Italian wine

Rosés or Roses?

I’ll take the Rosés, please!

From Italy and France, here are my two current favorite Rosés perfect for everyday or a little gift for that special someone (instead of or with the roses)!

Santa Cristina Cipresseto Toscana IGT Rosato 2014

  • Variety: Sangiovese and other complimentary varieties from Tuscany
  • Aroma: Red fruits
  • Taste: A bold yet balanced wine full of raspberry and strawberry notes
  • Price: $14
  • My thoughts: Love a Rosato (Italian Rosé) and this Santa Cristina is a great one full of my favorite color, pink! The wine was given it’s name for the cypress trees you see across the Tuscan landscape. Look forward to trying the 2015!

Cipresseto Rosato

Gérard Bertrand Cote des Roses 2014

  • Variety: Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah from Languedoc
  • Aroma: Refreshing strawberry
  • Taste: Light, fresh and fruity
  • Price: $15
  • My thoughts: It’s like sipping a glass of Rosé on the Mediterranean! This classic combo of French Rosé grapes is the perfect example from the South of France. And bonus…Rose on the bottom of the beautiful bottle.

Gerard Bertrand Rose

Cote de Roses-1

Cheers, Saluté, Santé to Rosé!

So, You Don’t Like White Wine?

That’s the question we posed to the Fine Wine Divas for our August tasting night.

Most of the ladies are big red wine drinkers. As it’s summer, we thought we’d introduce them to a nice line up whites so they could certainly find something they like.

  • 2010 Argyle Brut (Willamette Valley, OR)
  • 2012 Reunion Torrontes (Salta, Argentina)
  • 2012 Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc (Martinborough, New Zealand)
  • 2013 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino (Sardinia, Italy)
  • 2012 Clos des Lunes “Lune Blanche” (Bordeaux, France)
  • 2013 Wolftrap White White (Stellenbosch, South Africa) 
  • 2012 Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands, California) 
  • 2011 Domaine Eric Forest Pouilly-Fuisse Les Crays (Burgundy, France)

There was indeed something for everyone. And the top two wines of the evening?

2013 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino

  • Region: Sardinia, Italy
  • Variety: 100% Vermentino
  • Aroma: Citrus, tropical fruits
  • Taste: Rose, melon, spice with nice crispness and honey notes
  • Price: $15
  • My thoughts: This was the hit of the night…a lovely fuller bodied Italian, great pairing with food and great price point!

2013 Wolftrap White White

  • Region: Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • Variety:  60% Viognier, 21% Chenin Blanc, 19% Grenache Blanc
  • Aroma: White peach and spice
  • Taste: Rich floral and green apple
  • Price: $23
  • My thoughts: Interesting blend of grapes from The Cape winelands which are located in the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of six such plant kingdoms in the world.

It was a great evening and everyone walked away with a new wine to enjoy in these final weeks of summer!

Tour of Italian Wine

A Tour of Italy was the theme for our Fine Wine Divas February event and Acqua al 2 in DC, my favorite Italian restaurant here and in Florence, was the perfect spot for it.

Italy, which is slightly smaller than the state of California, is one HUGE vineyard, stretching from Piedmont in the north to Sicily in the south. It is home to some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, and has overtaken France as the world’s largest wine producer. There are over one million vineyards in the country! This great map from De Long is an incredible resource that captures it.

Some other great Italian wine region facts…

  • Italy is divided into 20 wine-producing regions that are subdivided into almost 100 provinces and 8,100 communes.
  • There are over 2,000 varieties of Italian wine – far surpassing any other country in terms of variety.
  • There are over 1,000 different grape varieties, most of which are indigenous. 100 of these varieties have shown capacity to make great wine.

Wine in Italy dates back to Etruscans and Greek settlers. Ancient Greeks called their Italian colonies Oenotria, the land of wine. Romans started their own vineyards in the 2nd Century B.C. The Romans developed techniques still used today, like large-scale production and storage like barrel-making and bottling leading.

Italian Wine Classifications

Many wine country’s classifications system can be confusing. Here’s how to make sense what you’ll find on Italian wine labels.

  • Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG):  Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin includes the most famous wine producing areas. Similar to DOC but wines must pass government analysis.
  • Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC): Denomination of Controlled Origin is modeled on the French AOC system. This classification is based on geography, grape varieties and production methods.
  • Vino a Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT): Typical Geographic Indication is a less strict classification. These wines use the geographic name of a zone to designate a wine made there, like Toscana (Tuscany) or Sicilia (Sicily). At least 85% of the wine must come from the named geographic zone.
  • Vino da Tavola (VdT): “Table wine” can be produced anywhere in Italy and usually designates cheap bulk wines. However, some of Italy’s best wines have been produced under this classification.

Additional designations you will see…

  • Classico: Classic, refers to a more restricted production area that is held to be particularly suited for product and historically recognized as such.
  • Superiore: Superior, refers to a higher alcohol content.
  • Riserva: Reserve, refers to the longer aging period used.

On our tour of Italy, we enjoyed six Italian wines from five regions across Italy, from north to south: Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Piedmont, Tuscany, Abruzzo and Campania.

  • Fantinel Spumante Prosecco Extra Dry NV (IGT)
  • 2011 Bruni Plinio Vermentino Maremma Toscana (IGT)
  • 2011 Tenuta La Cipressaia Chianti Classico DOCG
  • 2007 Visconti Della Rocca Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva DOC
  • 2010 Damilano Barbera d’Asti DOCG
  • 2001 Serpico dei Feudi di San Gregorio Irpinia Anglianico
The resounding favorites of the group were…

Fantinel Spumante Prosecco Extra Dry NV (IGT)

  • VarietyGlera (formerly known as Prosecco) from the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region
  • AromaGolden apple, pear, honeysuckle
  • Taste: Crisp and fruity with undertones of spice and nut
  • Price: $16, available on,
  • My Thoughts: This is an excellent Prosecco that everyone enjoyed and commented about how it was the perfect balance of dry and fruit without much sweetness. Prosecco is my favorite bubbly and a great economical bubbly option.

2010 Damilano Barbera d’Asti DOCG

  • Variety: Barbera from the Barbera d’Asti region in Piedmont
  • Aroma: Sour cherry and earthy
  • Taste: Sweet jam, berries, light tobacco or leather
  • Price: $16, available  on
  • My Thoughts: This is a big wine and was our 5th of the evening. Everyone was impressed with it’s complexity and for such a great price!

There are so many wines to explore in Italy. Grape Occasions has many articles on Italian wine, and in the next few articles, we’ll highlight some other Italian tastings we’ve done in the past few months to help in your Italian exploration.

Share with us YOUR favorite Italian!

Saluté to the wonderful world of Italian wine!

Italian Wine on the Go

There are more and more “on the go” wine packages out there. Last weekend at BOTTLEROCKET in New York City, I found a great Italian option!

Fuori Strada is the brand and winemaker…bringing you wines from ‘the road less traveled,’ fuori strada in Italian. The wines start with organic Italian grapes. They have two wines, Grillo 2011 from Sicily and Sangiovese from Tuscany.

The bright packaging catches your eye, and it’s good for the environment. The Tetra Pak carton uses 54% less energy, creates 80% less greenhouse gasses, produces 60% less solid waste volume and has 92% less package weight, compared to a 750ml glass wine bottle. PLUS with the packaging you get more for your money…250ml more than typicaly 750ml bottle.

The packaging also does a fun job of describing the product…classically Italian, beautifully balances, fresh and crisp, juicy citrus, lighter, sustaianable package. The wine is also suitable for vegans.

I picked up the white wine, Grillo, which is thought to have been used in one of Julius Caesar’s favorite wines.

Fuori Strada: Off Road Grillo 2011

  • Variety: Grillo from Sicily
  • Aroma: citrus, floral
  • Taste: balanced lemon and touch of tropical blossom with a honey finish
  • Price: $14 (available at BOTTLEROCKET in-store and online)
  • My thoughts: Really nice wine…one of best I’ve tasted in Tetra Pak! Grillo is similar to Pinot Grigio but has a bit more body, depth and characteristic.

Look forward to trying the Sangiovese.

Cheers, as always, to the road less traveled!

Around the World of Sparkling Wine

I’m always a big fan of sparkling wine, special occasion or none. And the holidays are the perfect time to bring out ANY bubbles.

Last week, I attended an “I Brake for Bubbly” tasting at The Curious Grape, a local wine bar and shop, for a great tour through the sparkling wine world….Austria -> Chile -> France -> Spain -> California -> Italy.

Through this tour you’ll see what makes Champagne, which can only come from Champagne, France, so special, and what the climate, grape varieties and process create for sparkling wines from other regions and countries.

First a little overview about how sparkling wine is made.

  • The Traditional Method: The classic way is the méthode traditionelle (traditional method), or méthode Champenoise (Champagne method), developed in Champagne, France. Wine is produced in the normal way, then bottled with a sugar and yeast mixture to sit for a second fermentation. Carbon dioxide is produced during this fermentation creating the tiny bubbles. The yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle, referred to as the lees. While the wine is aged on the lees, complexity in the flavor develops (Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months for this second fermentation). Next the sediment is removed through ‘riddling,’ the tilting of the bottle on riddling racks to allow the sediment to move to the neck. The neck is then frozen, the cap removed, the plug of frozen sediment shoots out from the pressure. The bottle is then topped up with dosage (small amount of sugar solution, amount added varies based on sweetness and dryness levels desired), recorked and wire caged. Whoosh! Quite a process. Now you know why Champagne is expensive!
  • The Charmat Method: This method, also known as the Italian method, is quicker and used to make many less expensive sparkling wines. In this process, the yeast and sugar are added to the wine in the pressurized stainless steel fermentation tanks.Then this wine is bottled.

Now onto the tour…

Flight 1: Austria for Riesling Sekt

Sekt is the name used for sparkling wine in Germany and Austria. Both wines we tasted are from Weingut Steininger, a small family-owned winery in the Langenlois Valley of Kamptal, one of Austria’s northernmost growing regions. This is a very interesting tasting to compare…

  • 2009 Steininger Riesling Sekt, $25.99: The grapes for this wine come from the lower part of the slopes and a nutrient rich soil. It’s 100% Riesling grapes made using the Traditional Method and aged on the lees for at least one year. The result is a bready nose and apple flavors. Very nice!
  • 2008 Steininger Riesling “Heiligenstein” Sekt, $51.99: Heiligenstein means Holy Stone and is among one of the world’s most famous vineyards for Riesling. It’s very high altitude vineyards, grown on steep terraces of solid rock. First fermentation for this wine in neutral oak casks is one year, then aged on the lees for two years. No dosage is added. It produces a more concentrated sparkling wine with minerality and stone-fruit with bigger bubbles. A real treat!

Flight 2: Chile & France for Chardonnay-based Sparklers

  • 2011 Cono Sur Brut, Bío Bío, Chile, $18.99: This is a quite nice entry level sparkler made of 90% Chardonnay, 6% Pinot Noir and 4% Riesling. You wouldn’t expect a sparkling wine from Chile, but this one comes from the very southern part of the country, with sunny yet cold weather perfect for growing sparkling wine grapes. While made using the Charmant Method, they age the base wine for four months in barrel before second fermentation, then allow the wine to rest on the lees in tank for three months before bottling. Very balanced with nice minerality!
  • Non-Vintage Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Champagne “Hugues de Coulmet” Brut, Champagne, France, $51.99: Pierre Moncuit is a small boutique producer dating back to the 1940s. Their 36 acres of Grand Cru Village are in the the southern part of the region, which produces some of the region’s best grapes as they are grown in very chalky soil, giving great minerality to the wine. Although this is non-vintage, all Pierre Moncuit’s are made with single vintage grapes. Aged three years for second fermentation in the bottle before disgorgement. Very special boutique Champagne!

Flight 3: Spain & California for Red Grape-based Sparklers

  • Non-Vintage Canals Canals Cava Brut Nature Rosat Reserve, Penedes, Spain, $15.99: Cava is sparkling wine in Spain. Cava mainly comes from Penedes region. Cava is made with Spanish grapes using the Traditional Method. This wine is made from Garnacha, Monastrell, Trepat and Pinot Noir. Reserva in Spain means it’s been aged at least 15 months. Brut Nature means no sugar is added to the dosage. Ths wine has been aged 24 months in second fermentation. Very nice!
  • 2008 Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, Carneros, California, $21.99: Carneros is the cold end of the Sonoma and Napa Valley. Founded by Spain’s Freixenet, the second oldest Cava house dating back to 1889 in Spain, they started Gloria Ferrer and planted the first grapes in 1980. Made with the Traditional Method from 92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay and aged 18 months on the lees, there is also 5% non sparkling rosé added to give it the pretty pink color and creamy round texture. Lovely subtle strawberry and vanilla notes.
  • Non-Vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley, California, $28.99: Roederer Estate Brut is the first California sparkling wine to be produced by Champagne Louis Roederer, the fine winemaker of France. The Anderson Valley is the coolest of California’s sparkling wine regions, also very wet so hard to ripen the grapes. This blend is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with 5% non-sparkling Pinot Noir added for color. Roederer follows the common Champagne practice of holding a portion of each year’s harvest in “reserve” to enrich the non-vintage blend in any given year. This wine is made of 10-20% reserve wines aged in oak for roundness and aged 24 months on the lees. A Champagne like sparkler from California!

Flight 4: France & Italy for What’s Hot Now

  • 2010 Domaine des Nugues “Made by G,” Beaujolais, France, $19.99: This wine from the Beaujolais region is 100% Gamay grapes, however sparkling wines aren’t allowed to be labled Beaujolais, thus the name Made by G. These grapes are hand-harvested and fermented, then fermented again using Traditional Method for a few months on lees. No sugar is added, the sweetness coming just from the Gamay grapes.
  • 2011 Tenuata Il Falchetto Moscato d’Asti “Ciombo,” Piedmont, Italy, $17.99: As an Italian wine it is considered Frizzante, their main term for sparkling wines. This wine is made of 100% Moscato grapes and tank fermented. The grapes are grown in the Ciombo region on 25 year old vines. The results is a very intense, floral, honey wine with low alcohol. It’s a perfect after dinner offering.

And that was our flight around the world of sparkling. What’s your favorite sparkling wine?

Cheers to Bubbles!