Monday, February 27, 2023

A White Wine From Sicily's Volcanic Soil

Duca di Salaparuta is one of the oldest wineries in Sicily, producing fine wines since 1824. Their  Vajasindi Estate - in northeastern Sicily, on the slopes of the Etna volcano - has given the Reina family two native grape varieties for a pair of new wines. Lavico Etna Rosso DOC 2020 and Lavico Etna Bianco DOC  2021 are made, respectively, from Nerello Mascalese and Carricante grapes. The winery says that these wines exhibit "the grace of the mountain, the warmth of the sea, and the minerality of the volcano." The wines of Duca di Salaparuta are sustainably grown.

The 2021 Lavico Etna Bianco DOC is aged in stainless steel tanks for four months, on the lees, before getting another three months in the bottle. Alcohol tips only 12.5% abv and the wine retails for $34.

The pale wine has a nose that screams savory - salinity and minerals abound. Despite that, there is plenty of fruit to go around - stone fruit, lemons and mango. The palate is where that minerality really lives, with a taste of the ocean meeting all that citrusy fruit. Acidity is in full force, while the finish is lengthy and memorable. 

Friday, February 24, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Raquel Welch Week

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we look back fondly at the late Raquel Welch. We will also lift a glass to her with a wine pairing for each of these films in which she graced the screen. However, my personal favorite Raquel moment is when she showed her comedic chops on television - playing a diva'd up version of herself on Seinfeld.

The movie that put Ms. Welch on the map was One Million Years BC, back in 1966. Never mind the anachronisms - humans and dinosaurs did not roam the earth together. But if they did, the humans surely would have been dressed in fur bikinis. Standing around ogling the females, though, would still get you branded as a neanderthal from the Rock tribe.

Aside from the spectacle of Raquel in a fur bikini - the iconic poster of which was used in The Shawshank Redemption - special effects from the great Ray Harryhausen are worth watching. In fact, whether you prefer the Harryhausen stop-action or the fur bikini probably says a lot about you.

The movie established Welch as a full-blown sex symbol, a tag that stayed with her throughout her career. She did overcome that stigma by showing time and again that she had acting chops and was more than a pretty face.

Well, some bubbles to celebrate Raquel would certainly be in order, especially since she starred in a commercial for Freixenet in 1985. The cava - that's the Spanish bubbly wine - sells for around $10 in most places and tastes as good as a sparkler from a higher price range.

1970 saw Welch starring in Myra Breckinridge, the sex-change comedy adapted from Gore Vidal's novel. The movie was so bad that Vidal later looked around, pointed at himself and said, "Me? Nah, I didn't write that."

Most critics felt that "comedy" was an unfair description of the film, since the humor was thought to be as tasteless as anything that had ever splattered against the big screen. It received an X rating due to the graphic sexual content - and maybe due to the general crappiness of the feature. Today it has a cult following, proving that there is actually an audience for everything.

The one-sheet movie poster may be the best thing about Myra, as it has Welch again donning a bikini - this time a star-spangled one.

Continental Divide Winery is in Breckenridge, Colorado. Although spelled a bit differently than Myra's name, they boast that they are the world's highest altitude winery. That's a claim that may draw a quibble from some winemaker in the Andes Mountains. Continental Divide makes their Winter Is Coming red blend from Colorado grapes and sells it at California prices. 

Fantastic Voyage was from 1966, but just before the cavewoman epic. It stars Welch as one of a team of scientists who are miniaturized and injected into a human so they can clear a blood clot in the guy's brain. Right, it's unbelievable, but it's science fiction, so suspend your sense of what is possible now. 

The producers had yet to get the memo that Raquel in a bikini equals butts in the seats, but they were kind enough to provide a form-fitting inner-space suit for her to wear. 

Voyage is actually a pretty good sci-fi, one that still holds up today. The movie got a handful of Oscar nominations and won a pair of them, for art direction and special effects.

I ran across a cocktail named Fantastic Voyage - Riesling, whiskey and vanilla liqueur, if you're interested - although I would imagine its greatest appeal is to fans of vanilla liqueur. Voyager Estate makes wine along Australia's Margaret River, and their Shiraz goes for about $40.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

A Hearty Rosé From Tavel

If you love rosé and you don't know Tavel, you should correct that problem immediately. Tavel is a region in France's Rhône Valley. It is known for its rosé wines - in fact, that's all that is produced there. It is the only wine appellation in the Rhône Valley which makes nothing but pink wine.

The 2020 Réserve des Chastelles Tavel Rosé is likely made from Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Carignan, although details on this particular wine are a little hard to find. It was made by negotiant Vignobles & Compagnie and imported by Plume Ridge of Claremont, California. Alcohol tips 13.5% abv and I got mine for $9 at Trader Joe's - a distinctly good deal for a Tavel rosé. Prices in Tavel generally start at twice that amount.

The wine comes in a clear bottle, the better to show off its deep, rich color. The wine pours up much darker than a rosé from, say, Provence. Additional skin contact for the grapes gives the wine a beautiful hue which ranges from an almost magenta shade to hints of tomato red and salmon. Rolled into one descriptor, we can call it copper colored. The nose gives up some luscious strawberry and cherry aromas with traces of citrus, minerals and spice also present. There is a lot of flavor to be had on the palate - red fruit, a touch of tobacco, some melon, allspice, and even ginger. This is a very complex wine, and it has a nice tannic grip, too. You can use this Tavel in place of a red, while other rosés can only stand in for a white wine.

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Monday, February 20, 2023

Not Barolo, But Nebbiolo

This wine - Ebbio Langhe Nebbiolo - is produced by Fontanafredda, in the Langhe area of Piedmont. Established in 1858, they are the largest certified organic winery in Piedmont. The Nebbiolo grapes for Ebbio were grown in hillside vineyards on the 250-acre estate. The wine was vinified in stainless steel tanks, then aged eight months in neutral wood, then finished with another few months aging in the bottle. 

Aging makes the difference between a Nebbiolo wine and a Barolo, which is also made from Nebbiolo grapes. The Barolo will age in wood for about three years. Winemaker Giorgio Lavagna brings the Ebbio in at an alcohol level of 13.5% abv. It sells for around $25. 

This 2019 wine is ruby red, but with a tinge of brick around the edge of the glass. The nose is full of ripe cherry and some very fresh spices, cinnamon and nutmeg. The palate shows full red fruit with a hint of orange peel and a minty herbal slant. The tannins are smooth and the mouthfeel is full. As always, Nebbiolo is a pleasure. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - 70s Scuzz

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week we take a look at a few movies which detail some of the more disreputable aspects of the Me Decade. We will try to class up the joint a bit with wine pairings for each film.

Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston 40-Brick Lost-Bag Blues is a 1972 film based on the novel from two years earlier. I think I read the book, but I'm not sure that I ever saw the movie back then - but, there is an awful lot from that era that I don't remember.

The film does feature John Lithgow's first role, as a drug dealer's second banana. It's a pretty cool read, if I remember correctly. It's a sort of hip thriller aimed at those daring souls who stuffed a dime bag in their sock after scoring some weed. Those were the days. It's just not the same, buying pot in a boutique shop.

Now, for a fake wine pairing. First off, Wakey Wines is owned by a convicted drug dealer. He was even bounced from Tik Tok for posting things that were not true - sort of like how Trump got kicked off Twitter. And just as Trump was reinstated on that platform, Tik Tok gave the Wakey guy his megaphone back. His social media shows him dealing nothing but scuzz here in the 21st century. 

Coca wine was a blend of wine and cocaine, but it fell on hard times when cocaine was banned in the US in 1914. When alcohol was banned six years later, coca wine found itself s.o.l.

I have had fun exploring the scuzzy wine pairing possibilities for Dealing, but it's time to actually deliver the goods, with a real wine pairing for the film. If you do enough dealing, you're bound to get busted. Busted Grapes Winery is in upstate New York - about as upstate as it gets. The winery is in a placid community called Black River, just outside of Watertown, away from Lake Ontario. They make wines from those cold-hardy grapes - Marquette, Catawba, Niagara, Frontenac. No prices are given, but they can't cost that much, can they? And, they ship.

Fuzz was a 1972 action comedy. As a 1972 action comedy, could it have starred anyone else but Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch? A better looking pair of detectives you'd be hard pressed to find. And Reynolds was fresh off his centerfold appearance in Cosmo. But wait, there's more! For the same low price, you also get Jack Weston, Tom Skerrit and Yul Brenner - crazy man, crazy. If you call before midnight tonight, we'll throw in the fabulous Peter Bonerz, whose work on The Bob Newhart Show made him a dentist forever. The story, eh, well, did we mention it stars Burt Reynolds and Raquel Welch?

I didn't expect this pairing to be so easy. Fuzz, the Gamay wine, is made by Brendan Tracey. He also puts his name on wines called Capitalism Rouge, Mellow Yellow and Rue de la Soif - Thirsty Street. He is New Jersey born, raised in California and lives in the land he loves, France. He sells Fuzz for around $35. 

Switchblade Sisters came from 1975, and shares a slice of life from an all-girl high school gang. Now, I went to high school a long time ago, but our "bad girls" were more inclined to give you a hickey than a stab wound. That I do remember. 

These Switchblade Sisters could stand toe-to-toe with the male gangs and go tit for tat with the violence. Shootings, murders, assaults, knifings - and that's all before fourth period. 

It could have been called The Jezebels, but the producers reportedly didn't think viewers would know what that meant. The film was destined to fall into obscurity, but it got a new lease on life as a cult classic when Quentin Tarantino cited it as a personal fave and re-released it. There's a guy who knows a Jezebel when he sees one. 

Oregon's Willful Wine Company is apparently among those who are not equipped with a working definition for Jezebel. That is the name they gave to their Pinot Noir, which they call easy-going, well-balanced and fruit-forward. Well, at $20, at least it's cheap. 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2023

A Fantastic White Wine From Sardinia

The Sella & Mosca estate - I Piani - holds some 1,200 acres of vines, reportedly the second largest contiguous vineyard in all of Italy. The scenery is beautiful but the climate is hot and dry on the island of Sardinia, where the Torbato grapes for the 2018 Sella & Mosca Terre Bianche grow, in the Alghero Torbato DOC.

The Torbato grape is not indigenous to Italy. It traveled from Spain to France before being brought to Sardinia by the rulers of the day. It is a white grape - known in France's Côtes du Roussillon as Tourbat - and is known for its smoky notes.

This wine was vinified by Giovanni Pinna in stainless steel tanks. Alcohol hits only 12.5% and it sells for a ridiculously low price of about $15. I got mine on sale at Eataly for a few dollars less.

This white wine has the color of light onion skin - a nice hue for a white which has been in the bottle for some five years. The nose is immediately familiar to me, even though I have never tasted this grape before. It smells like the white wines of the Midwest and northeastern U.S. There is a strong fruit aroma - apricot and Meyer lemon - and an even stronger mineral aspect. A little bit of melon brings what little sweetness I pick up. The palate shows a basket full of savory notes - lanolin, minerals, citric tartness, pepper, spice and sage. Acidity is fine - not too tingly but not too flat. The finish is lengthy and focused on the fruit. I am impressed. 

This wine paired magnificently, by the way, with the turmeric and lemon bowtie pasta I bought at Eataly. I mixed it with cabbage and onions in butter. So simple, so good. 

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Monday, February 13, 2023

CAMUS Cognac

CAMUS was founded in 1863 and has been led by five generations of family members who keep the family's commitment to craftsmanship and tradition, while producing what they consider to be the best Cognac in the world.

Cyril Camus has been the company's chief since 2004. He has overseen a strategy begun by his father, Jean-Paul Camus, to extend the estate within the smallest and rarest of the six crus of the Cognac AOC – Borderies. Today, CAMUS is one of the largest landowners in this cru.

CAMUS boasts that they select only the finest vines for use in making their eaux-de-vie. The must is kept unfiltered of its lees to extract the most intense aromatic components. Distillation is exclusively performed by hand in small copper pot stills to preserve the most aromatic elements. The patented technique, called   "Instensity," consists of manually selecting the best aromatic qualities. This unique method, along with aging in smaller, lightly toasted fine grain French Oak barrels, differs from the standard process used by other houses. Thanks to the high concentration of esters, the fruity and floral aromas are incredibly powerful and distinctive in all cognac blends. 

I usually keep my tasting in the realm of wines, but I was given a bottle of CAMUS VSOP to sample. It is a very aromatic Cognac with a high quantity of terpenes (the compounds that give plants their aromas). That creates deep, elegant notes of white flowers and citrus blossoms. 

The tasting experience was great. CAMUS VSOP is indeed a special cognac. Alcohol content is 40% abv (80 proof) and the bottle sells for just under $60. 


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Friday, February 10, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - The Kitchen Sink Movement

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, three movies from the early 1960s which make a close examination of some harsh realities. We have wine pairings for each, to take the edge off. 

The Kitchen Sink Movement came about in British arts in the late 1950s. It was an antidote to the prim, fussy attitudes of plays and movies at the time, giving viewers a super-realistic look at life from the seedy underbelly of UK society, whether they wanted it or not.

In 1962's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, the British version of reform school gets a long look. Tom Courtenay takes the lead in his Borstal training and discovers that the lead is something he can choose to give up. Courtenay's character finds out that there is little else to do while running long distances than obsess over the poor life choices that put him under lock and key. Dead dad? Tough. Caught stealing? Too bad. Legs feel tired? C'mon, lad. 

In their Ooh La La album, the Faces made Borstal life sound more like an adventure than the penitential slap in the face it was. "We're up here boy, and you're down there, and don't you forget it." Maybe a good long run will help him forget. Or, maybe not. Forgetting isn't easy. 

Ghostrunner makes only one blend - Cab and Petite Sirah from the Central Coast. But, no matter how far you run - there you are. Drink up, but allow a half hour before undertaking a 5k.

In 1963, Tom Courtenay took the lead again in Billy Liar. His character has a sort of Thurberesque way of dealing with the unpleasantness of his mundane life. He imagines himself to be a hero in some more consequential scenario. Imagining is the extent of his bravado, however, which is underscored when he falls for a gal who seems to have the gumption to actually reach for the fruit that is higher up in the tree.

Does Billy Liar have what it takes to bring himself into full sociopathic bloom? No. He daydreams when he could think, shrugs when he could act. Even when presented with the prospect of the marvelous Julie Christie. He's doomed to live his life in the shadows of what he imagines himself to be. And that's probably good for all concerned if Alex from A Clockwork Orange is seen as the result of his natural evolution. 

Red 55 Winery has White Liar Chardonnay available for less than $20. The song of that name was a big hit for Miranda Lambert in 2009, in case you had forgotten. Red 55 is run by the family of that Texas songstress. If it makes you feel any better about purchasing from a celebrity winery which features Valentine's Day party packs, a wine called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and an Electric Pink White Zinfandel, it was named after Miranda's first pickup truck, a red '55 stepside. 

Sidney Furie's The Leather Boys is about a gay biker in London's rocker subculture. The film was pretty steamy for its time and has been hailed as a watershed moment in queer cinema. Everybody seems to be sleeping with everybody else, and no one is really all that happy about it. Ah, life in the south London suburbs - all the grit, at no extra charge.

There is an unhappy marriage, a fake pregnancy, a motorcycle race, a homosexual encounter and a dream of a better life in America dashed on the rocks by the gay pub. 

I was tempted to pair a wine from the southern Rhône Valley with this film, due to the hint of leather one would expect on the nose. Then I found this Paso Robles Zinfandel from Four Vines, The Biker. The label shows a young lady biker who has limited the leather to her head and feet, opting for lace elsewhere.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

A Nice Italian Wine For Right Now

Dolcetto is my kinda grape. The folks at Agricola Brandini like it, too. They say that it is "the wine of the Piedmontese peasant family… an expression of simplicity and freshness. It is a wine that wants to be immediate, in the realization and in the sensations that it transmits." That works for me, because I simply cannot maintain a wine cellar. I want it now, immediately, I can't wait. And Dolcetto doesn't mind being opened early. In fact, it likes it. 

The Brandini estate vineyards are Barolo-classified and run by Piero Bagnasco and his daughters, Giovanna and Serena. Winemaker Beppe Caviola oversees production. The 2020 Filari Lunghi - it translates to "long rows" - is made entirely of the Dolcetto grape farmed organically in the Dolcetto d'Alba DOC in Piemonte. Fermentation and aging happens in stainless steel tanks, and the wine is released about six months after harvest. Alcohol is somewhat restrained, at 13.5% abv, and the wine sells for around $22.

This medium dark wine is plenty aromatic. There is big fruit first - blueberry, blackberry, black cherry - met with cinnamon, nutmeg, forest floor, a whiff of smoke and a splash of tar. The palate is robust, to say the least. That dark fruit is there to lead the way, with spices in tow and a strong tannin profile that is more than ready to attack a hunk of beef. This wine is demanding on its own, but at its best when paired with a meaty dish. 

Monday, February 6, 2023

Revisiting A Paso Robles Zinfandel

It has been about a decade since I took a fascinating tour of Ancient Peaks Winery and their estate vineyards near Paso Robles.  Santa Margarita Ranch is the southernmost - and coolest - wine region in the Paso Robles AVA.  The land was once an ancient sea bed, and time has left it high and dry, dotted with old oyster shells which impart their minerality to the grapes grown there.  Science may pooh-pooh that notion, but I cling to the idea that what is in the ground is in the grapes.

This wine is composed of 86% Zinfandel and 14% Syrah, all grown in Margarita Vineyard. Two late-summer heatwaves in 2020 interrupted an otherwise temperate vintage, speeding up the ripening of the grapes and lending a beautiful, jammy sensibility to the wine. Aging took place over 18 months in French and American oak barrels. Alcohol hits 14.1% abv and the bottle retails for $20. I got mine for a couple bucks less at Whole Foods Market. 

This beautiful, medium dark wine displays a nose which is bursting with ripe fruit - cherry, raspberry, cranberry - adorned by tobacco, clove, nutmeg and black pepper. The palate is lush with the fruit - but has a savory side, too. The acidity is fresh and lively, while the tannins are muscular. It is, as always, a great pair with any kind of meat - especially straight from the grill. 

Friday, February 3, 2023

Blood Of The Vines - Going Aloft

Pairing‌ ‌wine‌ ‌with‌ ‌movies!‌  ‌See‌ ‌the‌ ‌trailers‌ ‌and‌ ‌hear‌ ‌the‌ ‌fascinating‌ ‌commentary‌ ‌for‌ ‌these‌ ‌movies‌ ‌and‌ ‌many‌ ‌more‌ ‌at‌ ‌Trailers‌ ‌From‌ ‌Hell.‌ This week, we look up, up and away for a trio of flying films. Of course, there are wine pairings for each.

Test Pilot, from 1938, stars Clark Gable, Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy, who were three of Hollywood's top box office draws of the day. The film was directed by Victor Fleming, who also directed another movie featuring flying, but in this one the house stays on the ground and there are no munchkins in the script. However, a farm in Kansas is involved. 

The script, by the way, was based on a story by a real-life pilot who also served as a co-writer. The tale has Gable and Spencer as flyboy buddies with a woman between them. As you might expect, only one of the buddies makes it out alive. I mean, it's a romantic drama, not a romantic comedy.

The movie was a big hit with critics and paying customers alike. The flying sequences are still lauded today due to their realism and use of the latest aircraft of the era. There is a certain cachet to watching a film in which the B-17 bomber was considered cutting-edge. 

George Cooper was an actual NASA test pilot who turned to winemaking with his wife, Louise Garrod. The Garrod Farms Test Pilot wines are named after all the planes Cooper flew, including his description of them on the back label. Try the F-104 Starfighter, a Côtes-Rôtie-style co-fermentation of Syrah and Viognier. There are six wines in the line, so a half case would be fine, especially if you plan to watch Test Pilot repeatedly.

Someone must have thought airborne romance was a good idea, because a year later, in 1939, Howard Hawks helmed Only Angels Have Wings. Hawks was involved in Test Pilot, so his head stayed in the clouds awhile. 

This time around, it's Cary Grant and Jean Arthur who provide the earthbound sparks, while the flying scenes again drew kudos from those who appreciate a good shot of an airplane doing its thing. The next time you're at an air show, look around. The people closest to the action are the audience for this film.

These pilots deliver air mail over the Andes Mountains, which seems like a more dangerous occupation to settle for than for most flyers of that ilk. Today, they would probably be flying a rocket full of gaskets to the space station. The planes are once again co-stars, with a Ford Trimotor serving as a dramatic vehicle. "Engine number one is on fire!" "Engine number two is on fire!" "How many engines did you say this crate has?"

Cheval des Andes is the South American branch of Château Cheval Blanc, the great Bordeaux estate. Their blends utilize Argentine Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon mainly, and run on the high or low side of $100, depending on the vintage. 

These days, a title like The High and the Mighty might be taken as an ad for cannabis delivery. Back in 1954, it was taken as Big John Wayne's most recent action flick. It was also a precursor to all those disaster films which would come decades later - and to the spoofs of said films. This was the first movie in which Robert Stack picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue, although this time as the pilot, not the ground crew, as in Airplane.

The flight takes off from Honolulu, headed for San Francisco, and endures engine failure, a fuel leak, a passenger with a gun, and the looming prospect of ditching the DC-4 in the ocean. All-in-all, there is considerably more trouble than just running low on peanuts.

The flight attendant has to deal with a multitude of personalities, which make those scenes look like Airplane by way of Gilligan's Island. There's an actress, a millionaire, a former beauty queen, a giddy tourist, and a guy with a terminal illness and a pocket watch. There is no record of The Professor and/or Mary Ann on board.

An airliner really is not the best place for drinking wine. The higher altitude robs us of our sense of taste, while the dry air in the cabin saps our sense of smell and further inhibits our taste buds. How else do you think they get away with that airline food? The best bet for a wine for the Mile High Club is one with higher alcohol and lower acidity, so the diminished senses still have something to work with. Try a Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay or Viognier for a better tasting experience. 

Wine Enthusiast magazine says Cathay Pacific has the best in-flight wine program, followed by Etihad Airways, Qatar Airlines, LAN Airlines, Singapore Airlines, ANA, SWISS, Virgin-Atlantic, Qantas and British Airways. I generally get a martini while flying first class to Saint-Tropez, but it's entirely up to you. 


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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Crossing The Rubicon For Sangiovese

I could find out little about the Gran Conti winery, except that they sell plenty of Italian wines at lower-than-reasonable prices. The grapes for their 2021 Sangiovese Rubicone were grown in the Rubicone Valley in the southern part of Emilia-Romagna. The wine has an alcohol level of 12% abv and I got mine at Whole Foods Market for $10.

This wine is a rusty red color in the glass. The nose carries a strong aroma of sweet cherries, leather and a bit of cedar and cigar box. The palate shows a darker side, with heavy mineral notes draped over the cherry flavor. The wine’s acidity is fresh and the finish is savory. I bought it for cooking a pot roast, but very much enjoyed sipping a glass.