Category Archives: Italy

Firriato Wines: Showcasing what Sicily has to Offer

What comes to mind when you hear the words: “Italian WIne”? Our guess is that most people immediately think of regions like Chanti, Piemont, or Veneta, or grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, or Barbera. Some with broader wine experience may go to Barolo or Montepulciano; Dolcetto or Nero d’Avola. Yet not many, in our estimation, think of Sicily and the lesser-known grapes native to that volcanic island. We certainly didn’t. Until recently. 

Not long ago, we received an email inviting us to join a virtual tasting of wines from Firriato, a winery that has been making wine in Sicily since 1978. Always up for an adventure, we accepted the invitation. Alas, the day of the Zoom call, we were traveling and unable to attend, but our hosts graciously provided three samples nonetheless, and agreed to send us the presentation. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located just off the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” The island is home to Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. With frequent eruptions, including the current activity which has been ongoing since February, 2021, the volcano creates obvious challenges, but also opportunities for the residents of Sicily. The resulting volcanic soils on the island are perfect for viticulture and producing stunning wines. 

Vineyards on Sicily range in elevation from sea level on adjacent Favignana island, to 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) on Mount Etna. This provides varied growing conditions in terms of soil content and climate. There are 80 native grape varieties, with just 13 available to vinify according to Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regulations. 

The name Firriato is derived from a western Sicilian term, used to define the area closest to the house. This is a well protected area, where the most valuable crops are planted. Firriato can be loosely compared to the French term “Clos”, meaning closed or walled. 

Firriato was established by Salvatore Di Gaetano, who recognized the opportunity to produce high-quality wine on the island. Today, the company has 470 hectares (approximately 1,160 acres) of vineyards, all of which are certified organic. The company portfolio includes seven estates, located in all three major growing regions in Sicily; Favignana Island, the hilly Trapani Countryside, and of course, Mount Etna. They produce a range of wines under nine different labels. 

Access to such diverse growing areas means Firriato can capitalize on the varied soil conditions. The soils on Favignana Island are composed of biocalcarenites (containing fossils) of the quaternary period, which impart saline and balsamic qualities to the wines. In the Trapani Countryside, red marlstones and calcareous-clay soil lends itself to elegant and full bodied wines. And as expected, Mount Etna has young sandy soils of basaltic origin, which produce bold, full bodied wines with mineral characteristics. 

In addition to the commitment to certified organic farming, Firriato was the first Zero Impact winery in Italy, achieving certification as carbon neutral. Their commitment to the environment does not stop there. As part of their progress toward attaining carbon neutral certification, they started planting trees, which they have continued to do to this day. In fact, Firriato has an “adopt-a-tree” program. Click here to learn more and participate in this initiative!  

The wines we received as samples are from the La Sabbie Dell’Etna line, which as the name implies, are from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna. Here, Firriato has 84 hectares (approximately 207 acres) under vine, ranging in elevation from 550-900 meters (1,800-3,000 feet.) Even within Mount Etna’s range, there are 12 distinct sub-zones, each with varying soil conditions. Included in the vineyards are some certified pre-phylloxera vines, growing on native rootstocks more than 150 years old. 

Each of the wines presented are from native grapes. The most exciting aspect of that for us (especially Kent, who has a passion for obscure and lesser-known grapes) is that we hadn’t heard of any of these varieties before! All of the wines featured are available for purchase at winesfromitaly.com.

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Bianco 

Grapes: Carricante and Cattarato 

Pale straw color. On the nose, lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, and saline. Flavors of pineapple, citrus, pear, and minerals. Soft mouthfeel (sir lie aged) with medium body and bright acidity. A delicious wine. 

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosato 

Grape: Nerello Mascalese

Pale peach/salmon color. Muted aromas of peach and saline, with a hint of earth. The palate is more pronounced with flavors of peach, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry, and minerals. Light body and fresh acidity with a clean finish. 

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosso

Grapes: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio 

Surprising. Clear, light garnet color with brick rim. On the nose, raspberry, cherry, clove, and smoke. On the palate, it has a very light body, but big flavors of black cherry, plum, stewed prune, raspberry, tobacco, leather, and hints of licorice and minerals. Very soft, with mild tannins and smooth acidity. Great pizza wine.

As our next European adventure, we had already been planning to visit Italy. After experiencing these wonderful wines from Firriato, we will be sure to add a few days in Sicily to our itinerary so we can visit Firriato and other wineries on the island. 

If these wines intrigue you, go to winesfromitaly.com to purchase. We are confident you will enjoy them as much as we did.

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Our Wine of the Week: Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018

Every once in a while, you score a wine that absolutely exceeds expectations. Our Wine of the Week this week is one of those wines. A few weeks back, Wine.com was having one of their red wine sales. Always on the prowl for bargains, we checked it out and, among a few others we purchased, we snagged a couple bottles of Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018

We are big fans of Barbera, but typically prefer bottles from Amador County in the Sierra Foothills, where Barbera grows exceptionally well. Barbera is one of the few varieties that we generally favor richer, fruit-forward New World versions over Old World. Maybe we just hadn’t found the right ones, but many of the Italian Barberas we’ve had have been rather thin and lacking, with acidity approaching excessive. Well, the Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 was about to blow that stereotype right out of the water!

Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta has more than 1,000 years of history in the Piedmont region of Italy. The Incisa family ancestors settled there in the 11th century. In the 13th century, local monks leased land from the Incisa family to cultivate grapes, and by the 19th century, the Marchese Leopoldo Incisa della Rocchetta had become known in the region for his viticulture and winemaking. He was an early pioneer in experimenting with Pinot Noir plantings in Piedmont. Members of the family have expanded to Tuscany, where Sangiovese is king, but the Piedmont estate is still owned and operated by members of the Incisa della Rocchetta family. In the 1990’s the Marchesa Barbara Incisa della Rocchetta inherited and purchased the estate and continues operations to this day, producing wines from local native grape varieties like Barbera, Grignolino, Moscato d’Asti and Arneis, while continuing production of international varieties such as Pinot Noir and Merlot.

With such prestigious and long-standing wine making history, how can you go wrong? You can’t. The Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 is a stunning, breath-taking wine. It really changed our minds about Old World Barbera. We opened our first bottle with grilled pork loin and the experience was euphoric. Recently, we brought our second bottle to a friend’s house for a homemade pizza night. With seven hungry (and thirsty) adults in the house, suffice it to say we opened more than one bottle of good wine that night. But the one that stood out, head and shoulders above all others, by unanimous decision of all present, was our Wine of the Week, Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018. It’s just that good. 

Garnet color. Aromas of blackberry bramble, plum, and spice. On the palate, black cherry, blackberry, plum, vanilla, white pepper, and earthy notes. Bone dry with medium tannins and bright acidity, perfect for food pairing and great with grilled pork loin or pizza. Or both, why not?

The Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta Valmorena Barbera d’Asti 2018 is available from Wine.com. As of this writing, it is on sale (still or again, doesn’t matter!) for just $16.99. Many other wines from Marchesi Incisa della Rocchetta are also available and worth trying! 

What was your wine of the week? 

Cheers!

  • Text and photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Chianti Classico and the Black Rooster

A couple of weeks ago, we were out to dinner with friends at a quaint, local Italian restaurant. As one does when dining Italian, we ordered a bottle of Chianti, or more specifically, Chianti Classico. As we sat enjoying the food, wine, and company, the discussion turned to the little black rooster on the Chianti Classico bottle. Perhaps you’ve seen it…

I started to explain the history behind the black rooster, and why it appears on every bottle of Chianti Classico. However, much to my own embarrassment (I’m a wine blogger, after all; people look to me as a font of wine knowledge and wisdom) I couldn’t recall the story. I knew there was some dispute some centuries ago, and that a black rooster was somehow involved, but that was all I could remember at the time.

img_1784

So I did what any self-respecting and self-proclaimed wine “expert” would do.

I Googled it.

Google Search

Contrary to some popular belief, Chianti is not a wine grape. It is a region in Tuscany, Italy, renowned for its red wines made from the Sangiovese grape. Sure, a few decades ago, Chianti suffered from a bit of an identity crisis, but then again, didn’t we all? Back then, Chianti was usually a cheap, low quality wine, better known for its gitchy “basket” bottle (bonus points if you know that it’s called a “fiasco”) than for the wine quality. The fiasco, in turn, was better known as a holder for colorful, dripping candles than as a vessel containing delicious wine.

 

The Chianti wine region is expansive, spanning some 100 miles between Florence in the north and Siena in the south. However, the most highly regarded Chianti wines come from what has been designated the Chianti Classico region. The Chianti Classico region is that portion of Tuscany considered the original and best Chianti hills and vineyards, dating back to the 1700’s when the Chianti region was first designated.

Which brings us to our story.

As legend has it, in the 13th century, before Italy was a unified country, Florence and Siena were engaged in a land dispute. Can you blame them? If you could claim rights to a prime wine region, wouldn’t you? Anyway, the two feuding cities decided to end their dispute with a race. The plan was that at the crack of dawn on the day of the race, each city would send a rider on horseback toward the other. Where the riders met, the new land border would be established. Of course, 800 years ago, they didn’t have Smartphones to wake them up, or even alarm clocks. Back then, they relied on the good old, low tech rooster!

In Siena, a white rooster was selected as the most dependable, and was given the task of waking their rider. Of course, some strategy must be employed to ensure victory, so the people of Siena fed their white rooster well, to keep him happy and crowing strong! To the north in Florence, a black rooster was chosen. However, the people of Florence had a different strategy. They put their rooster in a box for a few days before the race, with no food.

On the morning of the race, the very hungry and understandably grouchy black rooster of Florence woke at the first sign of light and began crowing, waking the town and more importantly, the rider. In Siena, however, the white rooster, content with a full stomach, slept in a bit.  Thus, the rider from Florence got a head start on the rider from Siena and covered much more territory. So much so, that they met just 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from the walls of Siena. The new border was established, much in Florence’s favor, and the black rooster was established as the mascot of Chianti. The emblem was first adopted in 1384, and has been in use ever since.

Now that you know the story, make a reservation at your favorite local Italian restaurant, order a bottle of Chianti Classico, and amaze your friends with your very impressive knowledge of this entertaining tale.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds

References:

https://www.chianti.com/wine/chianti-classico.html

https://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-chianti

https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/how-a-starving-rooster-made-chianti-classico-famous/

 

Review: Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo 2014

On a recent business trip, Robyn met a fellow conference attendee who gave her a recommendation for a new wine. Frank said this wine is one of he and his girlfriend’s favorites, and suggested Robyn and I give it a try. The wine is Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo, from Toscana, Italy. Robyn texted me a picture of the bottle, and I went on the hunt. I didn’t have to look far. Our local Total Wine & More store just happens to carry this wine.

When Robyn arrived home from her trip, she had a little surprise waiting for her on the counter. We adore Italian wines, and some of our favorites are the Sangiovese-based wines out of Tuscany. So naturally, I had stopped at Total Wine on my way home from work the day after her text, and bought a bottle to try.

Tommasi Family Estates has been producing wine grapes since 1902. The family got their start in Valpolicella Classica, Verona, and has since expanded to other regions in Italy. They launched the Poggio al Tufo line of wines in 1997 with the acquisition of the Pitigliano Estate, 66 hectares of vineyards planted in volcanic soil, in the rolling Tuscan hills. The addition of two more vineyards, the 24 hectare Doganella Estate and the Scansano Estate, 80 hectares in the DOC Morellino zone, expanded the operation. The Doganella Estate is an organic production, producing high quality grapes due to the hot, dry Tuscan summers and cooling breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The Tommasi Poggio al Tufo Rompicollo is a blend of 60% Sangiovese and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon. Several vintages of this wine have won numerous awards and accolades, including 93 points from Vinous Media (2012), No. 31 in the Wine Spectator Top 100, with a 92 point score (2011), and 87 points from both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast (2010).

img_1056

The current release, at least what is available in our local store, is the 2014. We opened it to enjoy with our meal of grilled filet mignon steaks, baked potato, and spinach salad with warm bacon dressing. Exquisite is the best word to describe it! Here’s my review posted on Vivino:

img_1055

Delicious Toscana blend. Dark purple and ruby colors. Aromas of bing cherry and soft cedar. On the palate, juicy cherry and blackberry flavors meld with notes of cola, vanilla, and oak. Soft, silky tannins and medium acidity balance the wine and make for great dipping or food pairing. Long, black fruit and spice finish. We had this with grilled filet steaks and it was outstanding!

I highly recommend this outstanding Toscana wine. And at $15.99 retail, it’s a bottle you can enjoy often!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds, with inspiration by Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds (unless otherwise credited)

 

Review: Kupelwieser Lagrein 2013

I love variety. That is one of the things I like so much about wine. In a lifetime, it is humanly impossible to sample all the variety that exists in the wine world. Two wineries making wine from the same varietal in the same region can produce vastly different results. Beyond winemaking variety, there are the thousands of different varietal grapes out there; many of which the average wine drinker may never hear about. In my wine journey, I strive to seek out, find, and taste those lesser known varietals.

Kupelwieser Lagrein

Recently I purchased and opened my very first Lagrein, the Kupelwieser Lagrein 2013. Until about six months ago, I had never heard of the Lagrein grape, but it has certainly left a lasting impression on me! The funny thing about this wine: it made its way to my “Must Try” list, but I can’t remember how. Somewhere along the line, I must have read a review on Vivino or some other social media site, and thought it sounded good. I’d like to thank whoever it was who posted whatever review it was, because this is a darn good wine!

Lagrein is an Italian varietal, grown in the northeastern Italian region of Trentino-Alto Adige. According to wine-searcher.com, Lagrein is likely native to this area. Historical records mention the grape as early as the 16th century. The grape is known for rich, full-bodied wines of deep, dark color. As with many Old World varietals, Lagrein is best when paired with food.

250px-Trentino-South_Tyrol_in_Italy.svg

I found my first experience with Lagrein to be most pleasant. The Kupelwieser Lagrein 2013 carries the Alto Adige DOC designation. True to Old World form, there is bright, lively acidity that makes it great with food. Yet I found it to also have well-structured fruit, providing balance and complexity, and giving it a profile that will please many a New World wine drinker. Here’s my review on Vivino:

 “My first Lagrein. Deep, deep purple color. The aroma is of butter and red fruit. On the palate, ripe raspberry, blackberry, black pepper, cherry, and light oak, followed by a spicy, smoky, medium finish. Medium body, with sharp tannins and bright, lively acidity, making this a great food wine. Exceptional with our Steak Pizzaiola.”

  • Rating: 4.0 stars (88 to 91 points)
  • Price: $18.99 at Total Wine & More

 

If you have never tried a Lagrein, I urge you to head to your local wine shop, pick up a bottle or two, and take a virtual trip to this beautiful region in Northeastern Italy.

Cheers!

Review: Maurizio Castelli Merletto Sangiovese 2014

Maurizio Castelli Sangiovese

Old World versus New World. What does that even mean? For those accustomed to Californian or other Western Hemisphere, New World wines, many Old World (European) wines may seem pale and acidic. The stereotype is of ripe, fruity New World wines that are enjoyable on their own, versus dry, acidic Old World that are best with food.

Here we have a great example of an Old World Italian wine. Historically, wine is much more a part of European culture than it is in the U.S. Remember, it was we crazy Americans who passed the Volstead Act – Prohibition – the effects of which still linger today in the U.S. In Europe, a meal isn’t a meal without a glass of wine.

Exclusively from NakedWines.com, the 2014 Sangiovese by Maurizio Castelli is a classic Italian wine, meant for Italian food. Below is an excerpt from Maurizio’s bio on his NakedWines.com page:

A famous Brunello consultant – Maurizio had a hand in many of the region’s most  famous wines like La Ragnaie (100 point wine), Mastrojanni, Badia a Coltibuono,  Bastianich, Mastrojanni, Grattamacco and a long list of other delicious wines that are even more expensive than they are difficult to pronounce.

And on top of knowing how to make landmark luxury wines, he knows how to create remarkable everyday sippers like Integolo (the top-rated value wine in Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list)

Here’s my review, posted at NakedWines.com:

This is a young wine. Do yourself and Maurizio a favor and decant or aerate before drinking. You’ll enjoy it more. It’s also an Old World wine, leaning toward subtle fruit and food-friendly acidity. For some who only like California style smooth, jammy fruit bombs, that’s strike two. But if you are looking for a fresh tasting, complex wine to pair with some classic Italian cuisine, look no further!

The color is dark Ruby in the glass. On the nose, blackberry bramble and plum. Flavors of blackberry, cedar, and spice dominate, followed by subtle blueberry. Tannins are a bit harsh yet; as I said, it’s young; but smooth out with exposure to air. The acidity is brisk; not atypical for classically made Italian wines. This is a food wine. We paired it with spaghetti squash and marinara with Italian sausage. The wine enhanced the food, and vice-versa.

If you have a few bottles, lay them down a bit. This will be excellent in a couple of years.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 hearts

Price: Retail $17.99, Angel (member) price: $9.99

To get your bottles, click here to join NakedWines.com.

NW Logo

Cheers!