Need a New Year’s Resolution?

December 31, 2018

Check out my latest post here.

Let’s toast to a nicer & smarter world in 2019!

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Warming up the soul during these cold, winter months

January 9, 2018

Check out my latest article to help beat the winter bluesBraschi's antique cantina winetasting room.jpg!

Time is a friend and foe

December 20, 2017

Hello readers,

With Christmas, New Years and other holidays approaching, I’ve decided to go for a more philosophic reflection on dealing with life’s unexpected events while still moving forward with our lives.  It is, though, related to wine… gotta read to the end to find out!

Wishing you all peace and joy during this special season!

Ciao for now,

Sheila

 
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A Natural Woman in Winemaking

November 16, 2017

Check out my exclusive interview here with the Sicilian natural winemaker everyone is talking about, Arrianna Occhipinti!

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Ciao for now,

Sheila

 

The joys of waiting 13 years to open up a bottle of wine

May 1, 2017

I have some choice wines sitting in my basement ‘wine cellar’, not to keep as an investment, but to enjoy, and feed my curiosity, of seeing what wine will be like when it is aged up to its prime moment.

This weekend I broke out a 2001 Chianti Classico Riserva, Badia a Passignano by Antinori. This Chianti claims to use grapes from the best vineyards of the Chianti Classico DOCG area. Plus it won the top Tre Bicchieri evaluation from Gambero Rosso, so long ago that I did not find a write-up on it online, except for this in italian!

Opening up the wine, it was already showing its age, with the cork breaking in half and showing markings of mold on its label:

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The first thing I noticed when pouring was the orange tint to the ruby red color, making me concerned that maybe I waited too long to open it up. Fortunately, when taking my first sniffs of the wine, I did not smell anything ‘bad’, although, at first, it didn’t have a bouquet that really spoke to me. So I waited patiently for a half hour to let the wine breath and warm up a bit. Sure enough, the bouquet opened up, like a timid child who you meet that initially runs to its mother and then, after patience and persistence, starts talking to you a mile a minute. I started to notice an earthy aroma, like a vegetable garden, and then I smelled mature fruit, like prunes aged in alcohol, then spices, like vanilla, then tobacco, eucalyptus and dark chocolate, even shoe leather! The more I explored, the more I discovered. This was becoming an adventure!

When tasting, the tannins were nicely mellowed, yet still very much present, so I could have even aged it more. With the aging, the typically harsh features of an important red wine like this had mellowed out with the softer aspects, making it well balanced. And the finish lasted for so long, that I could still feel it in my mouth after 15 minutes.

So, I think I like this strategy of experimenting with aging wine. It is almost like I am an extension to the wine producer, making a great wine even better!

Ciao for now,

Sheila

 

 

 

 

Some tasting highlights from Vinitaly 2017

April 16, 2017

As a follow-on from my Linkedin blog post on global wine business trends from Vinitaly 2017, here are some highlights from my tasting expeditions at Vinitaly:

Being an American, my formative years in wine appreciation were based on full bodied wines, like California chardonnays. Hence I lean towards more mature and developed white wines. One that fits the bill is this blend of 3 italian native grapes, Malvasia Istriana, Ribolla Gialla and Friulano, called Lalinda from a  producer in Northeastern Italy La Tunella. This wine recently was garnered with the prestigious Tre Bicchieri rating from Gambero Rosso:

Lalinda latunella 3 bicchieri

I had the pleasure of meeting Franco Roero and his son Gianluca from  Piedmont franco and gianluca roero

whose Barbera d’Asti Superiore, Carbunè, was fruity, robust yet enveloped my mouth in a seductive way… quite complex for a wine which was not even matured in wood. This wine is also a favorite with the locals. If you are in NYC on April 24th, I will bring a bottle to taste at the wine tasting that Veritas Studio Wines is having that evening.

Last but not least, I tried the fantastic Taurasi wines of the producer Roberto DiMeo roberto di meo

in Avellino area, which is in the hills east of Naples. Taurasi is an acclaimed red wine made from the native grape variety, Aglianico. It’s one of my favorite italian red wines, spicy, rich and intense. I personally liked the 2008, as well as the Aglianico from 2013. He also makes great white wines. You gotta try Vittorio 2007, made from the Greco di Tufo, another native grape variety. It is very complex and balanced, a feat for an unoaked white wine!

Ciao for now,

Sheila

Artisans and Italian Wine

March 19, 2017

I never used the word ‘artisan’ before moving to Italy. In fact, it was really not part of my vocabulary until after hearing the word ‘artigiano’ in Italy used over and over again. In ordinary life in Italy,  artisan gestures and style is what you see all around, from the barista making a cappuccino in the morning, to the fornaio in your local panificio, even in ‘office’ jobs, like in software development where I’ve seen Italians applying creativity and spontaneity to create innovative solutions.  It’s a real strength of the country and an asset to leverage, something I particularly notice when I go ‘back home’ in the U.S. and listen to my compatriots’ positive impressions of what it’s like to live in Italy, many of which seem based on images of this country where beauty abounds, from nature and people to art and design.

When it comes to wine, Americans’ impression of Italian wine also conjures images of beauty and goodness, along with other positive aspects, like earthiness, diversity and genuineness, as shown in the results of this Wine Opinions, Vinitaly International 2017 Survey: Wine opinions vinitaly international survey slide

The variety, depth and tradition of viticulture and wine-making in Italy is what made me dive into Italian wine appreciation, becoming a sommelier, engaging in ‘fun’ wine past-times and now pursuing wine as an aspect of my career.

When in New York recently at a Gambero Rosso wine event which was showcasing producers who were nominated for this year’s prestigious ‘Tre Bicchieri’ award, I was pleasantly surprised to find a local producer from Bertinoro in Romagna, Celli ,  whose dry white wine ‘Albana Secco I Croppi’ 2015 won Tre Bicchieri.  It is a minerally and intense white wine with a nice golden color made in a genuine fashion with steel fermentation and goes great with many pasta, poultry and fish dishes.

Here is the wine producer, Mauro Sirri, proudly showing off his Tre Bicchieri Albana Secco in New York in Feb 2017:IMG_0096

I’d also recommend this Sangiovese di Romagna Superiore, Le Grillaie Riserva, a complex, bold red wine which pairs well with meat dishes: IMG_0097

 

Ciao for now,

Sheila

 

Wine-making in the Italy: letting Mother Nature take its course

January 31, 2017

In the beautiful Bolognese hills lies wine producer & ‘rustic farm resort’, Corte d’Aibo http://www.cortedaibo.it/ , which started in the late 80’s with a vision to produce local wines in the most natural way possible and to create a place for people to enjoy the fruits of nature, from farm-to-table food to accommodation amongst beautiful scenery.

Corte d'aibo Vineyards

Corte d’Aibo Vineyards

Back then, the concept of organic, or ‘bio’ wines, in the Emilia Romagna region in North-Central Italy was in its infancy. The local government was eager to get it off the ground, so Corte d’Aibo was in the right place at the right time. Collaborating with local support, Corte d’Aibo began organic / bio grape cultivation and wine production.  To this day, they continue to grow grapes and produce wines without use of chemicals, with little to no added sulfites, and by trying out with techniques which make their wines’ true natural characteristics stand out. For example, instead of aging wines in oak barrels, for some of their wines they introduced aging in terracotta cisterns, an ancient tradition  used by  Etruscans and other antique civilizations, which allows the wine characteristics to develop naturally without the ‘masking’ effect that wood can produce in wines.

Corte d'Aibo owner/founder, Enrico Paternò, in their wine cellar

Corte d’Aibo owner/founder, Enrico Paternò, in their wine cellar

They started their wine production with  Pignoletto, a native Italian white wine grape whose best wines come from the Bolognese hills, along with Barbera, a red grape varietal best known in the Piedmont region but also widely diffused in Emilia Romagna.  Today they produce Pignoletto, ranging from the most traditional ‘frizzante’, or sparkling, form which is great for an aperitivo, to Pignoletto  Classico, which pairs well with many local dishes like tortellini and tortelloni, along with other whites, such as Savignon Blanc which cultivates well in the Bolognese hills. Besides Barbera, the other reds they produce are also varietals typically produced in the Bolognese hills, like Merlot and Cabernet Savignon. Many think that sangiovese is also produced in this area, but instead it is common to the Romagna area of Emilia Romagna (along with Tuscany, of course). The most interesting wine they have is Colfondo, which is a sparkling pignoletto made with the champagne method, in which the wine is fermented in the bottle, and aged for three years. It has a rich deep yellow color with delicate bubbles, an interesting, complex bouquet and a great finish. While they make a limited production of only 1000 bottles a year, it’s a nice treat!

For those of you who are sensitive to the effects of wine drinking, you may be interested in trying a red and white wine they make with no sulfites. Their white wine, Rugiada, and their red, Meriggio, are both wine grape blends and are pleasant, food friendly every-day drinking wines.

Ciao for now!

Sheila

The Delights of Improvising with Wine and Food

May 29, 2016
I bought a really interesting wine recently: a dry Albana di Romagna, a DOCG from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. The producer, Fattoria Montincino Rosso, makes this white wine, Codronchio, in the same way as the famous dessert wines, like Sauternes from Bordeaux and Tokaji from Hungary, by harvesting the grapes late and allowing for the ‘noble rot’, aka Botrytis Cinerea (yes, mold!), to develop. This fungus transforms sugar into glycerine, creating a pleasurable, smooth sensation when tasting the wine. What makes Codronchio even more unique is that it is a dry wine with the appealing aspects of a sweet wine, having complex apricot marmalade notes, a pleasant balanced mouth-feel and a long finish, great as an aperitif or with a tasty dish.Cordonchio e ragu di coniglio
I think the best way to really appreciate wine is with food. So, at home today I had a yearning to cook a dish with some fresh ingredients on hand: rabbit cutlets, tomatoes and herbs (thyme, basil, parsley) which I sauteed with some shallots, garlic, olive oil and white wine leaving to simmer for about an hour. Then I cooked gnocchetti sardi pasta, a country-style pasta from Sardegna, and once done I added the pasta to the sauce and grated in pecorino cheese from Tuscany. The result was a delicious, yet simple, lunch which was well paired with this white wine. A fun and delicious way to improvise on a Sunday afternoon!
I’ll leave you with a beautiful scene in the Romagnola hills, not far from where this wine was made. It’s a great place to visit!
romagnola hills apr 2016.JPG
Ciao for now
Sheila Donohue

Some tips for finding wallet-friendly alternatives to Barolo, Amarone and Brunello

April 25, 2016

Italy, both for red and white  wines, has a very wide assortment of grape varieties and types of wine to choose from.  But with so many to choose from,  a wine buyer can be left stumped, not knowing where to start.  So if you are planning for a special evening calling for a nicer red wine, here are some tips to help you find alternatives to your usual italian wine selections.

In general, whether you’re looking for a good red or white Italian wine, you won’t be led astray by choosing a wine classified as DOCG, or ‘Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita’, which will indicated on the label.  DOCG Italian wines are those officially recognized as having the deepest traditions and the best quality. Among the most well-known and prestigious DOCG red wines are Barolo  (made from the Nebbiolo grape variety, native to the Piedmont region),  Brunello di Montalcino (made from a specific type of Sangiovese grape from Tuscany), and Amarone (from Veneto and made with a technique in  which the grapes are left out to dry, to become raisin-like, before the wine-making process starts).  These are all complex wines which have been aged for several years, so they are pricey (e.g., are difficult to find less than 20€) and pair with rich, typically red meat, dishes.  But there are also DOCG red wines which are reasonably priced, like some Chiantis which cost less than 5€.

Usually, you get what you pay for, so a more expensive wine will usually be more interesting and enjoyable while the cheaper one will be more of a standard, every-day wine.  I like to experiment, trying different wines at different price ranges and then remembering the ones that I really liked… especially if the price is right!  To help decide whether to splurge for a more expensive wine, I often seek the advice of wine experts working at  local wine shops to help me choose a bottle of wine that fits with my budget and expectations, and, most importantly,  to explore and try new wines and producers.

Here are some delicious alternatives to Barolo, Amarone and Brunello worthy of trying:

Barolo: Gattinara DOCG, from Piedmont:

Besides Barolo, there are many other fantastic Piemontese wines made from the Nebbiolo grape variety, for example Gattinara DOCG. I recently tried one from 2010 vintage, by the producer Travaglini. It was complex and intense, with a rich fruity bouquet with vanilla, spicy undertones, and it has a balanced taste, without being overpowered by tannins.    I found a bottle at my local ‘enoteca’ costing 17€, not bad!

travaglini gattinara

Gattinara DOCG, is a good choice if you like Barolo, since it is made from the same grape and is from the same region.

Amarone: Valtellina Sforzat DOCG & Valtellina Superiore DOCG, from Lombardy:

Right next to Piedmont, the Lombardy region offers some excellent red wines (as well as some fantastic white sparkling wines, worthy of a separate article!).  Valtellina red wines are delicious, such as Sforzato (or Sforzat) di Valtellina DOCG which is on par with Amarone. In fact, it is made in a similar fashion, so drying the grapes before starting the wine-making process. Here is one from the producer Plozza that costs 23€.

sfursat valtellina

Sforzato di Valtellina DOCG is a delicious alternative to Amarone!

A ‘cugino povere’ (i.e., ‘poor cousin’, tongue in-cheek!) of  Sforzato di Valtellina is Valtellina Superiore DOCG. I tried the 2011 from the producer Sassella at Mia Cantina, costing 14€, and I liked it a lot. It wasn’t quite as balanced as the Gattinara, as it had a bit of a tannic edge to it. Yet, its complex notes and pleasant taste that lingered in my mouth made it stand out as exceptional, especially for the price.

valtellina superiore

Here is my pick for best overall price, quality and taste, a Valtellina Superiore DOCG!

Rosso Conero DOCG, from Le Marche:

I took advantage of a recent local wine tasting organized by AIS, Associazione Italiana di Sommelier, to get to know Rosso Conero DOCG, which is made mostly from the Montepulciano grape variety, from the Marches region (aka ‘Le Marche’) which lies just to the east of Tuscany.  Rosso Conero DOCG is considered an ‘important’ wine, especially the ‘Riserva’ version, since it is matured for many months, often in oak barrels, so giving it much more personality compared to an ‘everyday’ wine.

One of the nicest things about attending wine tasting events in Italy is that often the actual producer is serving the wine. With most Italian wine producers being small, family run operations, they are often passionate about what they do and love to chat about their wine, their town, their local cuisine,  history, etc. Many have their own agriturismo (i.e., like a B&B on a farm) and/or restaurant, which are usually worthwhile to try.

Some of the exceptional Rosso Conero DOCG wines I tasted were:

  • Cantina Polenta’s Gianco, Rosso Conero Riserva, which had an Amarone-like rich taste which was full of flavor, costing 20€. They have another Rosso Conero DOCG, Poy, which costs 17€, which had a fruity, complex nose.   For more info,  to order wine,  or find out about their agriturismo, go to cantinapolenta.it
  • Fattoria Lucesole offers two Rosso Conero DOCGs which were very  interesting and enjoyable: Nyphma, which is matured for 12 months in oak, and Vigna Solagna, which is matured 24 months in oak. For more info, go to fattorialucesole.it and try out their restaurant which is supposed to be good!
  • Winemaker Catia Spinsanti offers a pure, very genuine tasting Rosso Conero, ‘Adino’, which is named after her father. I loved Catia’s story, who in the mid 90’s, while working an ordinary desk job, was encouraged by her brother in Germany to take advantage of her family’s land near Monte Conero and start producing wine. So, taking a ‘what the heck’ approach, she quit her job and poured her savings into starting a winery, learning everything from scratch. Today she produces 5 different wines, focusing on quality and staying true to the local terrior. For more info go to http://www.spinsanti.eu

Ciao for now,

Sheila Donohue


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