Wineries of the Month
In 1960, a partnership of local growers established a winery in the medieval town of Santadi, located at the southwestern tip of Sardegna between the Porto Pino sand dunes on the coast and the Pantaleo forest inland. They chose Antonello Pilloni as their President, and he later hired famed consulting enologist Giacomo Tachis. The two men have since brought to international prominence Carignano from the Sulcis district, an Iberian grape variety brought to the island by the Spanish conquistadors in the 13th Century. Santadi vineyards cover 1,235 acres of gently rolling terrain reaching out to the sea, some of the vineyards over 100 years old. The Carignano wine Terre Brune is the winery’s flagship and has won multiple Tre Biccheri awards and 90-plus scores from various wine critics.
Passopisciaro (Fisherman’s Path)
Proprietor of Tenute di Trinoro in Tuscany, Andrea Franchetti in 2000 acquired Passopisciaro at Castiglone on the slopes of Sicily’s Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. He now owns five additional sites at various locations and elevations, all farmed without toxic input. Rampante is the highest at 3280 feet, followed by Montedolce, Guardiola, Sciaranuova, Porcaria, and Chiappemacine the lowest at 1805 feet, each marked by different lava flows and producing wines of distinctly different characters. The noble vine of Mount Etna, Nerello Mascalese dominates, but Franchetti also planted the non-native varieties Cesanese d’Affile, Petit Verdot, and Chardonnay. Wine guide Gambero Rosso describes him as “one of the fathers of Etna’s wine-making renaissance. His arrival on the volcano effectively paved the way for many other producers, who subsequently invested in this unique terroir….”
Pietradolce (Sweet Stones)
Michael Faro established Pietradolce in 2005 near the town of Castiglione on the Northern slopes of Mount Etna. The family also operates a large ornamental plant business that spreads over many hectares in the province of Catania, Sicily. The organically cultivated Mount Etna vineyards consist of about 27 acres and grow at elevations between 2000 and 3000 feet. Both the Etna Rosso and Bianco are known for their extraordinary fragrance and finesse. Highly respected Carlo Ferrini is the consulting winemaker.
Winery of the Month
Graziano Family of Wines
The only winery that we feature regularly every two or three years is Graziano Family of Wines in Mendocino County. Never prey to fads, including those that last for a long time, like elevated alcohols, Greg Graziano is a winemaker with passion and integrity, who marches to his own drum that beats to both personal and classical rhythms.
Making wine for over 40 years, he is devoted to Italian varieties, to the traditional grapes of Mendocino County where he was born, and to well balanced wines without excessive alcohols. He vinifies only Mendocino grapes for a dizzying number of label themes, considering that his is a smaller winery, now producing 40,000 cases a year. Saint Gregory is his first and oldest label and features a French Burgundian theme with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and the South African Pinotage, a hybrid that crosses Pinot Noir with Cinsaut. In the last 12 years, the label has included sparkling wines. Monte Volpe includes Californian-Italian varieties originally grown in northeastern Italy all the way down to Sicily. Enotria features varieties from Italy’s Piedmont region, where Greg’s grandfather was born, and the Graziano label specializes in old Mendocino varieties like Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Carignone, and Chenin Blanc.
Greg laments the power that big distributors have in the marketplace, diminishing choices and insisting on the easy sell, Cabernet and Chardonnay. He is a champion of clean viticulture in a county that boasts the largest percentage of organic wines in California and the only county in California that has outlawed genetically modified food. “Monsanto hates people like me. I’m going to bring back old clones, bring back old varieties, bring back old vineyards that it would rather see die because it would rather have us drink just Cabernet and Chardonnay.”
ITALIAN Wines of the Month
Santadi 2012 Carignano del Sulcis
With beautiful texture and flavor, this delicious mid-weight wine should be decanted before serving, not to soften tannins so much as to evoke the full intensity of aroma and flavor. Opened for two days, the nose still exuded dark fruit and dried flowers with flavors to match (13.5% alcohol). The wine is topped with a screw cap, but it’s at least the best of its kind.
Santadi 2013 Vermentino Sardegna
A blend of 85% Vermentino and 15% of the indigenous Nuragus, the wine is deliciously crisp but has rich, round fruit flavor on the palate (12.5% alcohol). Serve chilled with fresh seafood and white meats.
Santadi 2011 Carignano del Sulcis
A warm vintage in 2011, Sardegnan grape varieties, originally from arid Spain, flourish in the heat. The Rocca Rubia has intensely captivating aromas and laudable balance at 14.5% alcohol. Flavors are deep and dark and the tannins beautifully smooth. The wine was aged for 12 months in larger one and two year-old French oak casks (14.5% alcohol). Decant and serve at cool room temperature with lamb dishes.
Pietradolce 2013 Etna Rosso
This 100% Nerello Mascalese was handharvested from the Pietradolce vineyard at a 2000-foot elevation on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna. The wine is ruby red in color with aromas of red berries and dark fruits. Acid and tannins balance this medium-weight wine, which was aged for just three months in finely grained and lightly toasted French oak barrels. The aim was to add complexity without losing the inherent character of Sicily’s indigenous Nerello Mascalese grapes (14% alcohol).
Pietradolce 2013 Archineri Etna Bianco
This beautiful wine is 100% indigenous Carricante, grown on the eastern slopes of Mount Etna and hand-harvested from vines that are 100 to 120 years old and grow at 2,800 feet above sea level. Straw yellow in color with notes of peaches, flowers, and spice, the wine is complex and delicious (13.5% alcohol). Serve chilled.
Passopisiaro 2012 Contrada C
At a 1805-foot elevation on the lower slopes of Mount Etna, this Contrada Chiappemacine vineyard is 80 years old. Covered with just a thin surface of lava, vine roots penetrate below into a limestone bed and produce full-bodied wines. Made from the native Nerello Mascalese, the 2012 Contrade C shows bright red fruit with stony notes on the finish. Aged for 18 months in large oak barrels, the winery produced fewer than 300 cases (15.5% alcohol).
Passopisciaro 2011 Rosso Sicilia 2011
This 2011 Rosso Sicilia is 100% Nerello Mascalese with deep cherry and raspberry aromas along with mineral notes and flowers. Made from vines that are 75 to 100 years old, the wine is gorgeously balanced despite considerable concentration (14% alcohol). Aged for 18 months in large oak casks, owner Andrea Franchetti is opposed to smaller or newer oak barrels, which can alter the intense aromatics of Mount Etna wines. Writing for Antonio Galloni’s Vinous Media, Ian D’Agata describes the wine as “a truly great Passopisciaro and the best wine in this year’s releases of Sicilian wines from the talented Andrea Franchetti.”
ITALIAN Region of the Month
Facing Spain to the west, Lazio to the east, and the island of Corsica a stone’s throw to the north, the island of Sargegna is still mostly undeveloped. The rocky Costa Smeralda in the north draws tourists to its resorts, while agriculture and viticulture dominate the south where the capital city and major port, Cagliari, is located. The rugged Gennargentu Mountains provide sweeping views to the east. In the 8th Century BCE, Phoenician traders influenced wine making in Sardegna, and much later in the 13th Century, the Spanish conquistadors brought Iberian grape varieties to the island, including Vermentino, Cannonau, Monica, and Carignano, among others. But the indigenous Nuragus is the leading white variety, appealing mostly to Sardinians. Sweet wines are also traditional in Sardegna. The older vineyards have traditional head-pruned arberello vines, whose leafy canes bend to the ground, the vines lower and less influenced by the winds from the sea. The newer vineyards are likely to be trained on vertical trellises and planted in locations where they are protected. Sardinia has one DOCG wine, Vermentino di Gallura, 19 DOC zones, and 15 IGT zones.
CALIFORNIAN Wines of the Month
Enotria 2012 Dolcetto,
Texture is an underrated quality in premium wine and often commands attention only when it is jarring. Instead, this Dolcetto has a beautiful mouth-feel, worthy of focus. Tannins in grape skins provide texture in the wine and create a pleasing sensation in the mouth. But they also have a function, cleaning and subtlety scraping the mouth to refresh the next bite of food. Serve with roasted lamb.
Monte Volpe 2013 Vesuvius,
Vesuvius is a blend of 25% each of Greco de Tufo, Fiano, Falengina, and Coda de Volpe, varieties that are indigenous to Southern Italy. Who even knew that these grapes existed in California? Only Greg Graciano because he planted them in his Potter Valley vineyard. The wine exudes aromas of Mendocino wild flowers and fruits. Serve chilled.
Graziano 2011 Reserve Zinfandel,
If you want to know how a food-friendly Zinfandel tastes, try this one. It has the sweet fruit flavors of Zinfandel that everyone loves but is just 14.5% alcohol instead of the usual 15.5%. Big difference. The difference between a dessert wine and a food wine that you can enjoy with an elegant meal. Serve at cool room temperature.
Saint Gregory 2010 Pinot Noir,
Lost Creek Vineyards, Mendocino County
Consumers flocked to Pinot Noir ten years ago because the wine was a medium weight red. But something happened along the way. Pinot Noir began to ramp up to a dense, concentrated wine that would be unrecognizable in Burgundy, France where the wine originated. Greg Graziano has always been a fan of Pinot Noir way back before it became popular. He’s a loyal guy and continues to make a medium bodied wine that weighs in at 13.5 percent alcohol. Serve at cool room temperature.
Saint Gregory, Brut Blanc de Blanc,
Potter Valley, Mendocino County
After the Millennium, sparking wine producers despaired that bubbly, whose production they had increased for the occasion, would fold, once again served only at weddings. Greg Graziano felt that Americans would acquire a taste for bubbles and never turn back. He was right, of course. He began making sparkling wine in Mendocino County, competing with many heavy-hitter Anderson Valley sparkling producers. Recently his non-vintage Sparkling Brut came in first at a winemaker tasting, including Roederer Estate and Scharffenberger Cellars, both highly regarded sparkling wine specialists. Serve chilled.
CALIFORNIAN Region of the Month
Created in 1850 at the time of California statehood, Mendocino County is located 90 miles north of San Francisco and is noted for its Pacific Ocean coastline, redwood forests, wine production, microbreweries, and liberal views on the use of cannibis. Nearly 25% of vineyards are cultivated organically. In 2004, residents voted to become the first GMO-free county in the United States, an initiative that was supported by the county’s largest wineries. The Mendocino Range segment essentially divides the region into two climatic spheres. The land to the west of the ranges, closest to the coast, has a maritime climate that includes cooling and rain influences from the Pacific Ocean. Among the wine regions in this cooler area are the AVAs Mendocino Ridge, Anderson Valley, and Yorkville Highlands. East of the ranges, the climate turns warmer around Ukiah and along the path of the Russian River. Redwood Valley, Potter Valley, Cole Ranch, McDowell Valley, Covelo, Dos Rios AVAs and most of the large general Mendocino AVA are in this warmer area. The climatic and geographical diversity of Mendocino County allows the region to produce a wide range of grape varieties.
MENU OF THE MONTH
Asparagus on a bed of micro-greens,
drizzled with olive oil and garnished
with shaved Parmesan cheese and quartered lemons
Braised lamb chops with dried porcini mushroom rub,
served with roasted butternut squash slices
coated with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped rosemary
Sliced oranges and fennel, sprinkled with salt and
chopped parsley, drizzled with olive oil
Asparagus on a bed of micro-greens
Have you noticed that leafy greens are down-sizing? First, we had baby lettuces and baby spinach. Now we have micro arugula, scallions, cilantro, pea greens, and radish leaves, among others, all tasty, crunchy, tiny, and beautiful. They serve as salad additions and garnishes, and are worth their weight in gold. But oh are they worth it. Pea greens are the least costly, and I used them under individually plated asparagus, so delicious and nutritious, and a worthy celebration of spring.