Wine Party — Wines of Sicily

Here’s a party format built around the theme of wines served at a wine tasting that featured wines from Sicily.

We bought the wines featured at the wine tasting – and invited some friends to bring a dish to pair with one of the wines.

Sicily is Italy’s hottest and driest region. It is almost as far south as Tunisia. They have intense heat — don’t get rain after February … and have lots of wind … and cooling sea breezes.

Wonder how these extreme weather conditions affect the taste of the wine?

Sicilian white wine — make from the Cataratto grape (grown exclusively in Sciliy) is characterized as full bodied with spice.

Scilian red wine — based on the Nero d’Avola grape is used extensively in blends (such as Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah).

Wine 1 — We started with a Prosecco — Italian Sparking White Wine – and some appetizers — to welcome everyone.

Wine 2 — 2009 Rina Ianca — Grape: Grillo, Viognier Blend $17US — was paired with an eggplant dish.

Wine 3 — 2009 Purato Nero — Grape: Nero d’Avola $12US — was paired with a spinach quiche. Nero is the popular Sicilian grape.

Wine 4 — 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria — Grape: Nero d’Avola/Frappato $17US was paired with a sausage ragu over pasta. This is Nero blended with Frappato.

Wine 5 — 2009 Nivuro — Grape: Nero D’Avola/Cabernet $20US was paired with a Chicken Marsala. This is Nero paired with Cabernet Sauvignon.

We announced each wine separately, and let the chef of the paired dish describe his/her creation. Then we tasted the wine and food together. (Note: Don’t serve all the wine and food at one time — rather take the time to taste each one wine with its paired dish separately.)

The progression of the wines was very interesting — because you can really focus on the taste of each wine as you progressed through the sequence. (By using the sequence of wines from the wine tasting, we are drawing from the expertise of the winemaker who put the tasting together.)

Dessert was a wonderful cheesecake …

This party format really works. People are happy to bring their own favorite dishes and get compliments; as the host, you provide the wines and organize the flow of wines and food pairings; and, everyone enjoys themselves.

With just a little organization, you can have wine party where you explore wines of different regions. So don’t just stick with your favorites or “same old” choices — try some new wines!

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Hosting a “Blind” Tasting Around Price Points

 “Blind” tastings are a great way to focus on the taste and compare wines, since you are not aware of the price or vintage until after you have tasted. The real fun is when the wine label and price are revealed and you see whether you preferred the more or less expensive wine.

We have conducted many types of blind tastings; however, we find people love comparing wines with very different prices. We sniff out the values wines and often people end up preferring them to the pricier wines. Now they have discovered a wine they enjoy, that their friends will most likely enjoy, and it is affordable. What could be better!

If you are buying wines for the tasting, it is always a good idea to ask a local wine merchant for some recommendations. Ask your wine merchant to recommend two whites and two reds – one that is extremely “good value” (low price while still being very drinkable) and the other that is more expensive and perhaps a big name. That makes the blind tasting a comparison of similar wines with different price points.

 The wine merchant often has the inside scoop. For example, one time we asked the wine expert in one of our favorite stores for advice. He knew that a California winery had made too much of a certain sauvignon blanc and was selling it under a new label for a significant discount. That was our white value wine!

 It was the winner at the tasting and when we revealed the price and “the story” behind it, people were excited to stock up for themselves. The secret was out and fortunately, there was plenty of this wine to go around.

 We like to pit two wines against each other. Typically, we choose wines that are similar, meaning of the same grape varietal and from the same region. One costs under $10. The other is at the high end of our price range – around $20 and occasionally we will go higher. If we go higher than $30, the people we invite probably will never buy it, so why bother. We are trying to taste wines people will love and buy.

 For the wines to be tasted “blind”, you’ll need some plain paper bags (put the wine bottles in the bags in so that the wine label and price are concealed) and mark each bag to indentify the wine – White 1 and White 2; and Red 1 and Red 2. Then, people can vote whether they prefer White 1 or 2, and Red 1 or red 2.

 After tasting, ask your guests to mark their preference on a piece of paper and stick it in a container, like a little basket. Then, tally the votes and find out which wines were preferred.

 You don’t have to do it this way. You can arrange the tasting any way you want. You could blind taste six whites against each other or six reds against each other, for example.  We mix it up all the time. We even have a friend who makes his own wine and he loves to pit it against the competition to see how it does. So if he shows up with a wine to test, we brown bag it and enter it in the tasting.

 You can blind taste any wine against another. Really, you are only limited by your imagination. If you want to pit an Italian Chardonnay against a California Chardonnay, why not? You can do old world wine versus new world wine, country against country, year against other years produced (called a vertical tasting meaning the same wine compared across several vintages), light-bodied versus full-bodied, decanted versus non-decanted.

Depending on how well you know the people who are tasting, and how knowledgeable they are about wine, you can structure the blind tasting to provide some wine education – but not too much education. Our friends come to our parties primarily to have fun. They are not likely to be able to tell what vintage a wine is or whether a wine is light or full-bodied. But, they like a challenge and learning new things in a non-threatening environment. Any kind of tasting will be successful as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.

 What’ s important is to have fun and figure out what wine tastes best to you irrespective of the price or the brand name.

 Try many different types of blind tastings and be sure to do some around price points. So many times, after we reveal that the less expensive wine has gotten the most votes, people start cheering. Oh, the sweet taste of victory!

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Trader Joe’s is King of Value Wine

I wish I had a Trader Joe’s closer to my house. I have to travel about 4o minutes to get there, so I try to stock up on wine when I get there.

They have the best value wines that I have found around here. Where else can you get a Sancere for $12.99? It may not be the best Sancerre in the world, but it is darn good for the dollar.

It is easy to find something really good for around $10. You can also find higher end wines like Veuve Clicquot champagne for around $35. I also like to pick up wines there that go for under $5. I have not found one I enjoy drinking yet, but they are wonderful to use in stews and marinades.

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Major Wine Winner from Trader Joe’s

First of all, I prefer whites over reds. But, I just drank a wonderful red and it only cost $9. I looked it up on the Net so I can tell you what all those words on the label mean.

It is a Clos Des Chatains (Designation), Vieilles Vignes (Old Vines), Saumur-Champigny (Appellation), Domaine de Nerleux (Producer), Regis Neau (Vineyard). (Those French wine people don’t make it easy!) It’s a 2005 Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley. It is imported by Robert Chadderdon Selections, NY, NY. It comes in a very fancy bottle with a crest and crown carved right into the glass bottle. All for $9.

And I love, love, loved it! It is what Winedog 1 and I like to call a Wowie (delicious and inexpensive)! And here is a photo of another Wowie.

A fine winedog relaxing on a Friday night!

This is why I probably loved it SO much. First of all, it is from the Loire Valley and I seem to be partial to wines from that region (especially Sancerre!) According to the web site, the oldest wines at this vineyard were planted in 1933 and the terroir is largely limestone. I think I have an affinity for old vines and limestone.

Also, I drank it with some lamb that I had marinated in red wine and rice with root vegetables.  A fairly simple dinner – but sometimes the right pairing elevates the whole experience.

I couldn’t find any reviews for this vintage, but reviews for all aother vintages are very favorable, especially the 2008 and 2009 which are priced in the $20-30 range.

I am going to try to get some more at Trader Joe’s and try decanting it to see if it gets even better.

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Ribolla Gialla Volpe Pasini – Wine 3

Finished up my third Italian wine from Panzano’s in Southboro, MA. It is Ribolla Gialla Volpe Pasini, a white wine from Friuli for $19. Another Delle Venezie. Imported by Woodyn Wines, Worcester, MA.

It is made from the Ribolla native grape known for its natural acidity and fresh aroma. I am trying to taste more of the native and unusual grapes from Italy. Pinot Grigio is great, but one can only drink so much of it without yearning for some adventure.

My evaluation. Very nice, very light and dry. I could drink it often as I love dry whites. Those who like the big full reds would probably find it wimpy.  At $19 a bottle, I would not race over to buy more.

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Venezia Giulia Bianco Degli Arzillari 2007 – Wine 2

I decided to try my second Panzano Italian wine with Winedog 1 at one of our typical Friday night Tiki dinners. The Bianco Degli Arzillari wine for $15 is imported by Adonna Imports LLC, Waltham, MA. We have started looking at the importers of the wines we taste to see if that will help us pick winner wines. (Winner wines to us are delicious and under $20 and even better if under or around $10.)

When I arrived at her home, Winedog 1 had already opened a Lugana Ca Lojera, 2009, from Sirmione, Italy for $17. It is imported by Vineyard Research, Lunenburg, MA. Since her bottle was already opened we decided to compare them side by side.

They were both delicious but the Degli Arzillari tasted a little bit lighter, younger though it’s not and had a little fizziness that wasn’t unpleasant but not impressive. The Lugana had a fuller body and more rounded, complex taste.  We preferred it and for only $2 more, would be more likely to buy it again.

Winedog 1 picked up the Lugana Ca Lojera at the delightful Harvard General Store in Harvard, MA. I have gone to a few tasting there and love the place and the owner. We’ll have to blog about it eventually.

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Wine Travels – Chile

While traveling in Chile, we visited some wineries near Santa Cruz. Highly recommended!

Casa Silva

Looks like an old style vineyard. Lots of wood, big-barn interior. Old wood tanks have been preserved and lined with stainless steel. Metal straps from old barrels have been reused as chandeliers and other forms of metal decoration. Big open interior space with lots of dark wood and tile. Looks like something out of a Zorro flick. Known for Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon.


Super modern facility, heavily influenced by Asian theme and Feng Shui. Grapes are sorted on the roof and then processed through the interior of the facility using gravity (to avoid pumping the wine). Beautiful rooms overlook calm pools of water and acres of grapes climbing the hillside. Wine is aged in a large room with barrels arranged in tiers in a semi circle – and music –Gregorian Chants – is played to soothe the wines. Known for Montes Alpha Cab and Folly Sarah.

Viu Manent

We were treated to a horse drawn wagon ride through the vineyard. 15% “secret” content in some wines. Known for Malbec and “erotic” Merlot.

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