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
Bordeaux-Style Blend, Chardonnay, Finger Lakes, New York Wine, Riesling, Samples

Three Gems from Ravines Wine Cellars

A few weeks back, we were talking about different wine varieties, and decided we needed to incorporate more Riesling into our lives. Mere days later, as if she overheard our conversation from 3,000 miles away, Courtney from Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, emailed us offering samples of their wines, including their flagship Dry Riesling. How could we refuse?

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

Riesling is a very versatile grape. It can also be polarizing; you either like it or you don’t. In our observation, the polarization is directly related to the versatility – Riesling wines can be made in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet. A few years ago, the market was flooded with cheap, sweet Riesling from Germany, which has turned a lot of wine drinkers away from Riesling in general. That’s a shame, because Riesling is a stunning grape, food friendly and elegant. While we tend to prefer dry wines, we’ve enjoyed some excellent off-dry Rieslings, and have an appreciation for the occasional sweet sip. 

The Finger Lakes Region, in Upstate New York, is known for its Riesling. With a short growing season and cold, snowy winters, Riesling finds itself right at home there. The name, Finger Lakes, comes from the 11 long, narrow lakes formed by glacial movement millions of years ago. Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are two of the deepest in the US, at 618 feet and 435 feet, respectively. 

Ravines Wine Cellars is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 2001, husband and wife team Morten and Lisa Hallgren founded Ravines Wine Cellars, with a mission to produce a bone dry Riesling. Born in Denmark, Morten learned winemaking at his family’s estate winery in Côtes de Provence, France. Morten went on to earn a degree in winemaking from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier. Meanwhile, Lisa studied the culinary arts and is now a professionally trained Chef. As an adult, Morten came to the United States, eventually settling in Upstate New York, where he and Lisa purchased land between two ravines in the Finger Lakes region. You can read more of Morten and Lisa’s story on the Ravines Wine Cellars website.

Our sample pack from Ravines Wine Cellars included three wines; a 2017 Chardonnay, the flagship 2017 Dry Riesling, and their Bordeaux-style red blend, Maximillen 2017. These, and all of their portfolio wines are available for purchase on their website.


2017 Chardonnay (SRP $19.95)

A unique Chardonnay, made in the appassimento method by partially drying the grapes before pressing. The appassimento method is of Italian origin, and is used in making the rich and concentrated Amarone wines. 

Clear golden color. Aromas of ripe apricot, mild citrus, and pear. On the palate, there are flavors of grilled lemon, pear, peach, and citrus. Medium body with vibrant acidity. The finish lingers with fresh citrus and just a hint of toasty warmth at the end. Excellent paired with roast chicken. 


Dry Riesling 2017 (SRP $17.95)

Clear, golden color. Aromas of pear, apple, and citrus, with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavors of Bartlett pear, yellow apple, lemon lime, and lychee, with hints of honeysuckle and lemon blossom. Light body with brisk acidity and a lingering finish. Paired well with chicken and broccoli stir fry. 


Maximilien 2017 (SRP $24.95)

54% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This is a classic Bordeaux blend. A New World wine with a distinctly Old World vibe. Ruby-garnet color. The nose is earthy, cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum. On the palate, smoky with blackberry, black cherry, ripe raspberry, and red currant, with black pepper, tobacco, cigar box, and wisps of bell pepper. Medium-plus body, with grippy tannins and bold acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice. Somebody please get me a ribeye! 

Thank you.

We found each of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines to be distinct, expressive, and downright delicious. We are happy to have more Riesling in our lives, and will remember Ravines Wine Cellars when it’s time to re-stock that corner of the cellar.

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
MWWC, Travel, Wine

Where to This Time? #MWWC25

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

After following the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge for a few months, I have decided it’s finally time to put myself out there submit an entry. Last month’s winner, Loie of Cheap Wine Curious, (a blog after my own heart!) selected the topic for #MWWC25: Travel. So let’s get this show on the road!

Travel

Ah, the allure of travel. Jetting off to exotic lands; experiencing new and exciting cultures; visiting famous sites and landmarks. TSA lines. Lost luggage. Jet lag. Yes, travel is an adventure! Yet travel can mean more than international destinations, as enticing and fun as those are. We can jump in the car, and travel to nearby locales to explore what our own backyards have to offer. If you are fortunate enough to live near a wine region, day trips can be very rewarding, and time well spent. Besides being easier and less expensive, local excursions eliminate the stress and bother of figuring out how to transport all that newly purchased wine home!

I have the good fortune to live in Northern California, near Sacramento, where I am practically surrounded by some of the most famous wine regions in the world. In 30 to 90 minutes, I can travel by car to the Sierra Foothills, Clarksburg, Lodi, Napa, or Sonoma.

If it weren’t for my pesky day job, I’d spend a lot more time exploring the hundreds of fantastic wineries that are just a hop, skip, and a jump away. And living so close to such popular destinations means that I get to meet wine-loving friends, who I’d only otherwise know via social media, when they travel to the area! (If any of my fellow bloggers are planning trips to the area, and are interested in meeting, let me know!)

Of course, California isn’t the only place in the U.S. where great wine is made. In the various blogs and articles I read, I’ve been seeing a lot of information about the wines coming out of Virginia, New York, Texas, and other areas. If there are no wineries near where you live, let your fingers do the walking…to Google or your favorite search engine…and find wine events nearby. Festivals, tastings, and classes are all fun ways to incorporate a little local travel into your wine journey.

Still, many wine lovers dream of sojourns to their favorite wine regions. I long to travel to the great wine regions of Europe: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne, Tuscany, Piedmont, Rioja, and so many more. I dream of walking the vineyards, seeing the beautiful châteaux and estates, and tasting the world famous wines. Travel allows us to experience other cultures and meet amazing people. It brings perspective to this small world of ours.

The topic for this month’s MWWC is especially timely, if a little premature for me. In just a couple of weeks, my wife and I will travel to Quebec City, Canada for an extended stay. Although not among the more famous wine destinations, there are several wineries in the area, worthy of a day trip or two. As it happens, I enjoy seeking out lesser known wine regions, so this will be a great opportunity to do just that. We’ll immerse ourselves in this French provincial city for several weeks; sightseeing, shopping, and of course enjoying local wine and food.

Route Des Vins

More than 400 years old, Quebec City is the oldest walled city in North America, and the only North American fortified city north of Mexico whose walls still exist. With its Old World charm, and French history and language, Quebec City is sometimes referred to as the Paris of North America.

While I’m struggling to learn a little French, I’m looking forward to immersing myself in a new culture, experiencing history come alive, and of course sampling some amazing French cuisine and wine. I’ve already scoped out the website of the major wine shop in town, and as expected, they have an incredible selection of French wine. And would you believe there is a Bistro near the condo we’re renting that serves a duck confit burger?! Ç’est magnifique!

So although I may have had more fodder for a blog post about travel after our trip, preparing and writing this post has been a great opportunity to think ahead to all the amazing things we’re planning to do and see. I plan to blog while we’re in Canada, including reviews of the new wines I anticipate trying; French, Canadian and others. Watch this space during June if you would like to follow along on my journey. (Yes, I’ll be sure to post a picture of that duck confit burger!)

Salt and PepperTravel adds spice to life, whether it is a quick, Chinese-Five-Spice-Powdersalt-and-pepper day trip, or an exotic five-spice adventure to a distant land. Travel enables us to get out, see the sights, meet new people, and generally and literally broaden our horizons. Near or far; relaxing or intense; whether by train, plane, automobile, or bicycle, get out there and experience what the world has to offer! Where will you go today?

Santé!

Takeoff

 

AVA, Sierra Foothills, Wine, Wineries, Zinfandel

Lesser Known AVAs: Sierra Foothills

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I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve heard of the Sierra Foothills AVA. I wouldn’t call it ‘lesser known.'” Yes, I know. Nevertheless, too often the big, East Coast wine and food magazines, websites, and blogs overlook this region when reviewing wines, making their “Top 100” lists, and generally writing about wine and wine country. Tourists often overlook the Sierra Foothills when planning Northern California wine country travel, favoring the more famous Napa and Sonoma regions, and recently, Lodi. *

The wineries of the Sierra Foothills AVA and it’s five sub-appellations produce some outstanding wines. Most of these are small, independent producers. As an under-recognized wine region, it is not as commercialized as Napa/Sonoma, and therefore is generally less expensive to visit. Many wineries still offer free tasting, and few charge more than $5, which is refunded with a wine purchase.

AVA County Map

From pastoral, rolling hills; to hilltop vistas; to lush, forested hideaways, the Sierra Foothills AVA spans eight counties and more than 2,600,000 acres. [1] With hot, dry summers, grapes of nearly all varieties thrive here, but for my palate, and in my humble opinion, Italian and Spanish varietals are the best. Albariño to Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills wineries produce exciting, delicious wines.

Rolling Hills  VCW_D_GC_T8_HelwigWinery_Flippen-1280x642Fitzpatrick View

Wine history somewhat parallels gold rush history here. In 1848, Gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, in GoldPanning1889-locEl Dorado County, in the heart of what is now the Sierra Foothills AVA. This created the famed Gold Rush that brought prospectors westward in droves. In addition to the miners, many entrepreneurs came west, sensing the opportunity to prosper by selling supplies to the “forty-niners” (a reference to 1849, when the Gold Rush really got going.) Among these entrepreneurs were many European immigrants, who brought grape vines with them. [2] Zinfandel thrived in the region, and is still the largest planted varietal, [3] with many vines more than 100 years old. Modern day winemakers produce some stunning Zinfandel wines, ranging from dry and spicy, to big and jammy.

historic vineyard old vinesWhile the wines produced in the Sierra Foothills have Old World heritage, these are definitely New World wines. More fruit-driven and less acidic than their European ancestors, these wines are easily drinkable on their own, yet pair famously with food.

Stay tuned. Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be profiling each of the sub-appellations and other notable areas within the Sierra Foothills AVA. For a sample of what else is going on in the Sierra Foothills, check out my post “Destination: Calaveras Grape Stomp“.

* In the interest of full disclosure, I admit I am biased toward the Sierra Foothills AVA. I live 30-60 minutes from most of the wineries, and it was wines from this region that really got me started on my wine journey. Nevertheless, I really think the Sierra Foothills are underrated and oft overlooked by the big publishing houses, and therefore relatively unknown to many wine lovers. It is a wine region worthy of notice, and a visit if you’re out this way.

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[1] http://sierrafoothillswine.com/avas.html

[2] http://www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-napawineries.html

[3] http://www.everyvine.com/wine-regions/region/Sierra_Foothills/

Clarksburg, Old Sugar Mill, Wine, Wineries

Destination: The Old Sugar Mill


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Located less than 20 minutes from downtown Sacramento, the Old Sugar Mill in Clarksburg, CA, is a wine lover’s dream destination. Take a scenic drive along the Sacramento River to the home of 11 tasting rooms, and several full winery operations. Besides the wine, the venue hosts a number of events including Art Walks, Yoga and Wine, Food Truck Mania, seasonal events, and frequent weddings. This is truly a one-stop wonderland.

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Photo Credit: The Friends of the Clarksburg Library https://oldsugarmill.hosting-advantage.com/osm_construction/04_20_35.jpg

As the name implies, this regional hub for Central Valley wines is housed in an old sugar production mill. But that’s not the most interesting bit about this historic building. Formerly owned by the Amalgamated Sugar Company, it was originally located at Smithfield, Utah. In 1933, the plant was closed, dismantled, and transported brick-by-brick to its current location. It was reassembled between 1934-1936 and resumed operation, processing sugar beets into granular sugar. In 1993, the location closed as a sugar processing plant forever, and remained vacant until 2000. In that year, John Carvalho, Jr., purchased the location and began renovation and conversion into a winery and tourism destination. [1], [2]

Most of the current occupants of the Old Sugar Mill are wineries from the Clarksburg AVA, although other California AVA’s are represented also. These include Fair Play AVA in the Sierra Foothills (Perry Creek Winery) and Trinity County AVA (Merlo Family Estate).

IMG_0424The buildings themselves are worth the visit. The massive, high-ceiling brick edifices are beautiful; the architecture reminiscent of a bygone era.

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When you pass through the main doors, you enter the main building that houses nine of the tasting rooms, and a barrel room that functions as an event hall.

IMG_0425The Barrel RoomIMG_0428

Continue through the building and out the back doors, where you’ll find a large lawn area where Food Truck events and weddings are held. Also out back are the other two tasting rooms. Bring a picnic lunch, or buy something from one of the ever-present food trucks, and make an afternoon of it! IMG_0430

With 11 wineries all in one place, you have plenty of choices and options. In addition to the outdoor seating, many tasting rooms have seating areas for leisurely tasting enjoyment. Most tasting rooms charge $5 for tasting; typically 6-8 pours; but will waive the tasting charge with a purchase. On this trip, we visited four wineries.

Draconis Vineyards specializes in just two varietals: Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, and their wines are excellent. Their tasting room staff is friendly and helpful.

Perry Creek and Draconis
Perry Creek and Draconis

Clarksburg Wine Company has a huge selection of reds and whites. Give their Delta Blanc white blend and the Delta Rouge red blend a try!

Clarksburg Wine Company
Clarksburg Wine Company

Merlo Family Estate produces rich, delicious wines from the volcanic soils of Trinity County. Be sure to say “hi” to their tasting room manager, Djimi. In the summer months, he’ll likely be sporting his kilt.

Merlo Family Vineyards
Merlo Family Vineyards

Heringer Estates operates their winery on site at the Old Sugar Mill. They offer a wide portfolio of wines, including such unusual varietals as Tannat and Teroldedo.

Heringer Estates
Heringer Estates

The Old Sugar Mill is a dog friendly venue. Well behaved dogs on leashes are welcome. Many tasting rooms have water and/or snacks available for four-footed visitors.

Colette the Cavalier King Charles
Colette the Cavalier King Charles

If you are in the area, be sure to stop by for a visit! Here’s a map to help you find the way!

Cheers!!

P.S. The Old Sugar Mill website appears to be undergoing renovation, so the best way to get information is by visiting the Old Sugar Mill Facebook page, where you can find a complete listing of upcoming events.

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[1] https://oldsugarmill.hosting-advantage.com/pages/history.html

[2] http://www.lodinews.com/lodi_living/article_b319ccfa-598e-11e1-b8c1-001871e3ce6c.html