Friday, August 29, 2014

Wineaux: A glass or the bottle: That is the question


From page A7 | September 05, 2013 |

In a recent column, New York Times writer Sarah Lyall described her “re-entry” experience.

A foreign correspondent in England for many years, she suffered a surprising amount of cultural dissonance when she returned to the United States, even though she had made many short trips home over the years. Particularly interesting — and amusing — is her characterization of the difference in drinking cultures: “After years of living happily among Britons who by New York standards would be considered functioning alcoholics, I now find my old friends’ tendency to order wine by the glass, not the bottle, unnecessarily Puritanical.”

As my partner and I looked longingly at the wine bottle on the dinner table this week, we remarked on that article and reminded ourselves that finishing off the bottle would be taken for granted in other cultures. We piled on second helpings of a roasted tomato, red pepper and basil pasta (hard to eat anything else in these days of farmers market abundance) and poured ourselves another glass, without guilt, of a Sicilian white that was moderately priced and immoderately delicious.

Though I sometimes long for a crisp, tart, citrus-y French sauvignon or muscadet, I sometimes want a softer, gentler wine. This Donnafugata Anthìlia, a blend of native Sicilian grapes catarratto and ansonica with a bit of chardonnay and viognier, answered perfectly.

It begins with the aroma of apple and summer stone fruit. On the palate, the white peach and apricot combine with pear and a touch of citrus — both tart and lush. The texture is simultaneously lively and soft with good acidity and really wonderful full-mouth minerality. “Succulent” is the best word I can think of describe this wine. It would pair beautifully with seafood as well as summer vegetables.

Anthìlia, in keeping with the literary and historical focus of the Donnafugata labels, was the name the Romans gave to an ancient city in the heart of western Sicily that was destroyed in 1246. Donnafugata is a leader not only in native-grape Sicilian winemaking but also in sustainable agriculture and architecture and energy conservation. This is the second of their wines I’ve tasted, and so far I’m quite impressed at the quality-to-price ratio. At $14 (Nugget) this isn’t especially cheap, but for a wine of this complexity, it’s an entirely modest price.

(The other Donnafugata wine I know is the fresh, fragrant, spicy Sedàra red blend — mostly Nero d’Avola with a bit of cab, merlot and syrah. A very smooth and satisfying wine tasting of sour cherry and other tart red berries. You can order a bottle at Monticello.)

The following night we drank another Italian white, several dollars less, from Vino! in Berkeley. While unusual, charming and fruitily delicious, it was also much simpler than the Anhìlia. Nevertheless, I can certainly recommend this nice sipper — a 2010 Remo Farina Bianco di Custoza from the Venice area. It’s a blend of 40 percent garganega (the primary grape in Soave), 25 percent trebbiano, 20 percent malvasia and 15 percent fernanda. Fragrant, unoaked and light, tasting of pear and apple, it would be excellent with all manner of appetizers. Finished that bottle, too.

Many of the lovely and interesting Italian wines I’ve tasted of late have a little gold sticker on them that says “Discovery Series.” These wines are imported by Small Vineyards in Seattle, a company that specializes in wines from, well, small vineyards (“Discovering the best hand-harvested, family-owned, earth-friendly Mediterranean wine.”)

I assumed all those vineyards were in Italy, but I recently found one on the Spanish wine shelf at Nugget, a Ribera del Duero from Castilla y Leon in the northwestern part of Spain (a region of special interest to me since family rumor has it that the Leonardi family originated there before migrating to places that are now part of Italy).

Made primarily from a native clone of Tempranillo, known as Tinto del País, with a bit of cab and merlot, this Lopez Cristobal Tinto Roble is, like the Sedára, fresh and vibrant but also sophisticated. It’s aged in oak for just three months, so has the barest hint of vanilla and some good tannins to add to the bright, tart red fruit. While it would go beautifully with one of its native specialties, lamb, it did very well with a roasted tomato and sweet red pepper pizza. I would also like to try it with fresh Monterey sardines (I’m eating fish while I can — now that radiation seems to be floating our way).

A slightly less expensive Spanish treat: Blanc Pescador, one of Spain’s top-selling whites that, I’m told, appears on the wine lists of practically every restaurant along Spain’s Mediterranean coast. Unavailable here for a number of years, it has recently reappeared and is definitely worth looking for. The grapes for this macabeo, parellada and xarel-lo blend, come from Girona, near Barcelona. With its natural, light, refreshing bubbles and tart citrus taste, it would be excellent with seafood of all sorts (appropriate enough given its name). But it’s lovely on its own, too — especially on these dog-day summer evenings.

I do really try to limit this column to wines available locally, but Vino! is such a good little place to browse for inexpensive wines and is so easy for my commuters-to-Berkeley readers to get to (just a block from the Berkeley Amtrak station) that I’ve come to regard it as local.

This Blanc Pescador comes in at 11.5 percent alcohol and costs under $10 there, so of course we didn’t hesitate to finish that bottle. Next time Sarah Lyall is nostalgic for her bottle-drinking friends, she should come over for dinner. We might even pop the cork on a second.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at Comment on this column at



Susan Leonardi



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