Wines of Veneto

I recently attended a wine dinner at 437 Rush where Wines of Veneto were highlighted.  Most of us hear Veneto and start thinking of waterways, carnivals and gondolas.  All of those are what the city of Venice (Venezia), located in the Veneto region, is famous for.  The Veneto, on the other hand, is known for its art, cheese, salumi and wine.  The region is a very important wine growing area, making the most DOC (regulated quality level) wine in Italy.  Here's some wines you may have heard of:

  • Prosecco.  This wine is made sparkling from the Glera grape varietal and is named after the town of Prosecco.  Normally made dry, light and crisp. 
  • Soave.  Made from the Garganega varietal around the comune of Soave, this wine can exhibit lemon, spice and nuttiness.
  • Valpolicella.  A wine made in the growing region which shares its name out of three local varietals: Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara.  Normally made light weight and exhibits sour cherry flavor.
  • Amarone.  A powerful wine grown in Valpolicella, it is mainly comprised of the Corvina varietal.  Mocha, chocolate and earthy tones are present in this rich wine.

There are also some very good wines which most have not heard of like Lison which is made from the Tocai Italico varietal, Lugana which is a light white wine made from Trebbiano, and Friularo Bagnoli, made from the Friularo varietal in Bagnoli, makes red wines with full body and tannins along with cherry flavor and floral aroma.  There is a lot to love about these wines as they can stand on their own, be enjoyed in all seasons, and go well with food, especially Venetian cuisine.  They vary in price from affordable to expensive and can be found in wine shops and on wine lists throughout the city.  If you get the chance, travel to this region, and if not, know that you can experience it in your own home!

Big thanks to 437 Rush, Wines of Veneto and their sommelier, Aurora Endrici, who gave an excellent presentation on the wines.  Buona fortuna!

Valdo Prosecco Lunch at Terzo Piano

This past Tuesday I was introduced to the newest sparkling wine producer to hit the Chicago market- Valdo Spumanti.  Their wines were set to be paired with the cuisine at Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano in the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  This would be an all out effort to not only prove the versatility of Prosecco but also the versatility it can bring.

A little bit about Prosecco- it's famous for being crisp, light and fruity, along with being a great value sparkling wine.  It's made from the Glera varietal (formerly known as the Prosecco varietal) in northeast Italy, mostly from the hills surrounding Treviso.  Valdo has been making wine for over 80 years, was purchased by the Bolla family in the 1940s and has dedicated itself to making high quality sparkling wine from hand picked grapes along with single vineyard bottlings, which is rare for Prosecco.  The wines were brought to us by Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, proprietor of Valdo, and were to be paired with three courses prepared by Chef Meg Colleran.  On to the tasting!

We were initially greeted with Valdo Prosecco Brut DOC ($12) and it proved to be just as flavorful as it was aromatic.  Sweet golden apple, white peach, meyer lemon and lilies were coming out of the glass- it'll be hard to keep this wine off my patio this summer!

It was time to start the pairings as we were poured Valdo Cuvée di Boj Prosecco Brut DOCG ($16).  A single vineyard wine from the vaile dei buoi, it is aged for 5 months sur lie and 3 months in the bottle.  This wine is much drier with a longer finish and ripe pear and apple flavor.  The crisp acidity matched well with our tomato salad with cherries, almonds and 8yr Balsalmic vinegar.

The next course would be a big challenge- a rich dish of roasted Miller's skin-onChicken Leg w/ Cous Cous chicken leg with fennel seed, cous cous and Nichols Farm snap peas.  We were poured Valdo Cuvée del Fondatore Prosecco Brut DOCG ($20), another single vineyard Prosecco aged 12 months sur lie, 6 months in the bottle and blended with 10% six month barrel aged Chardonnay to add richness.  The wine was extremely complex and lengthy with tropical fruit, toasted nuts, baking spice and dry, crisp acidity making it drinkable with many rich fish, poultry or meat dishes.

Ricotta FrittersThe last course we tried turned out to be the best thing I ate all day- Ricotta Fritters with sweet corn ice cream, raspberries and plums.  The fritters were crisp and warm on the outside with a slightly sweet cheesy center- just an amazing dessert!  The sweetness and the fruit paired well with Valdo Nerello-Mascalese Brut Rosé ($12), a blend of Prosecco with the dark Sicilian Nerello-Mascalese varietal.  Just red berry fruit and floral harmony with this extreme value of a rosé sparkling wine.

These Prosecco wines were very impressive all the way around- point taken! 

Special thanks to Dr. Pierluigi Bolla, Chef Meg Calleran, Lindsey Johnson of Lush Light Productions for the invite and Marene Babula of Pasternak Wine Imports for being an awesome host.

New Year's Eve Sparkling Bargains

So the New Year is just around the corner and you still haven't gotten around to picking that special beverage for your midnight toast.  Not a problem!  There are many very good, affordable choices out there to be had and sure not to disappoint.  Now you can always drop the plastic and pick up a bottle of Champagne, most of which cost over $30 per bottle.  But there's so many bottles of sparkling wine to grab that taste great and cost around $20 or less.  Let's get down to some of these choices:

There is always value to be found in Italy and for this occasion, grab the Prosecco.  It's a light, fresh sparkling wine made from a grape with the same name.  It typically has fairly intense primary flavors like pear, peach and apple.  I recommend Mionetto ($9.99) or Bisol ($12.99).

Cava has been a hot item, made in Spain from typically three different local varietals: Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  It's made in the traditional method, where fermentation takes place in bottle, giving it extra complexity as the wine ages on the lees.  My favorite producer is Gran Sarao ($8.99) as they add a touch of Chardonnay to the blend giving it more body.

Next stop we have Methode Cap Classique, or sparkling wines from South Africa fermented in the bottle.  Many of these are made with Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir use is growing.  Go for the Graham Beck Brut ($14.99), a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with nice weight and lemon custard pie flavor.

In central Europe, the Germans and Austrians also are involved in excellent sparkling wine production, known as sekt.  The Germans normally (90%) use imported juice to make their sparkling wines, while the Austrians use local varietals and the traditional method to make theirs.  I'm a big fan of Szigeti Austrian sparkling Gruner Veltliner ($18.99) for it's clean apple flavor and light pepper spice.

We are, of course, no slouches to making sparkling wines in the United States.  California has great producers like Domaine Chandon, Iron Horse, Schramsberg and Domaine CarnerosSoter and Argyle are some of the best from Oregon, while Domaine Ste. Michelle holds the reigns in Washington state.  Chandon's Riche ($14.99), Schramsberg Mirabelle ($21.99) and Ste. Michelle's Blanc de Blanc ($7.99) provide a good range of weight, fruit, and style at inexpensive pricing.  I also really like Gruet Rose ($13.99) from New Mexico, as it provides a sparkling wine with excellent red fruit taste.

Now before we bypass France altogether, it's important to remember that there are alot more sparkling wines than just those that come from the Champagne region, mostly known as Cremant.  Examples can be seen all over the country, but I highly recommend one from Alsace by Gustave Lorentz ($14.99) made mostly of Pinot Blanc.  It has excellent citrus and apple with bright floral aromatics.

Whatever you choose, I'm sure that you will enjoy your New Year.  But just remember: be responsible and ask the Windy City Wine Guy for any further recommendations you may need.

(image courtesy of flickr)