Firriato, Italian Wine, Italy, Mount Etna, Samples, Sicily

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
Argentina, Domaine Bousquet, GAIA, Organic Wine, Pinot Noir, Rose, Sample, Wine

Review: Domaine Bousquet Gaia Rosé 2020

In 1990, winemaker Jean Bousquet went on vacation to Argentina. A third-generation winemaker from Carcassonne, in southern France, Bousquet immediately fell in love with the Gualtallary Valley, in Mendoza. Though no vineyards existed there at the time, he recognized the winemaking potential in the region. The Gualtallary Valley is in the high mountains, with elevations reaching over 5,200 feet, an altitude many thought too high to grow grapes, but Bousquet felt differently. In 1997, he bought land and planted his first vineyard. In 2002, Bousquet’s daughter, Anne, and her husband, Labid Al Ameri, visited the area and saw the vision, as well. They joined Jean in the project, and in 2009 moved to Argentina full time, assuming ownership of the Domaine Bousquet winery in 2011. 

We’ve known of Domaine Bousquet for some time, and have enjoyed many of their wines. So when we received an invitation to sample their debut vintage of a Rosé of Pinot Noir, we jumped at the chance.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Domaine Bousquet is fully organic and sustainable, with 240 hectares (nearly 600 acres) under vine. At 4,000 feet elevation, these are cool climate vineyards, perfect for producing quality, balanced wines. 

The Gaia line of wines is named for the Greek goddess of Earth, the family inspiration for the Domaine Bousquet. The Rosé of Pinot Noir 2020 is made from 100% estate grown Pinot Noir. The family history, now four generations of winemaking, blends Old World tradition with the New World terroir to produce a stunning and elegant Rosé. 

(That’s hot! We were only out there long enough to snap these pics!)

Pale salmon color. On the nose, subdued aromas of peach, nectarine, and watermelon. On the palate, soft tannins and bright acidity and medium body, with flavors of white peach, nectarine, watermelon, strawberry, orange zest, and floral notes. Very refreshing on a hot (106F) afternoon. (SRP $20)

We thoroughly enjoyed the Gaia Rosé of Pinot Noir 2020, and will continue to seek out and enjoy wines from the Domaine Bousquet collection. 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Rahpael-Reynolds
  • Photo credit: Robyn Rahpael-Reynolds
Paso Robles, Robert Hall, Sample, Wine Review

Review: Robert Hall Paso Red 2018

As many people already know, Paso Robles is trending in the wine world. Many consider it the next up-and-coming wine region; an underrated hidden gem. Despite all this, we regrettably have not explored the wines of Paso Robles much, and have never been wine tasting there. There are many good wineries in Paso Robles, and our friends who have been have given us dozens of recommendations. As happens every so often…so often it can seem a little creepy…we had been discussing Paso Robles with some friends not long ago, and the very next day we received an email offering us a sample of Robert Hall Paso Red 2018, from Paso Robles. After tasting the wine, our resolve to get to Paso, and soon, was dramatically intensified.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Robert Hall was a successful businessman in St. Paul, Minnesota. After developing a taste for wine, he made his way west and founded his namesake winery in the heart of Paso Robles wine country. From the beginning, winemaker Don Brady has been leading production of a portfolio that now includes more than a dozen wines. 

The Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 is a multi-award winning blend of grapes from all 11 sub-AVAs in the Paso Robles region. It is a wine that truly captures the essence of Paso Robles. Petite Sirah (43%), Syrah (21%),and Zinfandel (19%) drive the blend, supported by Petit Verdot (10%), and splashes of Grenache and Mourvedre filling it out. Sounds pretty good to us!

A rich, big, bold red blend. Vibrant deep purple color. The nose is filled with ripe black fruit: blackberry, boysenberry, and Marionberry, with smoky notes. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, plum, tobacco, baking spice, and black pepper. Full bodied, with fine, smooth tannins and ample acidity. The finish is long with black fruit and spice. Excellent with baby back ribs.

Truth be told, we’ve found a lot of California Red Blends to be on the jammy side. When we tasted the Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 with our ribs, we thought it would be a bit jammy without food. Yet this wine is so well structured it holds up after dinner as a very nice sipper. Beware: this big wine sports an ABV of 15.5%! But why would you drink a big, bold red like this without food anyway? The food enhances the wine, and the wine enhances the food. Yin. Yang. 

Did we mention the value quotient? Robert Hall Paso Red 2018 retails for just $20! You really need this wine in your life. It’s available at select retailers, or online at the Robert Hall Winery website. Try this, or any of the wines, and let us know what you think.

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photo cred: Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
Barbera, Chile, Chilean Wine, Garnacha, Organic Wine, Samples, Wine, Wine Blog, Wine Review, Wine Tasting

Warm Reds for Cold Nights, Part 1

While the East Coast is being blasted by yet another major winter storm, and the Pacific Northwest is experiencing record snowfall, here in Northern California, it’s, well, pouring rain. But I mean really pouring! We’re expecting 3-6 inches of rain in the next 48 hours. The winds are also howling, up to 40 mph. And it’s cold…by NorCal standards. Overnight lows in the 30’s, and highs only in the 50’s. Brrr. By NorCal standards. 

So in light of winter’s harsh punch to the Northern Hemisphere, what better way to stay warm than to enjoy some big, bold, warming red wines on these cold winter nights? This is the first of a four-part mini-series, featuring reds from around the world that were provided as media samples.

The following wine was provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

What better place to start this journey than South America? Afterall, there, it’s summer! From the Maule Valley in Chile, comes the Erasmo Barbera-Grenache 2016, a unique and delicious blend of 60% Barbera, 30% Grenache, and 10% Carignan. Using all organic grapes and wild yeast for fermentation, this wine captures the essence of the Maule Valley terroir.

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The original cellar at what is now Erasmo winery was built at the end of the 19th century. The mud-wall construction provided excellent insulation for maintaining a proper wine cellar temperature. In 2005, after years of neglect and inactivity,  Count Francesco Marone Cinzano set out to restore this historic building. Now complete, and filled with modern winemaking equipment, “La Reserva de Caliboro” lives on, and is the home to high quality, organic wines.

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Before…

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and After. Photo Credit Erasmo Organic Vineyard and Winery http://erasmo.bio/en/

On one particularly cold and stormy night, we paired this delightful, warming wine with a seared Garlic-Butter Brazilian Skirt Steak and Garden Salad. (You can’t forego your greens just because it’s cold out!) What an amazing pairing! Sheer perfection!

Deep purple color with brick rim. Aromas of ripe raspberry, blackberry, and clove. On the palate, there are flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, and cranberry, with baking spice, cedar, and vanilla notes. Tannins are firm but balanced, with lively acidity and a long finish of black and red fruit and white pepper.

Vivino Average Price: $22.99

Stay tuned for the next in this Warming Reds for Cold Nights series. In the meantime, tell us, in the comments below, what you are enjoying to stay warm during these cold winter nights.

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photo Credit, unless otherwise noted, Kent Reynolds