The Dirty Dozen


The January 2017 Dirty Dozen

Happy New Year! Here we are again, it’s January, and the slate has been wiped clean. 2017 has arrived, and here in northern California, Mother Nature has been making up for lost time by drenching us with rainfalls which have exceeded our average. We looked at the forecast, and it says that the next week will be a wet one. So while we stay dry indoors, why not have one of our January Dirty Dozens within arms’ reach? It just makes sense; 12 different wines, all chosen for their versatility: The January 2017 Dirty Dozen!

Reorder Special !!! 20% off 6 bottles or more of any one regularly priced Dirty Dozen wine! Or 10%/Net Wines – 5%/ Sale Wines

2013 Blanquette de Limoux, Saint Nicolas $13.98 net price, $12.58 reorder
This delightful and affordable sparkling wine will keep you celebrating well into the New Year! Blanquette de Limoux is a high elevation region along the Pyrenean foothills. The wine is produced from the Mauzac grape, which ripens late and retains good acidity. Honeyed and full of orchard fruit flavors, try this bubbly with all types of snacks and finger foods.

2016 Gewurztraminer, Banyan $10.98 net price, $9.88 reorder
One can easily make the argument that this Gewurztraminer from Monterey County is one of California’s best wine values. The fruit comes from old vines grown at Ventana Vineyards. Winemaker Kenny Likitprakong intentionally made it off-dry to pair with Southeast Asian cuisine. Give this Gewurz a go with curry, be it red, green or yellow. Delicious!

2015 Verdicchio, Fattoria Laila $14.98 net price, $13.48 reorder
Fattoria Laila’s vines are grown in the rolling hills of the Marche overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Verdicchio translates to “little green one,” hence the flavors can lean toward the herbaceous. Along with fresh, cut grass aromas, this Verdicchio displays crisp acidity on the palate. A great meal starter with shrimp scampi, fried calamari or marinated cracked crab.

2015 Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Tour de l’Isle $14.99, $11.99 reorder
Sourced from vines growing in and around the village of Vinsobres, this four grape blend (Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette) delivers refreshing orchard fruit aromas with a medium-full body, finishing with zippity fresh acidity. It’s a great all-occasion quaffer, yet would be perfect if paired alongside a platter of seafood tapas.


2015 Gavi, Ernesto Picollo $10.99, $8.79 reorder
One of our most popular bargain whites, the Ernesto Picollo Gavi has been a great pleasure to carry for nearly a decade. If one has a look at our staff members’ invoices over the years, it is not beyond the stretch of imagination that the Gavi is one of the top white wines that we take home to share and to drink ourselves! A simple pesto pasta pairs well here.


2014 Montravel Blanc, Château Calabre $10.99, $8.79 reorder
Speaking of TWH employees’ favorite white wines, enter another contestant, this one from just beyond Bordeaux’s eastern outskirts. Daniel Hecquet blends 50% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Sémillon, and 10% Muscadelle to make this easy-going, food friendly, crisp white wine. It works well as an aperitif as well! Otherwise, you can pop it with a tuna salad.


2015 Malbec Reserva, Apaltagua $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
Apaltagua harvests their Malbec grapes by hand between April and May. Their vineyard lies between the Curico and Maule Valleys. Maule Valley is one of the first regions to be planted with grapevines by the Spanish. Expect rich notes of cherry and cassis accented by a kiss of vanilla. Well-rounded on the palate, try with beef stew or other one-pot delicacies.


2013 Garnacha, Botijo Rojo $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
The name Botijo Rojo refers to the traditional clay water vessels used by grape pickers during harvest. This is yet another great example of a Spanish wine that delivers both high quality and affordability. 100% Garnacha, flavors of deep red cherries are augmented by dusty notes of underbrush. Silky and supple, try with pollo con arroz or paella.


2014 Aljubarrota Reserva, $11.98 net price, $10.78 reorder
A blend of three varietals – Aragonez (aka Tempranillo), Touriga Nacional and Trincadera – this is a hearty, jammy Portugese red. Both Touriga Nacional and Trincadera are used in the production of Port, so you know the flavors are going to be intense. This high-impact wine is perfect for burgers as well as high-end cuts of meat for a special meal.

2014 Chianti Montalbano, Tenuta Pierazzuoli $13.49, $10.79 reorder
Longtime TWH pal, Enrico Pierazzuoli (who will be visiting us in February!) crafts Tuscan wines from two different sites: one in Carmignano, just west of Firenze, and the other in nearby Chianti Montalbano. Enrico makes his Chianti from 100% Sangiovese, and as written on the label, it takes one vine to make one bottle of wine. Drink this with a nice pappardelle.


2013 Syrah, Domaine Saint Antoine $11.49, $9.19 reorder
Moving down to the south of France, in Saint Gilles to be exact, is Marlène and Jean-Louis Emmanuel’s Domaine de Saint Antoine. We’ve been working with the Emmanuels for 20 years, and it’s easy to see why: Value. Jean-Louis de-stems his fruit and raises the wines in tank for that pure fruit expression. Try this Syrah with some smoked pork ribs, yum!


2013 Agrippa, Grange des Rouquette $17.59, $14.07 reorder
And lastly, speaking of Syrah, check out this southern Rhône Syrah named after the famous Roman architect who allegedly designed the famous Pont du Garde near the Rhône River Valley. Thierry Boudinaud doesn’t make this wine in every vintage; it takes a special one for him to do so. It’s full bodied, so think big with your pairing ideas … like a rib-eye!

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Filed under The Dirty Dozen, Wine Clubs/Samplers

Inky, Dark, Spicy – Syrah at its Best !

Not to belabor the obvious, but it’s cold outside. And it gets dark earlier too. This signals the time of year when Syrah calls out to me the loudest – I hear you Syrah, loud and clear! A robust, full-flavored Syrah paired with a slow braised one-pot dish; now that’s sounds good to me. As I look around the store, searching for that Syrah to satiate my craving, my eyes naturally fall onto our limited, but stellar selection of Northern Rhones. Of the two producers TWH directly imports, Domaine Belle is the most established. When I came to work for TWH in the late 90’s, Belle was a relative newcomer on the Rhone scene and a true darling of Robert Parker who was a great advocate for this French region, propelling fervent enthusiasm for Syrah. In the 1997 revised edition of “Wines of the Rhone Valley”, Parker concludes his review of Belle by writing it was “one of the bright, shining stars of Crozes-Hermitage, and this is an estate to follow”. In my opinion, he was absolutely right. So what has Domaine Belle been up to in the two decades since Parker wrote that statement? They’ve been consistently making outstanding wines that fly under the radar!


Philippe Belle is at the helm, having taken over from his father Albert who retired in 2003. Fortunately for Domaine Belle fans, Philippe has sons who are being groomed to work in the family business. On his trip to France this past November, David paid a visit to Belle where he tasted recent and upcoming vintages. There he met with Philippe and his son, Valentin, who is currently studying enology at Montpellier. David sent a photo of father and son to me (I’m always hounding him to take more pics on his trips!) as well as a photo of the 2015 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre, which he captioned “one of the darkest wines I’ve ever seen”. The 2015 Roche Pierre won’t be available any time soon, but we do have the gorgeous 2012 in stock now. And though we bid adieu to our 39th Anniversary Sale, we will offer the 2012 Roche Pierre at discount for this email – regularly $36.99 per bottle, on sale for $27.95 per bottle!


Roche Pierre is a single-vineyard with vines upwards of 70 years old grown on granitic soil. These are special vines and Belle only bottles this wine in special vintages (otherwise it goes into Cuvee Louis Belle). We have the ’12 in stock, and they made ’13 and ’15, but no ’11 or ’14. It is a wine that showcases the full spectrum of Syrah’s appeal, from the inky color to the dark, black fruit to the spicy, smoky notes. The texture is rich with firm tannins. Less than 300 cases of this single-vineyard Crozes-Hermitage are produced. Jeb Dunnuck who has taken over reviewing Rhone wines for Parker had this to say about the 2012 Roche Pierre:

I was blown away by the 2012 Crozes Hermitage Roche Pierre and it showed even better from bottle than barrel, which is always a good sign. Aged two years in 40% new French oak, it’s certainly one of the top wines of this appellation. Cassis, toasted spice, leather, beautiful minerality and classic minerality are all present in this full-bodied, focused, pure and age-worthy Crozes Hermitage. There’s no shortage of tannin here, so give it a year or three, it will have 10-15 years of longevity.94 points #216 Dec. 2014


This weekend I will be celebrating a milestone birthday…my baby girl is turning 13! A teenager. It doesn’t seem possible. Her birthday lands on Old Calendar Christmas Eve (Happy Birthday to MTP as well!), so we’ll first celebrate with a traditional Russian lenten meal with family then host a rip-roaring sleepover party with her BFFs the next evening. Call me crazy, but I love hearing all the girl chatter and laughter filling up the house. It warms my heart. Happy Birthday to Sascha, my sweet girl…many blessed years! And Happy New Year to all of you! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Barbecue Wine, Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone

Holidays, Favorite Wines, and Memories


Twas the night before Christmas … and the first night of Hanukkah too! Pretty cool, if you ask me, as I’m all for celebrations. Considering the timing of my fortnightly ramble, I’m not expecting as wide an audience to be reading this evening. That takes all the pressure off, as there’s really no need to speak of any specific wine tonight. I figure that we’ve all got our wines for the holiday weekend in place, ready to be shared and enjoyed. So, for the sake of exercise, and since it’s the time of year to break out the good stuff, I will reminisce about some of my very favorite wines.

*I will go on the record here and declare any 1982 red Bordeaux ineligible from this list; much like the Beatles’ exclusion from favorite musical acts lists.
1985 Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac
This wine was served as the final act of a dinner/tasting with some very good friends, and we formed a Bordeaux tasting group that evening. The concept was a good one. Back in the days when one could purchase First Growth Bordeaux for less than $200 per bottle, I was thinking out loud to a couple of friends. “I would love to try a bottle of Mouton, but wouldn’t necessarily want to splurge and just have the one bottle. But if you chipped in $200, and you chipped in $200, and we got a couple more friends to do the same, we could taste 6 bottles of great Bordeaux, and that would be worth it!” This idea caught fire and Carsten and I were in charge of acquiring the special bottles. The evening’s lineup, in order: 1978 Pontet Canet, 1985 Pichon Lalande, 1985 Margaux, 1982 Leoville Las Cases, 1978 Lafite Rothschild, and 1985 Mouton Rothschild. Such a memorable evening with close friends, great food, and amazing wine. The 1985 Mouton took the blue ribbon for its amazing complexity and sublime mouth feel. I hope to taste this wine again someday.
1985 Heitz Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Martha’s Vineyard
My all-time favorite California wine. I have been lucky enough to have tasted ’85 Martha’s a handful of times. The very first was with some trader buddies back in my days as a NASDAQ marketmaker at The Little Nell in Aspen. But the most memorable tasting was at “A Taste For Life,” which was a charity tasting put on by Wine Commune in 2001. Due to the generosity of a good friend, I found myself seated at the 1982 Bordeaux table with several Bordeaux enthusiasts. Our conversations were free-flowing and full of passionate stories about Bordeaux. The lineup at our table was: Lafite, Margaux, Mouton, Latour, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Pichon Lalande, and La Mission Haut Brion. At some point after I tasted the aforementioned, I caught Shaun Bishop walking through the crowd with a bottle sporting that unmistakeable 1985 Heitz Martha’s label (well, it could have been the 1974). You don’t get what you don’t ask for, so I asked if I could possibly have a taste. Not only did he oblige, he was quite generous about the pour. I took the glass back to the table and shared it with the rest of those seated. Not only did the Heitz hold its own, it stood out with its abundance of cassis, earth, spice, and that quintessential Martha’s Vineyard menthol/mint/eucalyptus. I didn’t think a wine from California could stand up to some of Bordeaux’s legendary wines from a legendary vintage. I was wrong.
1988 Chateau Margaux
Back to my trader days here. A trader buddy (and one of the boys from the ski trip) from New York recommended I stay at the Eden Hotel when I visited Rome. He strongly advised me to eat in the hotel’s top floor restaurant, which sported a panoramic view of Rome’s skyline. The Colosseum, the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, and St. Peter’s were all visible from the dining room. My guest and I dined there the very first night and had such a blast during and after dinner that I tracked down the maitre d’ and asked if we could eat there again on our last night in town. “For you, Mr. Zavialoff, the finest table in Rome.” That’s what he said; no kidding. Two nights later, that’s what we got. That special table in the corner window with the view. Wow. So I decided to go for it and get the Margaux. This experience had a lot to do with why I’m here typing today. It was my first Bordeaux epiphany. Never, at that time, had I tasted such a complex red wine. It had depth, richness, silky tannins, and aromas galore. Our server was wise to keep the decanter out of arm’s reach. This way it lasted all through dinner. It was more spectacular than the finest table in Rome.
1985 Leoville Las Cases
I consider myself very lucky to have tasted 1985 Leoville Las Cases. I was given a bottle as a gift several years ago, and I was saving it for a special occasion. In 2014, my boyhood baseball team won its third World Series in five years, so that was special enough to pop the ’85. (I’ve got a thing for 1985 red Bordeaux.) I brought the bottle to Restaurant Picco in Larkspur, where I pop in fairly regularly. The complexity, mouth feel, and aromatic sensations that I experienced with the 1985 Las Cases, I would put up against anything I’ve ever tasted. My friends and I shared tastes with the manager, assistant manager, several servers, and Chef de Cuisine, Jared Rogers. Every single one of us were completely blown away. 30 year old Bordeaux, still tasting rather fresh, yet showing layers and layers of Bordeaux goodness which comes from time in the cellar. We collectively shed a tear when the bottle came up empty. All we had was a memory. A very happy memory. And the good news is that the generous gent who gave me that bottle has given me another. Thank you! I look forward to that special occasion.
2005 Chateau Coutet, Barsac
Not even a short list of favorite wines would be complete without the 2005 Coutet. It all started when someone came to our shop on Carolina Street and spent a long time in our Sauternes section. I engaged him in conversation and it turned out he was with Chateau La Tour Blanche. He was in town for a 2005 Sauternes tasting at Fort Mason. David made a couple of phone calls, and I went to the tasting. The lineup included Doisy Vedrines, Doisy Daene, Rayne Vigneau, Clos Haut Peyraguey, La Tour Blanche, Coutet, Guiraud, Suduiraut, and Climens. Each wine was tasted by the group at the same time, and all the wines were showing very well. I will never forget what happened when we all tasted the ’05 Coutet. The noise level in the room erupted and smiles and praise beamed from all the tasters. It was quite incredible. My own notes concluded with “Cover off the ball.” It gets better. I put my staff pick sign on this wine and somehow it got back to Chateau Coutet – to Aline Baly specifically. Together, we have hosted three awesome all-Sauternes tasting dinners, and Aline and her uncle Philippe have treated me like family ever since. Having grown up in the Boston area, Aline suggested I try it with lobster. What a great idea. I have very fond memories of 2005 Coutet and lobster shared with my sister for several years. This will always be a special wine for me.

Well, if you made it this far, I thank you. Without reason to flog a wine, I thought it fun to remember some of the great wines I’ve tasted. I don’t mean this to appear as a brag of any sort; but in writing this, I’ve come to remember the people and occasions which got these bottles open in the first place. For me, the most important thing about a good bottle of wine is sharing it. 2016 has been a tumultuous year; we can all agree with that. As I grow older, I become painfully aware that life is short. Some of the people with whom I shared the above wines are no longer with us. Well, we’ve all still got each other, so let me raise a glass and toast: To all of us, may we enjoy the company of friends and loved ones, share some good times, wonderful meals and fine wine, may we live in good health and in peace. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about Favorite Wines, Bordeaux, Holidays, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under Barsac, Bordeaux, Margaux, Napa Valley, Pauillac, Peter Zavialoff, St. Julien

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers!

Cantine Russo Part 2: The Sparklers

Two weeks ago, I wrote about TWH’s new acquisition from Italy, Cantine Russo. I am back to share more wines from this Sicilian producer, but this time it’s not just wine, it’s sparkling wine! There are two: one Blanc de Blancs and one Rosé. It being the season of festive glass clinking, the timing couldn’t have been better to introduce these two exceptional sparklers. I must admit, when I learned that David found a producer in Sicily he wanted to import, I was elated. But when I learned that of the three wines, two were sparklers, I was less enthusiastic. How come you ask? Well, we already import a fabulous Prosecco,Cremant d’Alsace and two sparklers from the Loire, a Vouvray Brut and Touraine Rosé. Did we need two more? Upon my first taste of them, the answer was yes! Wholeheartedly, yes!


There is so much to like and appreciate about Cantine Russo’s sparklers which they call Mon Pit. The name, Mon Pit, refers to the small craters formed on Mount Etna. Both the Blanc de Blancs and Rosé are vintage dated, produced in the traditional Champagne method and stay on the lees for 24-36 months. All this for only $25.98 per bottle! I know what I’ll be drinking both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve…


The Mon Pit Blanc de Blancs is made from Carricante and Cataratto. Carricante is known for its marked acidity, so it makes sense that it could be fermented into a well-balanced, vibrant sparkling wine. The wine is golden-hued with a satisfying yeasty baked bread flavor. Persistent bubbles deliver flavors of honey, citrus and yellow fruits. The sweet fruit finishes with a yeasty, almond note. This is an elegant and serious effort at making fine bubbles outside of Champagne.


The Mon Pit Rosé is made from yet another indigenous Sicilian grape, Nerello Mascalese. I describe Nerello Mascalese to customers as having the same type of perfume and elegance as Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo. This Rosé is not tutti frutti, but is like the Blanc de Blancs – dry, full-flavored and balanced. The color is more peachy than pink and has flavors of dried cranberry, red plums with a pleasurable spicy note on the finish. It’s got depth and a yeastiness that distinguishes it from sparklers made in the Charmat method. I am sat here salivating, thinking of how magical this Rosé would be with some crispy fried chicken!


Considering it’s a week before Christmas, I feel remarkably relaxed. Last year was quite a different story. I learned a valuable lesson from that incredibly stressful period that I am mindful of this year and that is that it is ok to let things go and not do so much. Christmas will come whether or not I’ve found the perfect gift for so-and-so, cooked the perfect meal or mailed out cards. As a wise man once wrote: “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” I’ll be spending Christmas with my family and for that I’m blessed. Here’s wishing you all to be surrounded by loved ones with a glass of bubbly in hand as 2016 closes out!– Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Carricante, Cataratto, Nerello Mascalese

A Taste Of Burgundy – December 2016


A Taste Of Burgundy


TOB-BANNER Basic Facts for those of you who are new to the program: Every two months we select two Burgundies, one red and one white. We include write-ups detailing the background of the grower, the vineyard source, and the wine. Finally we knock a significant percentage off the prices of the wines, making the Sampler price $89.98. If you would like us to add you to the Sampler Club and receive the wines regularly, please notify us in the comments field, and we will charge your card accordingly. If you would like us to ship faster than the standard ground service, please specify this as well.

 

2014 Chablis Grand Cru Valmur Maison Dampt

As we have mentioned before, The 2014 vintage for white Burgundy was stellar. The growing season was cool and, at times, wet. This was beneficial as the vines produced grapes with lively acidity. Warm weather took over in September, ripening the fruit leading up to the harvest. Up in Chablis, the Dampt family has enjoyed a solid reputation for producing wines of serious quality for very fair prices. Or as Allen Meadows of Burghound puts it, “They are screaming bargains.” Maison Dampt was started in 2008 by Daniel Dampt’s two sons, Sébastien and Vincent. Together with their father, they purchase grape must from three Grand Cru vineyards and bottle them using the Maison Dampt label. Aging these Grand Crus in older oak barrel gives the wines added dimension and texture. This 2014 Grand Cru Valmur is full of life. It’s big, dense, and powerful, with aromas of minerals and citrus. This willl need some time in the cellar, and should be best from 2020 – 2030.

2014 Pommard 1er Cru Les Charmots Domaine Gabriel Billard

Gabriel Billard was a 6th generation winemaker in Burgundy. He passed his domaine down to his two daughters, Laurence Jobard and Mireille Desmonet in 1989. You may recognize Laurence’s name as she had been head enologist at Domaine Joseph Drouhin for some 30 years. Laurence believes that great wine is made mostly in the vineyard, that good grapes from a good place will yield world-class wine with minimal intervention. The sisters now entrust Laurence’s daughter, Claudie Jobard to make their wine, and the family’s winemaking tradition continues. Their parcel in Les Charmots was planted in 1929 on the steep hillside. This 2014 Pommard is powerful and concentrated with complex aromas of wild berries, forest floor, earthy minerals, and a hint of spice. Again, the 2014 vintage for red Burgundy was a very good one with plenty of sunshine leading up to the harvest. Decant this wine should you open it before 2019, and it should drink well for at least a decade thereafter. – Peter Zavialoff

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Filed under A Taste of Burgundy, Burgundy, Burgundy club in San Francisco, Chablis, Chardonnay, Peter Zavialoff, Pinot Noir, Pommard

White Bordeaux For $10?


There are deals and then there are deals. As I mentioned the other day, there are great wines with their prices slashed all over the shop. In a way, almost too many; it’s our way of saying thanks to our customers! When there are so many choices, sometimes some of the best deals go unnoticed. Make that under-noticed, as evidenced by a visit from one of our long-time regular customers. This gent has been known to pick up a Dirty Dozen on a fairly regular basis, and he also peruses our bins mixing and matching an additional case or so. This past week, he went about his usual business, but with one exception. “Can you grab me a case of the 2014 Château Couronneau Blanc? I love that wine, and that’s just too good a deal to pass up,” he said. I agreed.

chateaucouronneaugate

My first experience with Château Couronneau’s white wine came in the spring of 2008. John and I were in Bordeaux for En Primeurs, and as the hectic week came to a close, we found ourselves in Sauternes and Fargues on a Friday morning. Sauternes for breakfast? If you know me, this is a rhetorical question. But what was for lunch? John seemed to know, so I just enjoyed the scenery. We blazed a trail through Entre Deux Mers, it was quite bucolic. I do remember that we made a stop in Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, which was cool, but I was getting hungry. We continued out past Sainte-Foy-la-Grande and arrived at Château Couronneau. It was then when I met Bénédicte and Christophe Piat for the first time. They welcomed us to their home, we tasted through their red wines and then, what’s this? Couronneau Blanc? I didn’t know that they made a white wine. I loved it. It came in particularly handy as the Piats served up a platter of assorted shellfish. It was the first warm, sunny day of the week, and the blanc fit the bill perfectly.

christopheetbenedicte2016
Christophe and Bénédicte at Couronneau, April 2016

As he did back then, Christophe continues to blend 50% Sauvignon Gris with 50% Sauvignon Blanc for his white wine. In the time since that first visit of mine, Piat has attained organic certification, and now also is certified biodynamic. His passion for improving his techniques in the vineyard and winery is plain for all to see – and taste! The quality of their entire line of wines has steadily risen every vintage since. This 2014 Bordeaux blanc is delightfully balanced; fresh citrus fruit, a hint of a floral component, and fresh herbs are present on the nose. The palate is medium in body, clean and fresh with that citrus fruit mingling with the flowers and herbs. The finish is all in balance and crisp. It’s modest $15.98 price tag is a solid bargain for the quality you get here. Lowering the price to $11.95, or $10 each per solid case, is bargain city, baby. Just saying.

couronneauvines

The holidays are upon us, that much is true. Things have become kind of crazy around here, good-crazy that is! We’re thrilled to help everyone pick out wines for every occasion that December brings. With the sale extended through the end of the year, it’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel. Though if you like a nice, easy-drinking white Bordeaux for a crazy unheard of price, I strongly suggest you try a bottle of the 2014 Couronneau Blanc. After all, there are deals, and there are deals.Peter Zavialoff

Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments about white Bordeaux, Bordeaux in general, our Anniversary Sale, or English Football: peter@wineSF.com

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Filed under 2014 Bordeaux, fish-fry wine, Peter Zavialoff, Sauvignon Gris, White Bordeaux

Making Wine On A Volcano – Cantine Russo

2015 Rampante Etna Bianco from Cantine Russo

The stable of Italian producers that TWH directly imports has increased by one: Cantine Russo. Cantine Russo sits on the northeast slope of Sicily’s Mount Etna, Europe’s most active volcano. The winery is family-run and can trace its winemaking roots back to 1860. It wasn’t until 1955 that Ciccio Russo began bottling wine to sell commercially. Ciccio’s son, Vincenzo is the current owner. Vincenzo runs the winery with his son, Francesco, who is the winemaker and his daughter, Gina, who handles the day-to-day operations.


In an article celebrating the women of Etna, Gina recalls running around her grandfather’s cellar with her brother. She describes her first harvest at about age 5 and claims to not have missed a single one in 40 years! This tight-knit bond the Russo family has to the land is common among natives of Etna. Having visited the area, I can understand the lure to stay in this harsh, yet painfully beautiful landscape. Over the last decade or so, more and more attention has been given to Sicilian wines particularly those from Mount Etna. It really is incredible to think about all the challenges and risks involved in growing grapes on an active volcano. It takes steadfast dedication.


Cantine Russo concentrates on indigenous varietals, like Carricante and Cataratto, which make up the blend for the 2015 Rampante Etna Bianco. Carricante makes up 80% of the blend and is thought to have grown in Sicily for at least a thousand years. Today it is fairly rare, only the 31st most planted grape variety on the island. It is noted for its acidity and citrusy flavors. Carricante is often blended with Cataratto, which is far more common, taking up nearly 60% of the island’s total vineyard area. Cataratto is low in acidity and therefore makes a nice blending partner with Carricante. The 2015 Rampante, though unoaked, is quite complex and above all is mineral-driven. The wine is golden-hued, the aromas are subtle and delicate…notes of flint and white pepper emerge slowly. If you like steely, nervy white wines, than the 2015 Rampante is right up your alley. I enjoyed a bottle over the course of three days. The wine stayed fresh and vibrant. I noticed different aspects with each glass. Though subtle, its definitely not a one-note kind of wine. I’d love to stow away a few bottles to see how it ages. My prediction is that is would do quite well in the near term.


I travelled to Sicily with my husband (who at the time was my boyfriend), his parents, sister and a cousin. It was a memorable trip with its ups and downs, and I long to go back. With each glass of the Rampante I imagined some of the dishes that stood out for me during that trip like the raw marinated shrimp or deep-fried baby whitebait. I can’t wait to try the 2015 Rampante with cracked Dungeness crab – now that should be quite a match!


I’ve been taking deep breaths lately. December is holding up to its promise of being a whirlwind month. My daughter, the thespian, is in six performances of Annie Jr. this weekend. Last night I signed up to volunteer in the dreaded “Room 5”. I’m not sure why no one signs up for this duty, which is to supervise the younger cast members. In this case, I was the “orphan wrangler.” Sure, the kids were super cute, boisterous and extremely talkative, but what touched me was the professionalism shown by these young actors. One orphan arrived late. By this time most of the costumes were spoken for. I helped her find something that would fit over her tiny body, pinning it were needed. She never complained that it wasn’t fair that somebody took her costume. No, nothing like that. Instead she reassured me that she was an orphan so didn’t need to wear anything special. Now that’s pretty special! – Anya Balistreri

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Filed under Anya Balistreri, Sicily