Frapatto part two … the ultimate summertime red

Jason introduced Frappato in a posting last week, but I want to expand on the story (it’s a good one!)…

I visited Sicily ten years ago, and was the fortunate guest of a winemaking family on the Western side of the island, in a former tuna fishing town called Trapani. The warmth and passion of these people made an indelible impression and it remains one of the most exotic and romantic places I have been in my wine travels. I have been so in love with Sicily that I couldn’t possibly say no when my friend and Italian wine agent, Colleen McKettrick asked me to meet her friend and wine producer, Gaetana Jacono of Valle dell’Acate. Gaetana reinforced everything that I had always associated with Sicily; she was exotic and beautiful, had a devotion to family, a passion for her home, history, and traditions, celebrates life with food and wine, her business relationships are usually woven into personal ones, life is embraced everyday.  A wine selector would rarely admit this but, I was charmed by Gaetana even before I had even tasted her wines.

The first time I tasted the wines of Valle dell’Acate was many years ago, not long after Gaetana had left her profession as a pharmacologist, to return home and take over the family business from her father.  She was showing off her first vintage of Tané ( I think it was the 2001). It was a wine she inspired and the label carried her own nickname, Tané, which was short for Gaetana.  It was very dark colored, with lavender and blackberry scents, thick, sappy and powerful on the palate.  It was the indicator of what was to come at Valle dell’Acate under her guidance.

Fast forward to the present, I am the import director at World Class Wines, and we are once again re-acquainted by our mutual friend Colleen McKettrick. This time, Gaetana has made her influence with much broader brush strokes at Valle dell’Acate.  The wines are vibrant, fruity and modern and yet traditional in their varieties and blends. In particular, the Frappato is so much fun to drink; light, fragrantly fruity and spicy, succulent and juicy on the palate with very light tannins.  My first thought was “Why would anyone buy a less-expensive wanna-be Pinot Noir when they could buy this!”  It has the palate weight, fruit and spice they are seeking and the food compatibility factor is very high.  Now, I am NOT saying this IS Pinot Noir, but one might drink it for the same effect! You have red fruits instead of black, a lighter palate impression, you can chill it, it’s a traditional choice for fish (drunk locally with blue fin tuna), less tannin, and so forth.  They say timing is everything. Thanks to the recent Pinot Noir craze and the new lighter red wine profile evolving, consumers just may “get” the appeal of this wine.  Ten years ago, we would have sold this wine to only a select few.

So what is Frappato?

It is a variety that has been in Sicily for centuries but has unknown origins.  It is genetically similar to Gagliopo which is grown in Calabria.  It is a part of the blend for Sicily’s only DOCG : Cerasuolo di Vittoria, located near Ragusa in the southeastern part of Sicily.The vines experience warm days, cooler nights and also a very hot, dry wind that sweeps across from Africa known as the Sirroco. The soil is primarily composed of calcium rich sandstone and clay. The wine produced from Frappato is generally lighter with red fruit notes and spicy undertones.

Valle dell’Acate is located in the town of Acate near Ragusa.  The estate is known as CASE BIDINI (Case is dialect for “house”)  Gaetana is the 6th generation of the Jacono family to make wine at this estate.  The family produces the following wines: the celebrated Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG; the IGTs Moro, Frappato, Insolia, and Bidis, and the most recent, Tané, made by selecting the best bunches of Nero d’Avola and Syrah.

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Memories of accalimed Veneto producer Sergio Zenato

We’ve lost one of the greats.  Sergio Zenato passed away July 11th after a long battle with leukemia (age 73).

I spent a fantastic afternoon at a luncheon with him, on the banks of Lago di Garda, in May of 2003.  Wild white hair, hands flying in every direction, and not a lick of English coming from him.  The server handed me a menu, which he grabbed out of my hands while he proceeded to order the entire meal.  He knew the chef well, and indicated that he wanted me to have a ‘true Veneto experience’.  It was one of the best meals of my life.

The fire and the passion this man had for his wine, his region, and his family was second to none. I had never been in the presence of such a wine personality.  Truly unforgettable.

The next bottle of Zenato Pinot Grigio, Lugana, Valpolicella, Ripassa, or Amarone you pop, be sure to raise a glass to this icon.

You say tomato, I say Frappato!

Photo by Flickr user Giampaolo

Photo of a Sicilian sunset by Flickr user Giampaolo

In the constant quest to find the ultimate summertime red, Annette has out done herself and brought in a fantastic Frappato.  More on the specific producer and the story of how she found the wine later.  For now, let’s concentrate on this grape, and even more importantly Sicily as a place.

Sicily, like any traditional European wine region, can trace its vinous history back to the Romans, and in the case of Sicily, the Greeks.  That’s a 2000+ year head start on California!  Anyway, like Burgundy, Chianti, Piedmonte, etc., Sicily developed their local varietals that paired well with the local circumstance and cuisine.  (Ed Behr of the Art of Eating — you HAVE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS MAGAZINE —  did a fantastic issue about Sicily a number of years ago and mentioned “Outside of Tokyo, this is one of the only places on earth to sit down to a fifteen course meal in which every plate is seafood.”)  The local cuisine is fish, and the local circumstance is intense summertime heat.  Thus, the local grapes go best with anything Sicilian, including a 95 degree summertime afternoon.  No surprise there.

Fast forward to the mid 1990’s and big wine companies noticed that on the island there are enough micro-climates to grow just about ANYTHING.  A land rush began, and has resulted in bigger, newer, internationally styled wines from large multi-national corporations.  At many wine shops in Minnesota, even in the small towns on the prairie, you can now find Sicilian Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet.  There is even a Pinot Noir out there.

Poor Frappato.  Pushed to the side by the Cabernet bully.  Intimidated by the Chardonnay.  Poor Frappato.

And that, friends, is why you should seek it out.  It’s an individualistic statement.  It’s perfect for summertime.  Less and less of it is planted.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, goes better with grilled burgers or ribs than Frappato.

Here are a couple of great articles on this grape, and another post in the future will talk about this latest producer (Valle dell’Acate).

David Rosengarten on the ‘mob mentality’ of the Sicilian wine business.

Chowhound post on ‘What is Frappato.’

An introduction to Umami, and how it pertains to wine

Want to out geek the wine geeks in the room? Start tossing around your ability to sense the umami in a wine. Introduced to me first by Terry Theise, who describes it as “the taste of yourself tasting”, umami has a legitimate role in the world of wine tasting, and definitely in the food world.

As said in a Wall Street Journal piece in 2007: “Chefs including Jean-Georges Vongerichten are offering what they call “umami bombs,” dishes that pile on ingredients naturally rich in umami for an explosive taste.”

So what is it?  It’s a Japanese word basically meaning savory, and it’s quite common in the likes of roasted tomatoes, seaweed, mushrooms, great aged cheeses, and anchovies.  Once you’re attuned to taking notice of it, it’s amazing how often it comes up in a wine.

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say this: the ‘new European red taste profile’ that Annette Peters has been talking about so much is based in the savory finish of many of those wines.  The new wines from Peuch Ariol, as well as new Sicilian selection forthcoming all contain this base of lasting flavor.

For more information on this fascinating subject, read this Wikipedia entry, take a look at this CBS News story, or this Wall Street Journal article.

Lastly, here’s a great article by Randy Capsaro writing for The Wine Lover’s Page on ‘Deconstructing Umami’.

New arrival: Eric Louis Sancerre

Photo by Flickr user Avlxyz

Photo by Flickr user Avlxyz

Paris brasseries and bistros pour thousands of glasses of Sancerre each year along with their “plateau de fruits de mers”. After all, what could be better with briny fresh oysters, cockles, crab claws, snails and shrimps? No doubt, this is why for the millions of tourists who have endured the brisk service of a La Coupole waiter, there really is no better choice for seafood than a nicely chilled bottle of SANCERRE. Its also easy to pronounce for linguistically challenged Americans. No wonder it’s most likely the most known of all Loire wines.

There are now 2,800ha (hectares) of vines planted here, meaning Sancerre accounts for more than half the central Loire region’s total of 5,000 ha. While the vast majority is Sauvignon Blanc, about 25% is Pinot Noir. In fact before phylloxera devastated these vineyards at the end of the 19th century, red varieties dominated – principally Pinot Noir and Gamay, and until appellation contrôlée was introduced, some of these grapes went north to be used for making Champagne. It was only after phylloxera that Sauvignon Blanc took over.

The Louis Family has been making Sancerre for over 200 years. The name of the estate is Celliers de Pauline after Eric’s grandmother. The estate operates as a “lutte-raisonée” producer, or reasonable methods, meaning they use as little non-organic intervention as possible. Fertilizers and insecticides are not used. Leaving the vineyards natural, or “grassing over” is practiced.

Mainly planted on chalky stony soils, Sancerre is 100% Sauvignon, dry, fruity, with juniper–like notes, concentrated, full-bodied in mouth. To optimize fruit flavors, yields are reduced then after the  harvest, the wine is matured on its lees until February. Several successive tastings determine the best time for the bottling. There is no oak used to make this wine.

Located near Thauvenay, one of the 15 of Sancerre AOC. This is one of the greater plateaus in Sancerre. The soils here are almost exclusively silex. Wines are friendlier here, more fruity and mineral here. More powerful, austere wines come from the Western side of Sancarre where most of the white chalky soils are.

This Sancerre is classical in its high toned gooseberry-juniper fruit aromas, mineral sea-salt tanginess, and plump palate roundness. A less austere style, more gin-cocktail style of Sancerre. Perfect for shellfish, delicate fish, like the river pike of the region, and of course, the famous goat cheese of the region “Crotin de Chavignol” or horse turd of Chavignol” name for its small round shape. If you are in the area and having a goat cheese emergency, no worries! There is a Crotin vending machine in the center of Chavignol offering 4 different ages of the cheese!

Dramatic evidence of the dollar vs. the euro

Photo by Flickr user AstroGuy

Photo by Flickr user AstroGuy

I just came across this article from Reuters about trying to exchange American dollars in Amsterdam.  Keep this in mind if you are traveling to Europe at all this summer … there is a huge amount of uncertainty regarding the American currency and the days of easy dollar to euro in-person exchanges may be gone.

What I will normally do myself is hit the cash machine as soon as I land in Europe (withdrawing cash with a checkcard will often give you the best rate).  Don’t rely anymore on carrying dollars and exchanging as you go.

How does this relate to the wine business?  When we contract with European wineries to purchase products more often than ever the wineries are insisting in payment in Euros, not dollars.  In other words, the ‘grey zone’ or ‘wiggle room’ of price fluctuations is gone and, like commodities or stocks, the price of a given wine can change overnight vis-a-vis the ever fluctuating exchange rate.  So if you see your favorite $6.99 wine step to $7.29, then to $7.89, then to $8.29, that’s why.  In years past it would have been a ‘correction’ directly from $7 to $9.  Nowadays it’s smaller steps to the same result.

A great website to keep an eye on the exchange rate can be found here. I highly reccomend you bookmark this site and revisit often.

Stephen Henschke talks about Biodynamics

It’s always impressive to hear somebody who works a particular spot of land, on a day to day basis – year round for decades, talk about farming practices. These are people who know their property in a very intimate way, and can convey the benefits they see from their work.

Stephen Henschke needs no introduction. He’s simply one of the top winemakers in the world, and I was privileged to visit him this last spring. Here’s a video of him discussing farming practices and the application of biodynamics on the Hill of Grace Vineyard.