12 Days of Vinebox: Day 8

1 01 2019

By Peter Vetsch

Happy New Year!!  As we leave 2018 behind and stride into 2019, I think Vinebox might find itself in the midst of a bit of a rut, in need of a New Year’s resolution or two.  You know when the record groove glitches and the same loop of sound plays again, over and over?  We may be within that repeating loop of time now.  If you have a seasonal collection of wine that is 12 bottles large, I would resist having any two bottles in a row come from the same place.  When you hit THREE identically situated bottles in a row, and when the locale in question is Sicily, I start to wonder a bit.  This is not a slight against Sicilian wine, which is often quite wonderful, but it is a query about whether it should make up the whole of Act 2 of the 12 Days of Christmas, particularly when the drinking audience for this set is likely in large part unfamiliar with it.  Add that all 3 of the bottles in question appear to be made by the same producer, and I start to yearn for a little more variety.

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All that said, sometimes the variety can be found within the produce of the winery itself. To be sure, the leaner whites from Days 6 and 7 don’t give me a lot of common ground from which to judge this CABERNET SAUVIGNON.  Sicilian Cab?  It is rare, but it exists, and here is allowed to stretch its legs in 100% pure-varietal form.  This is the 2017 Cantine Grosso Baldovino Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes grown in northeast Sicily, a highly friendly area for viticulture thanks to tons of sun, moderating ocean influence and mineral-laden soils.  This is been a home to cultivated grapes since Roman times but is just now being rediscovered by modern audiences.  Cantine Grosso is now five generations into its stewardship of Sicily’s long vinous history, having been founded way back in 1887.  Maybe 3 straight Vinebox days aren’t too many after all. Read the rest of this entry »

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12 Days of Vinebox: Day 7

31 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

Day 7 finds us sampling different wines from the same winery in close succession, presenting us with another native Sicilian grape, from the very same producer as Day 6. Or is it grapes, plural? What I’m glomming onto right away is the name “Inzolia Catarratto” on the vial. “Inzolia” is reminiscent of “Trebbiano”, in that this name actually refers to numerous white grape varieties that are in fact distinct. Most commonly this word is an incorrect but still commonly used moniker for Ansonica, a widely planted, golden-skinned, low acid Sicilian variety that has also made some inroads into Tuscany. Which brings us to Catarratto. This is another broadly planted Sicilian white grape, in this case in the high-acid camp. Yup, this is a 50-50 blend of Ansonica and Catarratto, two workhorses, presumably intended to capitalize on a balance between Inzolia’s relative bulk and Catarratto’s fresher edge.

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Ansonica is interesting in that it is so prevalent in the hot Sicilian climate despite being a low acid variety. On the plus side, it is drought-resistant. Turns out that Tuscany might be a better locale for it despite this grape’s Sicilian roots; in Sicily the wines tend to be citrusy and light-bodied, whereas in Tuscan island regions such as Elba the grape yields sturdier, richer wines that recall golden orchard fruits with a saline bite. In either case, Ansonica is also a rare example of a naturally tannic white grape. The name Catarratto (or Catarratto Bianco) means “waterfall”, which refers not to some pretty landscape feature but rather to the effusive quantities of wine this grape is capable of producing. Hoooo boy… When a grape name refers to a wine lake rather than some unique aspect of of its vinous personality, one has to wonder how it’s going to show in the glass. In any event, Ian D’Agata compares Catarratto to Chardonnay, stating that it can conjure up notes of savoury herbs, banana and butter. He also acknowledges that these conceits might have more to do with wine-making technique than they do with any innate characteristics of the grape itself (which, hey, actually does sound rather like Chardonnay). The technical sheet on the Feudo Solaria website reassures us that we can pair the wine with snapper, “with no fear of being banal”. Hmmm… Maybe there’s at least a little fear. Read the rest of this entry »





12 Days of Vinebox: Day 6

30 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

We are halfway through Vinebox. And back in Italy, albeit this time in the deep south, Sicily. Like its more northerly counterpart Puglia, Sicily grows tremendous quantities of grapes, most of which go into “IGT Terre di Sicilia” or “Terre Siciliane IGP” commodity wines. The heat and relatively flat, fertile land lend themselves to mass production of fruit-forward, easy-drinking and (most importantly) cheap wines, beverages to enjoy without need for much in the way of weighty analysis. And this is all well and good. There is a place for plonk, I suppose. Fortunately though, Sicily is like most Italian wine regions in that it is also a storehouse of unique, fascinating native grape varieties as well as some interesting terroir. In fact, Italy on the whole has more indigenous grape varieties than any other wine-producing country. The good news for wine nerds is that this heritage is being increasingly nurtured, protected, and celebrated. Enter the present grape, Frappato.

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Frappato is a Sicilian native and apparently enjoys a parent-child relationship with Sangiovese (although the specific direction of this relationship remains unknown). The grape is known for rather low acidity/high pH, low levels of delicate, soft tannins, low sugars, and (you guessed it) relatively low levels of colour compounds. This grape of diminutives was once rare as a varietal, instead used as a softening component in blends with heftier grapes such as the better-known Nero d’Avola. Although Frappato is challenging in the vineyard, it is rather forgiving in the winery. Its reductive nature does require exposure to enough oxygen during fermentation to avoid the production of sulphurous off-odors (for example, by frequently pumping of the must over the cap, a technique which also aids extraction of what few colour compounds and tannins are present in the grape). The resulting wines are typically light, fresh, aromatic, and meant to be drunk young. “Don’t expect the colour of Merlot”, says one viticulturist quoted by Ian D’Agata in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy. (By the way, if you are any sort of wine nerd who is at all intrigued by Italy, this book is essential reading.) Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: 2012 Marabino Noto

20 01 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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I admit: I had to do a little research for this one. But well worth it!

Sicily is hot right now (figuratively at least; literally, it’s about +8 Celsius right now, and it’s 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning).  After a lengthy history of exporting purely bulk wines for blending and bottling wines only for domestic consumption, this large island off the toe of Italy’s boot is suddenly undergoing a rapid and massive quality transformation, showcasing its indigenous varietals to the world and beginning to show up on wine lists and in boutiques all over town.  There are wines from vines grown on the side of an active volcano (Etna) and wines so close to the ocean they can smell the salt.  More and more Sicilian wine is being targeted for import, filling a gap in our drinking experience we never knew was there.

This is the second bottle of Marabino that I’ve had the opportunity to try; the first was their fantastic Eureka Chardonnay, exactly five months ago today.  Marabino is a relative newcomer to the island, established in 2002 as a fully biodynamic winery focused on growing Moscato, Nero d’Avola and Chardonnay, the first two native to the region.  Marabino is based in the Noto DOC, a UNESCO world heritage site featuring surprising white soils in the very southeast corner of Sicily.  While the number of classified Denomination of Origin zones in Sicily is continually growing, Noto has held this designation since 1974 and has an entrenched place in Sicilian wine history. Read the rest of this entry »





Wine Review: Menti & Marabino, Natural Italy

20 08 2015

[These bottles were provided as samples for review purposes.]

If you are a massively wine-obsessed civilian, you have probably had at least a passing thought about it.  I can think of a half dozen wine friends off the top of my head with whom I’ve had the conversation.  You know something about wine, you have a particular love for a particular region, you’ve found a lesser-known producer or two there whose wines aren’t currently brought in to your jurisdiction…what if I just imported them myself?  I could be a wine agent on the side…who WOULDN’T want to buy these wines?

Small importer, statement wines.

Small importer, statement wines.

Of course, it takes much more than a passion for wine and an idle dream to make a go of it in the wine import world, an extremely competitive sphere full of others who have been at it a long time and know what they’re doing.  This is why I am behind a keyboard right now instead of combing Washington State and Oregon for hidden gems.  But I have the utmost respect for the people who do take the plunge, who put their money where their mouth is and find a way to step a little bit further into the world of wine.  Maxim Atanassov is one of those people, populating the white collar world by day and crusading for all-natural biodynamic Italian wines on evenings and weekends through his agency Vino Al Vino.  He has assembled a tight-knit group of producers from the southern and eastern edges of Italy who share a steadfast mission to let the land do the talking and a hands-off approach to winemaking.  I got the chance to try two bottles from the white side of his wine portfolio, and they proved to be some of the most interesting wines I’ve ever been asked to review. Read the rest of this entry »





Calgary Wine Life: Sicilian Master Class @ Theatre Junction Grand

31 10 2013

Quick:  name a Sicilian wine producer.  Did you say Planeta?  Me too.  Name another one.  To my embarrassment, I couldn’t.  My list of known Sicilian producers ends at one.  This fairly sizeable void in my wine knowledge is particularly galling because, believe it or not, Sicily is the biggest wine-producing region in Italy:  it actually produces more wine per year than Australia, more than Chile and Bordeaux combined.  So why does it continue to have such a low profile?  Because, up until recently, the wine produced was not generally of high quality and was often sold off in bulk to other parts of the country instead of bottled on its own.  Even now, less than 20% of Sicily’s annual production is bottled for individual sale, and only 5% or so comes from a legally designated DOC region.  But there is currently a quality revolution underway in Sicily, one that has been brewing since the 1980s and that has seen many longstanding producers forego high yields and the sale of their crops by the ton in favour of more meticulous growing and winemaking practices and the creation of better wines under their own labels.  This week I got the chance to witness this transformation midstream.

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Read the rest of this entry »








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