the Italian restaurant we frequent. It’s great with salads, grilled vegetables, grilled octopus and sardines. The grape is arneis; the region in Piedmont is Roero, part of the Cuneo district. For 2012, this wine offers a very pale straw-gold color; yes, it’s clean as a whistle and fresh as a daisy, but it develops layers of nuance that focus on orange rind and lime peel with a touch of candied grapefruit before opening into a panoply of lemon effects that in turn call up spiced tea, lemongrass and limestone. Acidity is keen and steely; the texture is supple and lithe, sort of winsomely sinuous, and it all goes down very easily indeed. It’s as enticing and charming as it sounds. 13.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Excellent. About $23.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif.
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The Regaleali Bianco 2012, Sicilia, is a blend of 36 percent grecanico grapes, 34 percent catarratto, 20 percent inzolia and 10 percent chardonnay. The grapes derive from a vineyard planted in 1957 on the Regaleali estate owned by Count Tasca d’Almerita. The color is pale straw-gold; this is as spanking fresh as a sea-breeze, blown with brine and salt-marsh earthiness and highlighted by notes of apple and baked pear, peach and tangerine peel with hints of cloves and grapefruit. Chiming acidity keeps the wine electrically charged, while scintillating limestone minerality adds depth to the delightful citrus and stone-fruit flavors. The whole effect is bracing, saline and savory, with a tinge of almond-skin bitterness of the finish. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014. Very Good+. About $15, a Terrific Value.

A Leonardo Locascio Selection, imported by Winebow Inc, New York.
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Last week, Jenn Louis, chef and owner of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, Oregon — I follow this Food and Wine magazine Best New Chef 2012 religiously for her inventive cuisine — posted this picture to her Facebook page. It’s a sandwich of goat liver and pancetta on sour rye bread with pickled chili aioli. I “liked” the image and said that I wondered what kind of wine would be appropriate; her reply was “crisp white.” So I looked through my notes and came up with the roster of eight crisp and savory white wines that might pair nicely with this unusual item as well as such fare as charcuterie, pork chops braised with sauerkraut and apples, veal roast and hearty seafood pastas and risottos. As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I reduce technical, historical and geographical information to a minimum in order to offer blitz-quick reviews designed to pique your interest and whet your palates. These wines were review samples. They are all, coincidentally, wines made from a single grape variety. Enjoy!
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Amayna Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Leyda Valley, Chile. % alc. Pale gold color; very bright, clean, fresh, with scintillating limestone minerality; notes of roasted lemon and peach, lemongrass, ginger and quince with a touch of cloves; the body and power build incrementally, adding chalk and loam and hints of dried herbs; faintly grassy; chiseled acidity. A great performance. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
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Archery Summit Vireton Pinot Gris 2012, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.5% alc. Pale straw-gold color; fresh, clean and spicy; lemon and lemon balm, lime peel, hint of peach; lively and acutely crisp but with a sensuous texture that’s moderately lush; still, lots of stones and bones, in the Alsace fashion, limestone and flint, with a surge of cloves and allspice and stone-fruit savor. Delicious. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $24.
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Balverne Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Russian River Valley. 13.7% alc. Light gold color; fresh, clean, pert, sassy and grassy; lemon, tangerine and pear, hints of mango, roasted lemon and spiced peach, notes of mint, thyme and tarragon; slightly earthy background, limestone and slate; lithe, flinty but supple texture and crisp acidity buoying a sort of bracing sea-salt element. Very attractive. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $25.
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Fred Loimer Lois Grüner Veltliner 2012, Niederösterreich, Austria. 12.5% alc. Pale pale gold color; at first this wine seems a tissue of delicacies, almost fragile but it gains character and depth in the glass; yes, clean, fresh and crisp but spicy, earthy, savory and saline; green apple, spiced pear, roasted lemon; grapefruit and candied rind; limestone and damp gravel, lovely drapery of texture shot with exhilarating acidity; hints of dust, powdered orange peel and cloves in the finish. Now through 2015. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.
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Harney Lane Albariño 2012, Lodi. 13% alc. 716 cases. Pale gold color; clean as a whistle, fresh and invigorating, with bright, intense acidity and an appealing combination of spicy, savory and salty qualities; roasted lemon, grapefruit and spiced pear; hints of dried thyme and rosemary and a touch of leafy fig; dry and spare but with a suppleness from partial aging in neutral French oak barrels; lots of depth, subtlety and dimension. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $19.
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Gustave Lorentz Réserve Gewurztraminer 2011, Alsace, France. 13% alc. Pale gold color; rose petals, lychee and white peach; quince, ginger, white pepper and cloves; hints of melon and fig; beautifully wrought, exquisitely balanced among rigorous acidity, assertive limestone minerality and juicy citrus and slightly candied stone-fruit flavors; lovely sense of tension and resolution of all elements. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $24.
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Sequoia Grove Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Napa Valley. % alc. 350-400 cases. Mild gold color; all about persistence: jasmine, lilac, trace of fig and banana, thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and lime peel, touch of grapefruit; a few minutes bring in lemongrass and mango; truly lovely wine with an engaging character and a sense of lift along with some earthiness, chalk and limestone; lip-smacking acidity. Drink now through 2015. Excellent. About $22.
Image from Bills Wine Wandering.
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Tascante Buonora 2012, Terre Siciliane, Italy. 13.5% alc. 100% carricante grapes. Very pale gold color; clean and fresh, bracing as a brine-laden sea-breeze; roasted lemon, thyme, almond and almond blossom; lovely silky texture enlivened by brisk acidity; lime peel, yellow plum, hint of almond-skin bitterness on a finish packed with dried spices and limestone minerality. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $20.
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All of these Italian wines — a rosé, a white and four reds — qualify as Excellent Value and, if not in your immediate neighborhood, Worth a Search. Prices range from about $10 to about $18. Little technical, historical or geographical information; rather, these brief reviews are intended to spark your interest and inspire your palates. All were samples for review. Enjoy, on this Labor Day weekend.
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Beni di Batasiolo Gavi 2011, Piedmont. 12.5% alc. 100% cortese grapes. Light straw-gold color with faint green highlights; roasted lemons, yellow plums, grapefruit; cloves, quince and ginger; brisk and saline; opens to hint of peach, almond blossom and a slightly honeyed aspect; very dry, packed with elements of limestone and shale minerality; blade-like acidity cuts a swath; lovely transparency and balance. Now through 2014. Very Good+. About $14.
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Beni di Batasiolo Rosé 2011, Piedmont. 80% barbera, 15% dolcetto, 5% nebbiolo. Medmium copper color with a flush of salmon; dried red currants and plums, hints of raspberry and mulberry; cloves, dried violets and rose petals; very dry, heaps of limestone and flint minerality but complimented by notes of ripe red fruit, black tea, orange zest and cloves. Delicate, delightful, refreshing. Very Good+. About $18.
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Coltibuono Cetamura Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13% alc. 90% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo. Dark ruby color; spicy black and red fruit scents and flavors, with hints of plum and pomegranate; touches of smoke, leather and underbrush; quite dry, a bit dusty, with vibrant acidity for a lively structure and mouth-feel; very tasty and drinkable, now through 2014. Perfect, simple pasta and pizza wine. Very Good. About $10.
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Li Veli Primonero 2010, Salento. 13.5% alc. 85% negroamaro, 15% primitivo. Deep, dark, rustic, robust, hearty; ruby-purple with a mulberry cast; blackberries, blueberries and raspberries, a tantalizing hint of lilac; very spicy, very lively; in the depths, tar, lavender, bitter chocolate, super intense and concentrated black and blue fruit flavors, a sort of overripe but rigorous bruise-like character, graphite and granitic minerality, leather and licorice. Now through 2015. About $13.
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Poggio Vignoso Chianti 2011, Toscana. 13.5% alc. 85% sangiovese, 10% canaiolo, 5% malvasia. An attractive old-fashioned Chianti aged in 10-year-old Slovenian oak barrels. Medium ruby color; ripe, fleshy and meaty, spiced and macerated red cherries and currants with touches of melon and sour cherry; a little earthy and briery, with brisk acidity; smooth but leathery tannins and notes of supple and subtle wood; hint of violet on the finish. Now through 2015. Very Good+. About $15 but discounted around the country as low as $10.
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Sikelia Nero d’Avola 2011, Sicily. 13% alc. 100% nero d’avola grapes. Seeing no barrel aging, this wine retains appealing freshness and immediacy while keeping faith with the grape’s dark, tarry, foresty and deeply spicy nature; dark ruby-purple color; earthy and funky, ripe, meaty and fleshy; smoke, blackberries and blueberries (with a hint of blueberry tart); graphite, deep dark Platonic black cherry elements; rustic, muscular, supple. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $15 but seen as low as $11. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


Buy the Cusumano Insolia 2011, a Sicilian white wine, by the case. Made completely from indigenous insolia grapes by Alberto Cusumano and all in stainless steel, this deliriously attractive wine sports a pale but radiant straw-gold color and seductive aromas of orange rind and orange blossom, apples and pears, hints of lemon balm and lilac and a touch of breeze-borne sea-salt; what more could you ask for in sensual delight? (I mean in a wine at this price, not from life generally.) Matters turn a tad more serious in the mouth, where elements of limestone and flint-like minerality along with taut and tart acidity bring a deft note of rigor and austerity to what otherwise is a wine of almost talc-like lushness. This is quite dry, despite the ripe juiciness of its pineapple and roasted lemon flavors, and all devolves to a spice-packed finish that brings in some of the pithiness and bracing character of grapefruit. 13 percent alcohol. Drink through Summer 2013 as a fine aperitif or with grilled shrimp or seafood risotto. Very Good+. About $12, certainly a Bargain of the Highest Order.

The closing device is a glass stopper under a metal screw-cap; don’t stick a corkscrew down there.

Imported by Vin Divino, Chicago, Ill. A sample for review.

When I was a kid, I thought that picnics must be pretty damned cool and racy events, because I was familiar with Manet’s great painting Dejeuner sur l’herbes that hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris. In the book of reproductions that I looked at constantly, the two men and two women depicted in the work were described as “dining al fresco,” and since one of the women was nude and the other partially so, I thought that a picnic meant eating outside naked. Well, it didn’t turn out that way, damnit, but naked or not, picnics (under controlled conditions) can be quite charming. The foods I favor at these occasions include deviled eggs, cold roasted chicken, cucumber sandwiches, potato salad and strawberry shortcake; I don’t normally cotton to strawberries, the stupidest of the berry line, but in the picnic situation, they’re allowed. What’s also allowed are young, fresh, attractive wines that we can enjoy without worrying our pretty little heads too much; wines that offer an interesting level of complexity without being ponderous or demanding or shrill. That’s what I bring to you today, because as the temperature moderates slightly in some parts of the United States of America, My Readers might be contemplating picnics, even if they occur on the safety of their own porch or patio or backyard, rather than say, Yosemite.

None of these wines sees the least smidgeon of oak; none has an alcohol content higher than 13 percent; all slide across the counter at a reasonable price. The primary motifs are charm, delight, drinkability. With one exception, these wines are from vintage 2010; one is from 2009. All rate Very Good+ with one exception, and that’s a superb rosé that I scored Excellent. These are versatile wines intended to match with all sorts of casual fare, not just my ideal picnic menu. Samples for review, except for one that I bought.

Image from artchive.com.
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Let’s start with a delightful sip of something just a little sweet. Innocent Bystander Moscato 2010, Yarra Valley, from an area just northeast of Melbourne in Australia’s Victoria region, is exactly the color in your glass as you see in this illustration: a very pale melon/bubble gum pink. It’s what Italians call frizzante, which is to say sparkling but more of a light fizz than gushing effervescence. The wine is a blend of 65 percent muscat of Alexandria and 35 percent muscat of Hamburg. Here is pure raspberry and strawberry notched up by a spike of lime with delicate scents of watermelon and rose petals and something slightly earthy and foxy. In the mouth, Rainier cherries and orange zest come into play and a hint of cloves enveloped in chiming acidity and a bit of limestone-like minerality. The wine is slightly sweet initially, but it quickly goes bone-dry, while retaining a sense of ripe softness and talc-like lushness balanced by that crisp structure and gentle, fleeting bubbles. Absolutely charming and — a word I seldom employ apropos wine — fun. 5.5 percent alcohol, so you can drink a lot! Very Good+. Half-bottles about $10 to $12.
Old Bridge cellars, Napa, Ca.
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Torres Vina Esmeralda 2010, Catalunya, Spain. Well, now, what a sweetheart this one is! The color is pale straw-gold with a slight green sheen. The wine is composed of 85 percent muscat of Alexandria grapes and 15 percent gewurztraminer, so it’s not surprising that what you first notice about the bouquet are aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle, followed by peach and pear, and then a hint of lychee and petrol. The wine is sprightly, spicy, snappy, quite dry; it’s permeated by prominent strains of limestone and shale (though the texture is moderately lush) that bolster flavors of roasted lemon, canned lychee and some of its juice and a touch of peach nectar, all devolving to a stony, acid-lashed finish that reveals a hint of bracing grapefruit bitterness. Really charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co., N.Y.
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Albariño is Spain’s white grape of the moment, and the Martin Códax Albariño 2010, Rías Baixas (in Galicia in northwest Spain) is a worthwhile interpretation. I found this wine’s invigorating dry grass-sea salt-roasted lemon-limestone character irresistible, and it immediately put me in mind of trout seared in an iron skillet with butter and capers over a camp fire (or Coleman stove), though that example truly sounds more like a cook-out on a camping trip than a halcyon picnic in a bosky dell. Add to those qualities hints of dried thyme and tarragon, yellow plums, quince and ginger, touches of fennel and cloves and a late-comer bloom of jasmine, and you get a well-nigh perfect picnic or patio wine. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Martin Codax USA — i.e., Gallo — Haywood, Ca.
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Grapes for the Chamisal Vineyards Stainless Chardonnay 2010, Central Coast, derive from all up and down the vast Central Coast region of California, but include a portion from the winery’s estate vineyard in the Edna Valley of San Luis Obispo. I love the name of this wine — “Stainless Chardonnay,” as if it were a product of immaculate conception — but the free-of-sin cuteness makes a point; this wine is made all in stainless steel and goes through no malolactic process in tank, so it functions as an epitome of freshness, bright flavors, vibrancy and minerality; it’s not just “no-oak” but “anti-oak.” My first note is “Lovely.” Pineapple and grapefruit scents and flavors are imbued with hints of mango and guava (though the wine seems not a whit tropical) and touches of quince and lime. The texture is shapely and supple; it just feels beguiling sliding through the mouth, while plenty of limestone and steel and a hefty dose of jazzy acidity keep the keel on a purposeful cutting path across the palate. Thoughtful winemaking here from New Zealand native Fintan du Fresne. 13.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $18.
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With its engaging manner, crisp liveliness and lovely tone and presence, the Domaine du Salvard Cheverny 2010 seduces the nose and gladdens the mouth. Made all in stainless steel from 100 percent sauvignon blanc grapes, this product of a small appellation south of the city of Blois and the Loire River offers notes of fresh-mown grass, dried thyme and tarragon, roasted lemon and ripe pear and heaps of lime and limestone. Lemon and lime flavors are touched by hints of sunny, leafy fig with a bell-tone echo of black currant at the center. Juicy and spicy, yes, but dry, stony, steely, deftly balanced between scintillating acidity and a delicately ripe, rich texture. The domaine was founded in 1898 by the Delaille family and has been owned by them since then; it is operated by Gilbert Delaille and his sons Emmanuel and Thierry. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15 to $18.
Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Ca.
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Befitting a white wine that hails from an island, the Sella & Mosca La Cala 2009, Vermentino di Sardegna, is savory and spicy, brisk as a sea-wind fledged with brine, replete with notes of pear and almond skin, a sort of sunny lemony quality, and underlying hints of bees’-wax and jasmine. The winery was founded in 1899 by two friends from Piedmont named — ready? — Sella and Mosca. The wine is made from 100 percent vermentino grapes, some of which, after harvest, are allowed to dry before being pressed, a process that adds some richness and depth to the wine without detracting from its notable freshness and immediate appeal. Ringing acidity keeps La Cala 09 vibrant and resonant as a bow-string, yet the tautness is balanced by a texture of almost powdery softness. Completely lovely. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $12, an Absolute, Freaking Bargain.
Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla.
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Boy, is this pretty! The Bindi Sergardi Oriolus 2009, Bianco di Toscana, made in stainless steel, is a blend of trebbiano, malvasia Toscana and chardonnay grapes, to produce an unusual and very attractive combination. “Bianco di Toscana” is a basic designation that means, as if you didn’t know, “white wine of Tuscany,” so producers can do just about anything they want with it. In the case of Oriolus 09, we have a light straw color with a sort of ghostly green tone and a bouquet of almond and almond blossom, spicy lemon and lemon balm, cloves and shale and limestone. A few minutes in the glass bring up elements of spiced peach and pear, which provide high-notes in the aromas but dominate flavors bolstered by clean, fresh acidity and subtle touches of dried herbs, tangerine and steely limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $15.
Imported by Le Vignoble, Cordova, Tenn.
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Luna Mater Franscati Superiore Secco 2009, produced by Fontana Candida, represents a rendition of the famous “wine of Rome” that is indeed superior. Such quality might not be such a difficult task to attain considering that most Frascati is bland and innocuous, but efforts are being made, and Luna Mater — “Mother Moon” — is among the best. Made all in stainless steel, the wine is a blend of 60 percent malvasia bianca di Candia, 30 percent trebbiano Toscano and 10 percent malvasia del Lazio, from vineyards that average 50 years old. What’s here? Almond and almond blossom with a touch of almond skin bitterness; green apples, roasted lemon and a bit of peach; dried thyme and lemon verbena; a very dry, steely and minerally effect in the mouth, with taut acidity, a rousing note of breeze-borne sea-salt and salt-marsh; rollicking spiciness from mid-palate back through a finish flecked with quince and ginger. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.
VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.
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Chateau des Annibals “Suivez-moi-jeune-homme” 2010, Coteaux Varois en Provence, from the area of Provence between Marseilles and Toulon, an absolutely classic South-of-France-style rosé, a blend of 60 percent cinsault grapes and 40 percent grenache, with a lovely pale onion skin color slightly tinted with very pale copper; dried raspberries and red currants with a tinge of melon and peach; bone-dry, scintillating acidity, a spicy finish flush with limestone; wonderful tautness and presence, a little electrifying yet pleasantly supple and nuanced. The best rosé I’ve had this summer. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $18 to $20.
Bourgeois Family Selections, Asheville, N.C. I bought this one.
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While many wines made from Sicily’s nero d’avola grape are tarry, rustic and bumptious, Tonino Guzzo, winemaker for d’Alessandro, manages to produce an example that’s deep and dark without being tarry, robust without being rustic and lively without being bumptious. Yet the d’Alessandro Nero d’Avola 2008, Sicilia, still embodies the wild, slightly exotic nature of the grape. The property, near the town of Agrigento — a seaport founded by the Greeks around 580 B.C. on the island’s central southwest-facing coast — goes back to 1820, though Giacomo d’Alessandro did not found the winery until 2006. The wine is made 100 percent from nero d’avola grapes; it ages three months in cement tanks, meaning that there’s no oak influence. At two and a half years old, d’Alessandro Nero d’Avola 2008, sporting a black-purple color, is clean and fresh and appealing, with notes of black currant, blueberry and mulberry permeated by lavender, dried thyme and black olive and high-tones of cloves and sandalwood. This is pretty stylish stuff, sleek and smooth, but offering plenty of the grape’s dense, chewy, mouth-filling tannins, vibrant acidity and tasty plum and blueberry flavors imbued with potpourri, black tea and bitter chocolate. The finish is a tad austere with briers and brambles and a bit of slightly mossy dried porcini mushrooms, the best part of being somewhat earthy/funky. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2012 or ’13 with burgers, steaks and red meat pastas. Very Good+. About $14 or $15.

Vinifera Imports, Ronkonkoma, N.Y. A sample for review. Image, slightly cropped, from amazinggrapeswinestore.com.