Tuesday, June 18, 2019

La Bella Sedàra, The Beautiful Sicilian

La Bella Sedàra was originally the irresistible, ambitious Angelica Sedàra, the belle of Il Gattopardo (The Leopard) directed by Luchino Visconti, played in the movie by the divine Claudia Cardinale. 

It's also a beautiful Sicilian red wine made by Donnafugata -- and a great way to put a smile in your day!

The label also shows the lovely Contessa Entellina winery in the heart of western Sicily, where vines and olives are an integral part of the landscape.

The outstanding Donnafugata family winery owned by brother and sister Antonio and Jose Rallo literally grows a whole treasure house of vines on its 667 acres here: native Sicilian varieties like Ansonica, Catarratto, Grecanico, Grillo and Nero d’Avola – and Italian and international vines such as Fiano, Chardonnay, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Petit Manseng, Alicante Bouchet, Tannat, Petit Verdot and Pinot Nero.

The lovely fresh, fruity Sedàra 2016, $18.95 at the LCBO, made from Nero d'Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah, is cherry and plum-scented with subtle notes of baking spices, mocha, berries and black pepper -- the result of oak-free wine-making to achieve a perfect lightness and charm.

Just to the north of Sicily, on mainland Italy, in Puglia, you'll find a refreshingly aromatic bone-dry white wine with the most confusing name: Zìn

Except that this Zìn, unlike Zinfandel, is made from the Fiano grape, a native of Campania and actually a rarity in Puglia.

It's $13.95 at the LCBO and quite delicious with floral and orchard fruit notes, pleasant herbal notes and a touch of minerality -- perfect apero wine or to accompany seafood and shellfish or pasta with white sauces.

Full name is Produttori Vini Manduria Zin Fiano 2017 IGT Salento, quite a mouthful and, by the way, Zìn is the local dialect for sea urchin as you'll see on the label. PVM also produces Primitivo red wine, the ancestor of California's fruity signature Zinfandel.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Everything's Coming Up Rosy!

Named for the doyenne of the Bosc family, the charming matriarch Madame Andree Bosc, this elegant and totally delicious 100% Pinot Noir pinky is a real palate-pleaser.

None of that horrid confected kids' candy stuff here: Cuvee d'Andree is close to what the good folks of 17th-Century Bordeaux used to call "clairet" when their own reds were pale and under-appreciated (except by the Brits - claret). Sure, they were using Cabernet, Merlot and other red grapes rather than Pinot, the lordly grape of Burgundy, but Bordeaux reds were light-colored and still are super food-friendly.

Today, too many winemakers misguidedly strive to darken the color of their reds believing that wine drinkers equate deep, dense color with high quality. Not so! Sorry California!

Pinot Noir and also Tempranillo, the great red grape of Rioja, Spain, always tend towards "clairet" in color and their finesse and magic on the palate are above reproach. I've always believed that Tempranillo was taken from Burgundy to Spain by the pilgrim monks traversing the Camino de Santiago and is closely related today.

The Bosc family recommends beef satay and grilled burgers or seared sea scallops with this crisp, dry 2018 VQA Niagara-on-the-Lake release, $16.95 LCBO 333260. The cran-strawberry and white pepper notes bring out the best from BBQ and grilling. Salmon, tuna and rice-based dishes like paella Valenciana would also be my choices.

There's only 500 cases, so get a wiggle on!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Going in circles: Get a perfect slice of Py

What's the value of Py? Well, at the LCBO Vintages, it's $23.95. Good value for a fine Cru Beaujolais.

This is the Morgon Cote du Py from Stephane Aviron, an exciting red made from Gamay grapes: still mildly tannic and fine with that, elegant and powerful with smoky red fruit depths. A wine for now and tomorrow, scoring 92, available at Vintages.

What's the perfect food with this fine Beaujolais? No question, roasted red meats and hard cheeses.

We should ideally have enjoyed it on March 14, the day the world (of math nerds anyway) celebrates the mathematical constant Pi (π) by eating, well, pie! March 14 falls on 3/14 the first three digits of Pi, which represents the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter.

We missed that but we can still circle back on this wine's subtle and delicious pencil lead/black cherry core.

To most of us, Pi is 3.14 but, like wine, it's not a simple fraction. A Google nerd -- Emma Haruka Iwao — has just worked out its value to 31.4 trillion digits.(Irony intended!)

That would be like: 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286 ....

Corny jokes:

How many chefs does it take to make a pie? 3.14.

Worst thing about getting hit in the face with Pi is it never ends.

What is 1.57? Half a Pi.

What do you get when you cut a jack o’lantern? Pumpkin Pi.

Of course, if you use a French accent you could always say you're going for a Py!

For something leaner and more svelte, there's also the lovely Vasse Felix Filius Cabernet Sauvignon from Margaret River in the deep southwest of Australia on the corner of two oceans.

At $24.95 (v), it's terrific value  and includes a tranche of Merlot to mellow out the already lissome Cab, aged in barrique and elegant as all get out (92). I like the cassis thread through the black plum, cherry, vanillla and toasty (but not too toasty) oak.

Twenty five years ago a young Chilean winemaker was helping the fledgling Ontario wine industry find its feet. Today, Hernan Gras, back in his native land, is helping his own country excel as a New World wine producer. 
With a focus on high mountain terroirs he has pioneered the potential of the fabulous new wines coming from his homeland. 

The latest is a 25th Anniversary Limited Edition called Montgras Red 2015. It's a steal at $17.95 (v) as a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenere and Syrah, Drinkable now with its silky tannins and smooth red fruit flavors, it's cellarable, but why would you want to?

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Gorgeous "Guy Chicken" and what to drink with it!

In exactly one hour -- with a nod to Jamie Oliver -- even a guy can nail this delicious, simple roast and look like a star chef!

In a roasting dish, stuff the bird with chunks of fresh lemon, smashed garlic and diced red onion. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over top. Season well with salt, crushed black pepper and herbes de Provence. Place in the middle of the preheated oven at 450F. 

And DON'T touch it for exactly one hour.

The result --  perfectly crispy golden skin and moist, delicious tender meat. Voila!

Now, what to serve with it?

You could start the juices flowing with a fresh, light, fruity Prosecco from Duca Catemario, $19.95.

Then, proceed to a trusty grapefruity, crisp Riesling from New York State's l'Amoreaux Landing, $27.95, or perhaps an elegant Ontario Pinot Noir from Flat Rock Cellars, very Burgundian for your $$34.95. Staying with reds, you might go for the big, rich, ripe Tempranillo/Cabernet star from La Legua in Spain called El Transformador, $18.95!  There's also a silky, ripe Chianti, L'Oca Ciuca (crazy Goose!), for a mere $14.95, that could nicely dance with your crazy good chicken.

They're all in this weekend's Vintages release.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Pure Pleasure from the northern Rhone

Rhone wine star Francois Villard
Northern Rhone winemakers are far closer to their Burgundy confreres spiritually and in style and elegance than they are to their famous colleagues downriver in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. 

It's like night and day.

Lordly Chateauneuf is a delicious smorgasbord of different grapes while, by contrast, single-variety Syrah (almost alone) rules the north's reds, just as Pinot Noir rules Burgundy. The most famous Rhone white is single-variety Viognier (almost extinct not too long ago) while Burgundy boasts the world's most sublime 100% Chardonnay.

François Villard is one of the stars of the northern Rhône. He caught the wine bug as a chef then became a sommelier then full-time winegrower in 1991, starting in the tiny appellation of Condrieu. He now owns 37 hectares of vines across five crus. His wines are vibrant, high-energy, fresh and never too oak-heavy.

Good example red would be his St Joseph Poivre et Sol, a 100% Syrah, vibrant and elegant with a delicate spiciness, finesse and depth. Like all Francois' wines, it's on small allocations and is sometimes available in Ontario, like his other offerings, via Woodman Wines and Spirits, 416 767 5144 or at the LCBO. Villard's Certitude Croze-Hermitage 2015, also 100% Syrah, is available in a few LCBO stores at a very reasonable $40. WineSpec calls it "fresh, pure with a beam of cassis and cherry paste flavors backed by light-handed toast, a bright iron edge and a flash of violet." I call it finesse. His white Les Terrasses du Palat from Condrieu is 100% Viognier, wonderfully aromatic with minerality, amazing freshness and a hint of salinity on the finish.

Francois achieves this magic light touch by not over-extracting the red grapes by too much punching down the skins into the tanks and careful control of the "whole bunch"  fermentation -- including only perfectly ripe grape stems to give soft tannins and fine balance.

For maturation, as you might expect, it's only by careful aging in Burgundy oak barrels. Naturally!

Thursday, December 13, 2018

As Old As You Feel?

Today I feel about 900 years old. Well, over 700, anyway.
If we really are what we eat (and drink), then I'm at least 657 years more ancient today!

That's 'cos I just drank four Madeiras, a Margaret River Chardonnay from Oz and a lovely Vina Tondonia Rioja totalling 657 years from their vintage dates.

And they were all wonderful and full of life

The Verdelho Madeira 1918, for example, was the best wine/food match I've ever tasted -- with foie gras, espresso and date puree, chicken vanilla jus and brioche. Beyond exquisite, at Piano Piano, Toronto, home base restaurant of the Estufarians, Madeira wine fans par excellence. 

The 1843 Verdelho, predating my own birth by exactly 100 years, was, like myself, alive and well, fading slightly, but still on great form, with caramel/toffee on the palate and honeycomb on the finish.

The 1863 Bual was a happy camper, too. Showing caramel, mocha and toffee in ethereal balance.

The "old" wine was the 1808 Malmsey, all floral, toffee and citrus, lighter, perhaps, but with a long aftertaste.

These are (were) all wines in the 94-97 point range and completely irreplaceable. Gone forever, now.

Grown long ago on the tiny Portuguese island off the coast of North Africa, these rarities were all obtained via auctions, usually from private cellars and estate sales. Ancient barrels and 5-gallon glass demijohns of the finest vintages were handed down generation to generation as family treasures on the island. 

Prices of these rarities are soaring and a single bottle that was imported from Madeira to Philadelphia in 1796 just sold for $15,925 at a Christie’s auction in New York.

The reason for the incredible lifespan of Madeira wines is the "Estufagem" method in its production. It's a 3-month heating process keeping the cellar temperature at 122°F or 4 months at 113°F. The Estufa is a stove -- hence the Estufarians. As a result, the young, high-acid wine takes on very complex reductive and oxidative qualities, a little like a well-aged Sherry, and is also fortified with grape brandy.

Then it's good to go for future generations!

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Sherry, no risk, high reward

When I ordered a dry fino Sherry in a Hilton Double Tree recently in England, they offered me a Harvey's Bristol Cream! Furthest thing from delicate and dry that you can imagine!

OK, that was in the burbs, but you can't actually go wrong buying a Sherry anywhere.

It's the world's most underrated, under-priced wine. Fortified, from Spain, a serious bargain.

Too complicated to explain in less than a doctoral thesis but here's a guide:

Dry (fino and its saltier cousin manzanilla); medium (nutty amontillado and richer oloroso); and sweet (cream and pedro ximenez, like liquid raisins).
As The Guardian's wine critic wrote, "there's isn't much bad Sherry out there and it's reasonably priced, too."

You could start with a well-chilled Tio Pepe fino or La Gitana manzanilla -- with olives, nuts or tapas.

You can dilute them with lemonade to make a a rebujito. 

Medium Sherries can take bigger food: cheeses, mushrooms, meat, while the sweeties are all great with desserts.

Baristas are having fun using versatile Sherries as ingredients in every combo. 

The greatest name in the Sherry biz aside from Tio Pepe is Lustau, creator of a whole range of fabulous artisan versions.