Two Great Italian Wines for November 2013
Wine for November - less than $20
Donnafugata, “ Anthilia” Sicilia Bianco 2011 (about $15)
This medium to full-bodied, piquant white wine from the acclaimed Donnafugata estate in south-western Sicily exhibits excellent regional character evocative of its Mediterranean patrimony. This wine is made with the indigenous Catarratto grape with the addition of a few other local white varieties.
Catarratto is an ancient vine that is Sicily’s most widely planted variety (Nero d’Avola is the second most widely planted and the top red variety). Because it is extensively grown and produced by a large number of wineries, the quality of Catarratto-based wines can be uneven. But the variety is capable of producing engaging wines and in the hands of dedicated producers can result in wines that are crisp and refreshing with intriguing citrus flavors.
The Donnafugata winery, owned and managed by the Rallo family, is one such winery. The family’s wine-making history stretches back generations to their historic headquarters in Marsala in western Sicily. But it wasn’t until they established the Donnafugata winery in 1983 with the acquisition of the Contessa Entellina vineyards in rolling hills of central-western Sicily that they diversified from producing Marsala exclusively to producing a variety of white and red wines.
The acquisition of the Contessa Entellina estate also came with a story. It was to what is now the estate’s vineyard that Queen Maria Carolina fled after beating a hasty retreat from Naples in advance of Napoleon’s army in 1798. To commemorate this historic event the estate was named “Donnafugata”, which loosely translates as “fleeing woman” in the local dialect, and the label on every bottle of Donnafugata wine bears the image of a woman in flight, her hair tossed by the wind.
Anthilia was the first wine produced by Donnafugata and remains a sentimental favorite of the estate. The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks and spends a few months in the bottle prior to release for sale.
It is marked with pear, green apple and zippy lemon zest flavors. It is crisp and lively with good acidity yet complex and structured with good mouthfeel and a long, satisfying finish.
This is not a meditation wine. This crisp and lively wine is meant to be shared with friends at informal social gatherings. But you can also serve it proudly at the dinner table. It pairs well with light first courses, especially if they involve any kind of fish or shellfish. Try it with shrimp flavored with lemon, mussels au gratin, spaghetti with zucchini and ricotta sauce or risotto done most any way such as risotto with shrimp and zucchini or a fall-flavored risotto with pumpkin.
Giacomo Bologna Braida, “Bricco dell'Uccellone” Barbera d'Asti DOCG 2009 (about $60)
You can’t go wrong with this Barbera from one of the Piedmont’s most storied estates. Generally regarded as one of Italy’s best Barbera wines, the single-vineyard, barrique-aged Barbera d’Asti from the Braida estate has exhibited a consistently high quality every year since first introduced in 1982 - and the 2009 is no exception.
Barbera is an interesting variety. It has deep color and high acidity but almost no tannin. It tends to produce wines that are dark in color with fruity flavors but are more crisp and refreshing than most red wines. Well-made, barrique-aged versions will generally produce richer and more firmly-structured wines with warm, spicy fruit flavors.
Barbera wines are very food friendly. The combination of high acidity and low tannins means they can accompany a wide range of dishes - appetizers, beef and other meat entrees, grilled and baked seafood, rich stews and aged cheeses. Its high acidity and spicy vibrancy also provide a good match for tomato-based pasta and pizza dishes.
The Bricco dell’Uccellone (breek oh del oot che loh’ nay) Barbara d’Asti from the Braida estate consists entirely of Barbera harvested exclusively from a single hillside vineyard with good southern exposure near the town of Asti. The grapes are harvested by hand and vinified in steel tanks with a second fermentation in oak barrels. The wine is aged in new, small oak barrels (barriques) for 16 months and then bottled where it spends an additional 12 months resting prior to release for sale.
The 2009 Bricco dell’Uccellone is rich and lush with warm spicy fruit aromas and flavors. It is dense and full-bodied with lively acidity and modest tannins. While it is ready to drink now, it will age gracefully for another 6 to 8 years.
The 2010 version has also been released for sale and is widely available. Although both 2009 and 2010 were excellent vintages in the Piedmont region the 2009 is preferable simply because it has an additional year of bottle ageing. But you can’t go wrong with either vintage.
November 8, 2013
To view other wine of the month selections, see Monthly Wine Reviews