Tag Archives: Sicilian wine

Mini-reviews 107: Big Smooth, malbec, Rioja, Sicily

Big smoothReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month. This month, four red wines.

Big Smooth Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($17, sample, 14.5%): Much winemaking and craftsmanship went into this California red to make it taste like a cherry Tootise Pop. If that’s what you want your wine to taste like, then it’s worth $17. Otherwise, taste and be amazed at the post-modern marketing cynicism that also went into it.

Casillero del Diablo Malbec 2016 ($12, sample, 13.5%): This Chilean red speaks to terroir and varietal character, and is about more than the jammy black fruit of similarly-priced Argentine malbecs. Having said that, it’s not a value this price – a little thin and tart. But if you find it for $8 at the grocery store and you need a bottle of wine for dinner, you won’t be disappointed. Imported by Excelsior Wine

Bagordi Rioja Navardia 2016 ($13, sample, 14%): Nothing special about this Spanish red – just a full-bodied (heavier, more red fruit) and not especially varietal tempranillo made with organic grapes. Imported by Winesellers Ltd.

Cantina Cellaro Luma 2016 ($10, purchased, 13%): This Sicilian red, made with the nero d’avola grape, was either oxidized (doubtful, given the vintage) or so extracted and so overripe that it was about as Sicilian as my Honda. Imported by Gonzalez Bypass

Wine of the week: Feudo Principi di Butera Nero d’Avola 2014

The real thing: The Feudo Principi di Butera Nero d’Avola is tasty, honest Sicilian red wine

The worst results of the new-found popularity of Sicilian wine has been the decrease in quality and the increase in prices. We see more cheap, ordinary wine that is priced as if it was something special, and fewer affordable, honest and authentic wines.

The Butera Nero d’Avola ($12, purchased, 14%) is a most welcome exception. It not only tastes like Sicilian wine, but the nero d’avola grape is the main focus. It’s not blended with merlot or cabernet sauvignon to achieve something that it’s not. Instead, look for cherry aromas, the dark and earthy plum fruit that I don’t find often enough anymore, and a little baking spice. Also surprising: the length, where the wine doesn’t disappear in your mouth after the first couple of sips.

This is a food wine – fresh, yes, and especially for a wine this old, but also substantial. It’s stews and red meat braises and almost any sort of warming autumn dinner.

To be honest, I didn’t expect this quality. Butera is owned by Zonin, a large Italian producer, and Butera is just one of its 10 labels. But, as always, taste the wine before you judge it.

Mini-reviews 99: Stemmari, Mulderbosch, Capezzana, Main & Vine

stemmariReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Stemmari Nero d’Avola 2014 ($8, purchased, 13%): This Italian red is soft, almost too ripe, and barely recognizable as wine made with the classic Sicilian nero d’avola grape. Not offensive, but this used to be a quality cheap wine. Now it’s just something to drink.

Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($16, sample, 13.5%): The problem with a $16 South African sauvignon blanc like this is that it has to offer more than almost any other sauvignon blanc at the same price. Which, frankly, is difficult to do, as the Mulderbosch shows. It’s well made enough, with lime fruit, but also thin in the middle and back and just not up to something like New Zealand’s Spy Valley or Dry Creek from California.

Capezzana Monna Nera 2014 ($9, purchased, 13.5%): This Italian red blend is too soft for my taste, without enough Italian-ness or tart cherry fruit. In this, it’s not poorly made, but too international in style (the blend contains almost 50 percent French grapes), and especially with the almost ashy finish.

Main & Vine Dry Rose NV ($6, sample, 11.1%): This is a fascinating pink effort (a five-grape California blend) from Big Wine, in this case Treasury Wine Estates. It’s not dry, but about as sweet as most sweet reds. Having said that, it’s rose-like and worth the $6 if you want something with a little sugar, but not nearly as sweet as white zinfandel.

Wine of the week: Cusumano Insolia 2015

Cusumano Insolia The Cusumano Insolia is a Sicilian white wine that is consistently worth buying

This review for the Cusumano Insolia is not meant to damn with faint praise. The wine is well made and enjoyable, and worthy of being a wine of the week.

But every time I taste the Cusumano Insolia ($12, purchased, 12.5%), I’m reminded that it was even more enjoyable when I first tasted it six or even years ago – a little fresher, a little brighter, and a couple of dollars cheaper.

But things change, and a good critic accepts that. This vintage of the Cusumano Insolia, a white wine from Sicily made with the local insolia grape, is a little softer and more viognier like, with peach and apricot fruit, pithy finish, and a suggestion of wild herbs. I’d prefer a little more acidity to offset the white fruit flavors; maybe a touch more citrus?

But the bottle was finished quickly enough, which says a lot given the state of cheap wine this summer.

Pair this with any summer salad, grilled seafood, or even a spaghetti with clam sauce. Or drink chilled on its own; it’s a fine porch wine.

Wine of the week: Lamura Natura Sicilia Bianco 2016

Lamura Natura BiancoThe Lamura Natura Bianco returns to form this vintage, offering $10 worth of summer drinking pleasure

This Sicilian white wine can be one of the greatest cheap wines in the world. In other vintages, though, it can be tired and worn out, barely worth drinking. And, more confusing, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern.

One day, hopefully, the Italian big wine company that makes the Lamura Natura Bianco ($10, purchased, 12.5%) will solve this problem. It’s enough to know that this vintage is the wine’s best since its $10 Hall of Fame years during the recession.

Look for subtle lemon fruit, some floral aromas, and a softly crisp texture. Bit there is still body and structure, and it’s not pudgy or overdone. It hasn’t been stripped of its character the way some Sicilian wines have been tarted up to appeal to the U.S. market.

One reason for this may be the odd catarratto grape, which mostly shows up in marsala, a fortified wine, that is used to make it. Catarrato is not an easy grape to work with, which may explain the Lamura Natura Bianco’s inconsistency. When it’s right, it’s very right, and when it’s not, it’s not worth drinking.

Drink this chilled, and especially in the summer or on the porch. Pair it with grilled or boiled seafood, and even something like a crawfish boil.

Fourth of July wine 2017

Fourth of July wine 2017Four delicious and value-oriented wines for Fourth of July 2017

The extra long Fourth of July 2017 weekend means more chances for great, cheap wine – always welcome when one is enjoying the United States’ birthday. But since it’s also summer, with hot and dry weather, the best way to celebrate is with lighter, less alcoholic wine – yes, even for red. That means summer wine (and porch wine); even though the food matters, lots of oak and high alcohol aren’t especially refreshing when it’s 98 degrees outside

Consider these Fourth of July wine 2017 suggestions:

Masi Pinot Grigio Verduzzo Masianco 2015 ($13, sample, 13%): There was much more to this Italian white than I expected — some pinot grigio tonic water, but also a little pear and almost tropical fruit, and the verduzzo grape in the blend adds some softness.

Feudo Maccari Sicilia Rosé Noto 2016 ($16, sample, 12%): This is a terrific Sicilian rose made with nero d’avola – light and refreshing (pears and cherries) and an example of hoe versatile the grape can be. Look for it closer to $12 or $13, though, because the suggested price is someone sitting in an office poring over a spreadsheet and doesn’t reflect the wine’s value.

Firesteed Pinot Noir 2014 ($10, sample, 13.4%): This red was the first affordable Oregon pinot noir to get national attention, but it hasn’t been well made for a long time. This vintage, though, is infinitely better, Look for some cherry fruit, some earth, and the correct tannins. Of course, as soon as I tasted this, the brand was sold to a company with more than two dozen brands, so who knows what will happen next?

Segura Viudas Cava Brut Rosado NV ($9, purchased, 12%): This pink Spanish sparkler is one of the world’s great wine values, and every time I taste it I marvel at how Segura does it. Cherry and cranberry fruit that finishes softer than it has in the past, but still bubbly and delicious.

More Fourth of July wine:
Fourth of July wine 2016
Fourth of July wine 2015
Wine of the week: Bogle Essential Red 2014

Wine of the week: Tiamo Grillo 2016

tiamo grilloThe Tiamo Grillo, a Sicilian white, is the first canned wine worth drinking

The Wine Curmudgeon has long railed against canned wine – not because I’m a Luddite who doesn’t think wine should come in cans, but because too much canned wine tastes like Kool-Aid spiked with watered down grain alcohol.

So I’m excited to report that the Tiamo Grillo ($5/375 ml can, sample, 12%), a Sicilian white wine, does for canned wine what almost no one else has done. Most canned wine seems to be made to appeal to someone who would drink wine from a can, instead of making wine that comes in a can. The difference is a funny, faux-rich and sweet mouth feel, which the Tiamo doesn’t have. It tastes like wine. Plus, it’s quality cheap wine that’s priced appropriately, the equivalent of $10 a bottle instead of $15 a bottle because you’re paying for the can. In all, it’s a surprising candidate for the 2018 $10 Hall of Fame.

Grillo produces is a crisp, lemony wine, and the Tiamo could have been a little bit more lemony. In this case, it was more soft lemon with maybe some apricots, and I would have liked a little more crispness on the finish. But it was fresh and enjoyable and delivered value, and how often have I been able to say that about canned wine?

One word of advice: The Tiamo loses something in drinking it from the can, which I tried and found lacking. Maybe it’s the taste of the can that gets in the way. But when I used a glass, it was all I had hoped it would be.