Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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!

people shaking hands rawpixel-973108-unsplash


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,



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 , 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!


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
  • 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 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

Ciao for now,

Sheila Donohue

How wine making is supposed to be

June 14, 2015

Imagine a wine producer who is willing to risk not producing a vintage so to follow mother nature’s course in determining the fate of his wines. It seems a thing of the past… or not?

Sometimes you arrive to the point of your wine appreciation journey whereby you see through the modern techniques used by many of today’s wine makers who strive to match the expectations of the mass market instead  seek out wines that are exposed truly to how mother  nature dictates.

If this is you, you need to check out Podere San Michele,  in the western coastal area of Tuscany known as Maremma. I’ve had the pleasure  of meeting twice with one of the Socci family members, Giorgio, whose passion for wine just oozes out the moment you start talking to him about his family’s wines. Podere San Michele is in an Etruscan area which was the civilization prior to the Romans and known for its wine making.  This tradition seemed to literally pass to the Socci family’s roots who through the generations have followed a natural approach to wine making. They fully embrace the terroir and what nature brings forth, from the vineyard to the wine cellar, such as avoiding pesticides, fertilizers, wooden barrel fermentation and any additive, from yeast to sulfites, so to not interfere with nature’s course in creating the wine.  The Socci’s have identified similarities of its vineyard to the French Rhone valley area, such as the climate and a rich mineral soil, and in fact their most impressive wines known from the Rhone valley: a Syrah and a Voignier.  The Alaterno Syrah is my favorite, a fruity, minerally Syrah which is smooth and bursting with flavour, great with food or on its own.

Podere San Michele's Alaterno Syrah 2010

Podere San Michele’s Alaterno Syrah 2010

Plus you’ll find when drinkimg this wine, or any from Podere San Michele, that you don’t have the negative after-effects of wine drinking, i.e., a headache, so your body and mind also reap the benefits from the Socci’s commitment to a natural approach to wine making.

In Maremma not far from Podere San Michele is my friend Andrea Valurta’s olive tree farm where  he follows a similar philosphy in making his olive oil ‘Olio la quota di Setulio’ at Podere San Giovanni in Baccinello di Scansano, in the comune of Grosseto.  He takes great care to produce an olive oil that is full bodied yet delicate.

Besides eating and drinking, Maremma is a  great place to relax and explore – be sure to add it to your bucket list of places to visit!


Maremma Nov 2014

Ciao for now,

Sheila Donohue

Merano Wine Festival 2014

November 9, 2014

I was just back up in Alto Adige, this time for the Merano International Wine Festival which spanned the wkend from Nov. 7 to 10th. As a wine enthusiast it is hard to pass up since they pre-select the wines presented so basically every wine is worth tasting. But with several hundred producers each with a couple of wines to taste the challenge is to limit your exploration to be sure that you can still stand on your two feet at the end of the day!

The first day started with champagne tasting which was a real treat. Many of the producers had different champagnes try and compare. My favorites were the Millésimé which is when the champagne is produced from grapes from the same vintage year. For example Laurent-Perrier had a 2006 Millésimé that was exceptional.

Then I went onto Tuscan reds and I was particularly excited to see a producer, Cupano, from Montalcino Tuscany and its red wine blend Ombrone that I had wanted to buy at a restaurant the wkend prior but was shyed away due to its high price. The 2006 Ombrone was fantastic, living up to its high price tag (40€), and reminded me fondly of the area it is named after in south western Tuscany where my friends live, farm and produce olive oil and is like the wild west meeting wine country (more to come in a future blog column!).

Fast forwarding to the second day, it was full of interaction with passionate Italian wine producers mainly from the south of Italy. I started with “vertical” tastings of “aglianico” a red grape variety which produces rich and very food friendly wines, and which, by the way, are often available at pocket-book-friendly prices. The producer to win my award for enthusiasm is San Salvatore ( who took us on a journey to his vineyard, explaining history of the Greek influence, and gave us a tasting of an array of mineral-rich whites and robust reds, including a Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) which was an unusual but good pick.

Besides wines there were also Italian food producers with samples of artisanal cured meats, cheeses, olive oils, sweets, and many other treats, each with their own stories and passion to share. So needless to say, my diet starts tomorrow!

Ciao for now

Sheila Donohue

The joy of finding a rare native wine grape variety

August 30, 2014
As you travel around this area you find castle after castle, it's amazing!

As you travel around Alto Adige in Northern Italy you find castle after castle, it’s amazing!

A rare native white wine grape variety from Northern Italy

Jera, a rare native white wine grape variety from Val Venosta in Northern Italy

On a recent biking vacation in Northern Italy, in the german speaking Alto Adige region, I decided to spice up the trip by visiting some local wineries. The area is known for its crisp minerally white wines and is being discovered  for its lighter friuty red wines, as WSJ as written about recently

While the second half of our bike itinerary passed through the “official” wine country of Alto Adige which stars in the cith of Merano just west of Bolzano, the first half, through Val Venosta which started in Resia, at the  Austrian border and passed through Silandro on the way to Merano, had very few wineries. I was lucky though to arrange a visit with the Befehlhof Winery (aka Weingut which is winery in German).  Like many wineries in Italy, it is family run and Magdalena Schuster looks after the winery. As I started the tasting, thef first thing i noticed is that there wasn’t any Pinot Bianco, the principal wine from the area. They decided to set themselves apart by producing less known grapes, like the crisp, minerally Zweigelt red wine grape variety from Austria and by creating traditional wine grape varieties from the area, like Muller Thurghau, with pizzazz, like wood and maloactic fermentation which, while common in many new world wines is not so common in Italy. But the best surprise of all was tasting a native wine grape which can ONLY be found in this small town (of Vezzano). It is call Jera, which is a super crisp, light and flowery white wine. It could be compared to Portugal’s vinho verde which has such an acute acidity that it seems defective, yet it gives it character and distinctiveness. Jera is an elegant wine which lingers in your mouth as a good wine should. While its acidity would make it more of a wine to eat with food, like fish or chicken, I like drinking it on its own as an aperitivo with some cheese, olives and cured meats.


If you like this article, let me know, I’ll write more about my great finds living in Italy!


Ciao for now

Sheila DonohueWine Mingle with Sheila Donohue



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