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, Samples, Tupungato, Virtual Tasting, Wine

Domaine Bousquet: Taking Winemaking to New Heights

We wrote about Domaine Bousquet not long ago, when we received a sample of their Gaia Rosé 2020. In that post, we wrote a little about the history of the Bousquet family and the creation of Domaine Bousquet in the Gualtallary Valley, high in the mountains in Argentina, and the fantastic wine. So naturally, we were honored when we were invited to a virtual tasting including discussions with Anne Bousquet, current proprietor of the winery, and Franco Bastias, the winery’s chief agronomist. (What’s an agronomist? An expert in the science of soil management and crop production. Now you know, too.) Of course, to be a virtual “tasting”, one must have wines to taste. We were pleased to receive as samples, six bottles of Domaine Bousquet wine.

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

In their presentation, entitled “Dishing the Dirt”, Anne and Franco discussed what makes the terroir of Domaine Bousquet so unique. Spoiler alert: The subtitle is “The secret is in the soil.” Anne started us off with some history of the land, family, and winery. 

In 1997, Anne’s father Jean Bousquet, moved from Carcassonne, in Languedoc, France, to the Gualtallary Valley, and purchased a plot of land that had never been cultivated. In this arid region, the driest wine growing region in the world, first things must come first, so in 1998, Jean Bousquet dug a 495 foot deep well for irrigation. Meanwhile, in 2002 as vineyards were taking shape, Anne and her husband, Labid Al Ameri, started to invest in the winery, while maintaining their non-wine-industry careers in Boston. The first vintage was released in 2005, and Labid joined full time in the sales department. By 2008, Anne was on board and she and her family relocated to Argentina. Jean retired in 2011, and Anne and Labid, and Anne’s brother, bought Domain Bousquet and assumed day to day operations. In the years since, production has increased, and in 2020, they sold approximately 7 million bottles of wine. 

Domaine Bousquet is planted to 618 acres of vines, all of which are organic. In fact, they received their organic certification in 2005, the same year as their first vintage was released. With Domaine Bousquet coming out of the gate as certified organic, they raised the bar for other growers in the region, from whom Domaine Bousquet would buy grapes, and many of them have achieved organic certification as well. In addition to organic, Domaine Bousquet has also achieved certifications as vegan and sustainable.

As good as organic, vegan, and sustainable is, Domaine Bousquet doesn’t stop there. They have launched a “360° Sustainability Commitment”. This includes supporting the community and the people who live in and around the town. This is a three-prong commitment: environmental, social, and economic. We’ve covered the environmental part. On the social and economic sides, Domaine Bousquet is certified “Fair for Life.” This certification is part of a fair trade and corporate responsibility commitment for global change for the better and helping others. As part of this, the winery supports several children’s homes in the area, and has donated more than $113,000 to help those in the community experiencing economic hardship and social exclusion. Those are some causes we can get behind and gladly support by purchasing Domaine Bousquet wines! 

Next, we met Franco. Franco’s energy and enthusiasm were immediately evident, and infectious. He gave us some geography lessons, then, in video segments, took us deep into the soil. Literally. 

The Uco Valley is comprised of three departments: Tupungato in the north, Tunuyan in the middle, and San Carlos in the south. Domaine Bousquet is located in Tupungato. This area of the valley was originally settled by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. By the early 1900’s, orchards, vineyards, and other crops were planted. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, however, that the wine world started to take notice, as local producers started attracting attention to the region. 

The soils in Tupungato vary from rocky to sandy and silt, which flowed down from the Andes mountains. At these elevations, and with the harsh winters there, diurnal temperature swings of up to 59°F can occur, resulting in fresh, fruity wines. One of the other distinctive conditions are calcareous soils, containing concentrations of calcium deposits, which add to the unique character of the wines. 

In the video segments, Franco showed us cross sections of the soil conditions in soil pits, which are dug several feet deep directly adjacent to rows of vines. This was fascinating to see, as each of the wines featured have different soil conditions. As Franco walked us through the various soil pits, we tasted along with the wines. Isn’t that what it’s all about? 

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Pale straw color. On the nose, apricot, peach, and pineapple. On the palate, pineapple, citrus, peach, and pear. Bracing acidity, yet very smooth with a soft finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019

A very unique and enjoyable Chardonnay. Golden color. Nose of pear, peach, and tropical fruit /mango. On the palate, a tropical paradise: pineapple, mango, with citrus, pear, and just a hint of butter. Creamy mouthfeel, with balanced, vibrant acidity. Medium plus body, with a citrus finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019

Bright ruby color. Cherry, raspberry preserves, and white pepper on the nose. On the palate, juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry, with cedar, and spice. Light-to-medium body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a medium red fruit finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Deep garnet color with a ruby rim. Lots of classic Cab Sauv characteristics. Nose of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, black currant, blackberry, and cedar. Medium-plus body, integrated tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, baking spice, and pepper. Fresh & clean so the fruit really shines. 

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018

Inky garnet color. Funky, earthy nose, with red cherry and boysenberry. On the palate, ripe, juicy blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, and hints of bell pepper and baking spice. Big, full body, with ripe tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of dark fruit and black pepper and minerals. 

Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018

Wow! Very soft and smooth. Deep purple with a garnet rim. Black cherry, plum, and blackberry on the nose. On the palate, ripe blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and Marionberry, with hints of cedar, cocoa, and baking spice. Rich, full body with velvety tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of black fruit and chocolate.

All of the wines are very well structured and balanced. With minimal oak influence, each wine allows the fruit to take center stage and shine. In the days following the virtual tasting, we enjoyed finishing the bottles with our meals. All are very food friendly, yet able to stand on their own as evening sippers. Did we mention value? The SRP for these wines is shocking; they all drink well above their price point! 

  • Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018 / SRP $20
  • Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018 / SRP $25

We are very impressed with the wines that Domaine Bousquet is producing, and their commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We definitely recommend you seek out these wines and enjoy them for yourself. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds
American Viticulture Area, AVA, Chardonnay, Gary Farrell Winery, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Russian River Valley Neighborhoods, Samples, Virtual Tasting, Wine

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Tasting Through the Russian River Valley with Gary Farrell Wines

Most wine lovers are familiar with the notion of appellations; designated wine regions identified by geography and legal protection. In the United States, appellations are known as American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs. Within an appellation or AVA, there can be sub-regions that, though perhaps not legally identified, can present climate and growing conditions which contribute to a unique terroir. One notable and well known AVA in Northern California is the Russian River Valley AVA. We recently learned that the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) has defined six smaller sub-regions which they call Neighborhoods. How did we come by this newfound knowledge? Well, we were invited to a virtual tasting of single-vineyard wines from Gary Farrell Winery, exploring each of the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods. 

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

The event featured Gary Farrell Winery winemaker Theresa Heredia, who led us through history, geography lessons, and of course, tasting seven wines from the Gary Farrell Winery portfolio; three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs. As Theresa explained, although the wines are from the same respective grapes, grown in the same AVA, each neighborhood produces decidedly different wines with unique characteristics. 

Gary Farrell started in the wine business in the late 1970’s, originally working with local wineries. In 1982, he produced the first wine under his eponymous wine label. Since then, Gary Farrell Winery has grown in reputation and prestige and is now one of the most notable small-lot producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Though Gary Farrell sold the winery in 2004, the current owners are maintaining his legacy and standard of excellence. 

Theresa Heredia started with Gary Farrell Winery in 2012. At that time, she brought with her a decade (now nearly two decades) of experience in cool-climate, small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. Early in her career, she worked at Domaine de Montille, in Burgundy, France, where she gained an appreciation for the Burdunidan style of winemaking. Friendly and inviting, Theresa was an amazing host for our tasting. 

In keeping with the Burgundian style, Theresa said that each of the wines in the tasting are terroir-driven, and aged in light-toast French oak barrels. The use of light toast oak is deliberate, since heavier toasts can mask the nuances of the wine itself. Theresa also mentioned, to our surprise, that the Russian River Valley AVA has more soil types than are found in all of France!  

During a brief history lesson, Theresa shared her screen, and showed us the six Russian River Valley Neighborhoods on the RRVW website. This is an interactive site that allows you to explore each of the neighborhoods and see which characteristics define each one. Theresa mentioned that only one neighborhood, Green Valley, is a designated Sub-AVA within the Russian River Valley AVA. There are currently no plans to apply for AVA status for any of the other neighborhoods. 

Image credit: Russian River Valley Winegrowers website

The seven wines we tasted, and the respective neighborhoods from which they hail, were, in order of tasting:

  • 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains
  • 2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge
  • 2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley
  • 2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills
  • 2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains
Ready to taste!
(Behind the scenes at Appetite for Wine: yes, those are yoga blocks!)
That’s a lot of corks for 11 am!
Why are those glasses empty?

The virtual tasting was packed with information; much more than can comfortably fit into a blog post anyone would actually read. Though it exceeded the allotted hour, it went much too fast. Since the tasting was at 11 a.m. Pacific, we sipped and spit, and re-corked the bottles, and then enjoyed them for the rest of the week! Here are our impressions of each wine:

2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay

Light and crisp, yet still exhibiting light buttery, toasty notes. Golden color. Aromas of apple, pear, and citrus. On the palate, apples, pear, pineapple, and floral notes. Medium body with bright acidity – more than most Cali Chards – nicely balanced. Full, lush, mildly creamy mouthfeel leading to a crisp finish of citrus and some light toast.

2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 

A classic but restrained California Chardonnay. Golden color with fresh pineapple the first aromas on the nose, followed by citrus and butter notes. On the palate, green apple, pear, pineapple and tropical notes, as well as citrus. Soft, creamy mouthfeel balanced with medium acidity. The finish has tropical fruit and just a hint of butter. 

2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay 

A more classic California Chardonnay, though in Gary Farrell style, subtle and elegant. On the nose, pineapple, pear, and citrus, with a whiff of butter. Surprisingly crisp acidity on the palate, with pear, apple, lemon curd, and butter, with a light toast note in the finish.

2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Exquisite and our favorite of the tasting. The nose opens with cherry, raspberry, and cedar, with earthy notes. On the palate, the cherry leads the charge with raspberry, violet, cedar, and mushroom supporting. Medium body and acidity, with a long finish of red fruit and black tea.

2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Beautiful Pinot Noir. The nose opens with black cherry and blueberry, with some earthy notes. On the palate, lush cherry, raspberry, and blueberry fruit mingles with mushroom, earthy notes, and a general funk that I’ve come to appreciate in a well structured PN. Medium body and acidity lead to a pleasing finish of red fruit, black tea, and smoke. 

2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir

Quite interesting with herbal and vegetal notes up front, including bay leaf and eucalyptus, with red fruit following. On the palate, cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry with the bay leaf enhancing the fruit. Medium body with bright, lively acidity. Long fresh finish. 

2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Nice, fruit driven Pinot. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and cranberry. On the palate, these red fruit flavors continue, joined by blueberry, cedar, and bay leaf. Soft and velvety, with bright acidity and a long finish of red fruit and rose petal. 

We heartily recommend any and all of these wines, and we look forward to venturing out to the Russian River Valley to explore the neighborhoods in person. 

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We close on a somber note. We were sad to learn this week, as we prepared this post, that earlier this month, Gary Farrell Winery oenologist, Mark Osbourne, was killed after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle. Even more tragically, the motorist is accused of driving under the influence. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Gary Farrell Winery family. 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Justin Brown, Music, Music Review, Review, Wine, Winery Music

Some Music with your Wine

In these days of Shelter in Place, we’ve all had to adapt. “Virtual” is the new normal, and “Zoom” has become a verb. It’s not all bad, though. We’ve connected, or reconnected, with friends and family across the country we haven’t seen in years.

The wine world has had to make adjustments, too. With physical wineries and tasting rooms closed for the foreseeable future, winemakers have had to get creative. Direct-to-Consumer (DTC) is the new normal for wineries and merchants. With many offering discounts, free shipping, and other incentives, online sales have skyrocketed. Wine shopping has become so easy, delivered directly to your door (where allowed), we believe the increase in DTC sales will continue long after the Shelter in Places orders have been lifted. 

Many wineries have also pivoted to digital, and are offering virtual tasting experiences. These are a fun way to enjoy your favorite wine from the comfort of your home, while learning about the wine, winery, production, and more. Often hosted by the winemakers themselves, virtual tastings are informative and entertaining. All the ones we’ve attended have been live-streamed, so they are not interactive, other than through typed comments. 

We’ve also hosted Zoom or Skype tastings with friends. We all order the same wine, then taste together virtually and talk about the wine, among other things. 

But what’s missing in all this? Music.

We miss the winery experience; sidling up to the tasting bar, sipping samples while chatting with the tasting room staff and other guests, and enjoying the ambiance and vibe. Often, we’ll grab a glass of wine and a chair on the patio, and ease in while enjoying some live music. All the makings of a relaxing afternoon in wine country. 

If you miss winery music as much as we do, we have good news! Justin Brown is a winery musician in the Napa Valley area. He recently released a new EP album, The Bigger Picture. Now you can enjoy some winery music with your virtual tastings!

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Justin recently reached out, and provided us with complimentary copies of his newest releases. Yes, plural. In addition to The Bigger Picture, he also released an acoustic set, The Bigger Picture Acoustic. 

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With smooth, soulful vocals, and toe-tapping instrumentals, The Bigger Picture transports you to that winery patio, and brightens your entire day! 

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Justin Brown’s musical career started at the age of 15, when he taught himself to play the guitar. In 2013, he recorded his first album, Musings of the Soul. In that same year, he moved from New Jersey to the San Francisco Bay area. Since then, he has become a successful part of the Napa and Sonoma winery music scene. 

If you want to add some smooth jazz ambiance to your next virtual wine tasting, or just want to enjoy some really good music, click this link to go to Justin’s website and purchase one or both of his new EPs. Both are available for download, or you can order physical CDs for delivery. While you’re there, you can also download Musings of the Soul. Justin is actually offering Musings of the Soul downloads for free, but there is an option to enter a purchase price at checkout. Please consider this option to help Justin out during these difficult and uncertain times. 

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Now, pop that cork, pour a glass, log into the virtual call platform of choice with your family and friends, fire up some Justin Brown smooth jazz, and enjoy some music with your wine. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds