Killer Nerello from the “highest” vines and fried oysters


Above: At $10 a glass (!), this 2008 blend of Nerello Mascaelese and Nerello Capuccio from “2,100-2,900 feet above sea level” (!) BLEW ME AWAY. The pairing with fried gulf oysters was a great example of how the right red wine, not to heavy in body, can be ideal for seafood.

It’s been just over a year now since I moved to Austin and there are still a few culinary destinations that I haven’t made it to yet. Last night finally found me at appetizers and a glass of wine at Jeffrey’s in Austin. It’s one of the more elegant rooms here, well laid out architectonically for intimate dining (despite a couple who had brought their crying newborn and a table of five older ladies who complained vociferously — more loudly, in fact — about the child’s lachrymatory suspiration).

I’ll have to take Tracie B back for a proper dinner soon: I liked the wine list and was surprised by some interesting choices but I was BLOWN AWAY by a wine I’d never had before, the 2008 Etna Rosso by Tenuta delle Terre Nere — at $10, yes $10! by the glass (“BTG” in restaurantspeak).


Above: Tenuta delle Terre Nere doesn’t have a website but I used to find the address and then Google-mapped it and switched to “satellite” view. That’s the peak of Mt. Aetna in the center. I love how you can see the black soil (the “terre nere”) from space!

I wasn’t expecting to like this wine but was curious about it. I’d heard a lot of people talk about it since I moved to Texas but was nonetheless skeptical: it’s owned by a famous importer of Italian wines, who tends to favor modern-style wines (historically and commercially) and I’ve often been disappointed by wines created by importers for the American market. But a little research this morning revealed that Tenuta delle Terre Nere sells its wines actively and aggressively in Italy. In other words, it’s not just a winery created for a foreign market and has a true connection to the place where it is made.


Above: There is tartare and then there is tartare. The fried potato puffs were a little soggy unfortunately but the tartare was delicious and paired magnificently with the Nerello.

According to the importer’s website, grapes for this wine are grown “at extremely high altitudes, ranging from 2100-2900 feet above sea level” and the winery owns the “highest-altitude red-grape vineyards in Europe” (although that fruit doesn’t go into this wine).

This wine was all black earth and dusty minerality (like putting lava in your mouth) yet fresh and bright, with a seductive aromatic profile that made me think of dried figs. (I apologize for the “precious” tasting notes but this wine really turned me on.)

I loved it. I loved the price, I loved the body, aroma, and flavor. I loved the food-friendliness of it. I even loved the label (honest, clean, elegant, true to the style and origin of the contents). The only thing I don’t like about it is how so many wine writers compare it to Burgundy and to Pinot Noir (to my palate, Nerello and Pinot Noir have little in common, other than the fact that they can produce light-colored tannic wines). When they do that, they only reveal their ignorance: this wine is one of those truly terroir-driven wines, a wine that could only be made in the volcanic subsoils of Mt. Aetna, from Nerello grown in the “highest” vineyards in the world…

Run don’t walk…

Some best bubbles and life beyond Prosecco…

Above: I took this photo earlier this year atop Cartizze, the most prestigious growing site for Prosecco, where the cost of land per acre is higher than in Napa Valley. In 1998, Tom Stevenson wrote that Prosecco is “probably the most overrated sparkling wine grape in the world” (The Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, reprint 2003).

Xenophobe and racist Italian agriculture minister Luca Zaia has infamously and nationalistically asked Italians to drink only Italian sparkling wine for their New Year’s celebration this year. His campanilistic call comes in part as the result of a backlash from last year’s nationalized television controversy when the announcers of RAI Uno opened Champagne during a televised New Year’s eve event.

Of course, Zaia is also infamous for the favoritism he’s shown for his beloved Prosecco this year. He even created the Prosecco DOCG, placing the humble Prosecco grape in the pantheon of the top classification, before Common Market Organisation reforms took effect this year.

Above: Italy produces such a wonderful variety of sparkling wines, from the humble yet beloved Prosecco to the often regal, zero-dosage Franciacorta. Franco and I tasted an amazing array of sparkling wines last year together at Ca’ del Bosco.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE Prosecco. And I love the place where it produced and the people who produce it. Just ask Alfonso: he remembers well how I guided us to Valdobbiadene from Trento earlier this year, without ever looking at a map, my Trevisan cadence getting stronger and stronger as my beloved Piave river and its tributaries came into earshot. You see, many years ago, I made my living traveling along the Piave river, from Padua to Belluno, playing American music for pub crawlers.

Above: One of the best champagne-method wines I’ve tasted in recent memory was this Franciacorta rosé by Camossi. Structure, toasty notes and fresh fruit flavors, bright acidity and fine bubbles, an excellent pairing for all the lake fish, smoked, pickled, and roasted, that Franco, Giovanni, Ben, and I ate one fateful night in Erbusco.

But there are so many wonderful sparkling Italian wines beyond Prosecco (Sommariva and Coste Piane are my two favorite expressions of Prosecco available right now in this country). Franciacorta is the first obvious destination but there are so many other producers of fine sparkling white wines made from indigenous and international grape varieties: champagne-method Erbaluce from Carema in Piedmont (Orsolani), Charmat-method Favorita from Mango in Piedmont (Tintero), champagne-method Pinot Noir from Emilia (Lini), Charmat-method Moscato known as Moscadello di Montalcino from Tuscany (Il Poggione), a rosé blend of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir from Langa in Piedmont (Deltetto)… Those are the first that come to mind but there are many, many others. Sparkling wines are produced in nearly every region of Italy, from the sparkling Chardonnay and Pinot Noir of Trentino and South Tyrol to sparkling Ribolla of Friuli and the sparkling Verdicchio of the Marches. Once, I even tasted a sparkling Nerello Mascalese from Sicily that had been vinified as a white wine (but I can’t recall the producer… please let me know if you know one).

Above: Hand-riddled magnums of Chardonnay for Ca’ del Bosco’s Franciacorta.

Why do we feel obliged to drink something sparkling on New Year’s eve, anyway? I’m sure the answer lies somewhere between the royal court of Britain, the Czars, Napoleon’s vinous invasion of Russia, and some enterprising Germans who set up shop in Champagne in the 19th century.

Tracie B and I still haven’t decided what we’re going to open on New Year’s but I’m sure it’ll be something good.

On deck for tomorrow…

Best Champagne and other French sparkling values by guest blogger BrooklynGuy.

And in the meantime, please check out Tom’s post today on “classy sparkling wines.”