Friday, November 19, 2010

2010 Beaujolais Nouveau wines arrive in U.S. in Cirque style

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1. Franck Duboeuf, co-proprietor of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, enjoys the first glass of Beaujolais Nouveau to be poured on U.S. shores

2. A performer at the District 36 Nouveau Cirque celebration

3. An exotic dancer celebrates the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau

4. Actress Molly Sims, Franck Duboeuf and Peter Deutsch, CEO of W. J. Deutsch & Sons, exclusive U.S. importer for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, uncork the first bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau

New York—A dazzling display of aerial acrobatics, sensuous dancing, jugglers, and exotic dancers heralded the release of Georges Duboeuf 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau wine. It was held at Manhattan’s new District 36 nightclub, a chic backdrop for this stellar event.

Franck Duboeuf, co-proprietor of Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, along with actress Molly Sims of TV’s Naughty But Nice with Rob Shuter and Venus & Vegas were on hand for the official nationwide uncorking of this festival of red wine.

Peter Deutsch, CEO of W.J. Deutsch & Sons, the exclusive U.S. importer for Les Vins Georges Duboeuf, presided over the event, noting that the New York event was the inaugural celebration of Nouveau Cirque parties across the nation, with circus themed parties in every major city over the next 36 hours, including Chicago, Boston, Savannah and San Diego.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a red wine made from Gamay grapes produced in the Beaujolais region of France. It is fermented for just a few weeks then officially released for sale on the third Thursday of November. The quality of the wine is said to be an indicator of what the vintage wines will be like in the future. Each year, it is greeted with great celebration around the world, with release parties, parades and other festivities. This year’s release party at New York’s District 36 was the official kickoff for the United States celebration of the new release.

“The whole idea is that this wine is drinkable and its about fun,” Franck Duboeuf told me while sipping a glass of his creation. “I’ve been tending to this wine in the fields and shepherding it through to completion. And to think that just a few weeks ago, it was sitting in my cellar! It’s a real treat to finally celebrate it here and hope that everyone will do as I’m doing, and just have fun!”

This is the best year ever for Beaujolais Nouveau. The wine has terrific floral aromas and an explosive flavor that is rich with lush, ripe fruit. Celebrity chef Marc Murphy, a judge on Food Network’s “Chopped” and owner of Landmarc restaurants and Benchmark Events, two nationally recognized entities with presences in Chicago, prepared a sumptuous luncheon. Passed Canapés included Gypsy’s goat cheese profiteroles, Pigs in pretzels on parade and a smokin’ Jumping salmon tartar with pink peppercorns oil & chives. Two hors d’oeuvres I missed were Vietnamese chicken wing lollipops and the Big top crab cakes with fiery aioli. George Duboeuf Puilly-Fuisse Flower Label 2009 ($20.93) was the introductory offering. It’s a pity that this was served along with the passed hors d’oeuvres. It really deserved a lot more attention. This is a truly quality Puilly-Fuisse that I would stand next to anyone charging twice the price. I especially enjoyed it with the goat cheese and thought the salmon tartar pairing was a stroke of genius!

The first course was Tiger Shrimp on a Barrel of tomato fondue, avocado puree & confetti. It was accompanied by George Duboeuf- Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau 2010 ($10). This is a superb wine for the price. It has nice hints of strawberry and cedar on the nose with lively flavors of cherry jam and a little nutmeg on the palate. I was thinking about my holiday duck with chestnut and fresh cranberry stuffing as I was tasting this one and am planning to buy a case from my favorite purveyor, Sherry -Lehmann, whose representatives were present at the event. (They ship!)

The rest of the wines showed in stellar fashion. George Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes 2009 ($15.99) showed perfect balance with a sumptuous bouquet of black currant, plum and violets. My entrée selection was the Ringleader’s Braised Short Ribs with carrots & whipped potatoes. This is a classic fall dish with rich flavor, almost like a beef bourguignon. Slow cooked, in an herbed sauce and served with whipped potatoes and a root vegetable, it is the perfect fall dish. With this flavorful, rich red wine, it is a trip to gastronomic heaven. How could I ever be a vegetarian!

I never made it to the desserts, Contortionist’s Caramelized Tarte Tatin, a French classic, and High Wire Cheesecake Petit Fours. When there were several bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau waiting at the bar to be sampled before leaving, I was not about to waste what precious time I had eating dessert. Organizers of the release event distributed bottles of Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 to each attendee, along with bistro aprons, wine openers and various other tchotchkes. My bottle of Nouveau went into immediate service, serving as part of the simmering sauce for Coq au Vin. As Julia would have said, Bon Appetit!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

TRAVEL: Toronto showcases art and culture of India

1. Sunset over Toronto
2. Master Chef Susur Lee and Dwight The Wine Doctor
3. Star of India Rolls Royce
4. Putting the last touches on Asian Shrimp Salad at Lee's, Toronto
5. Shopping at Gerrard Street open-air market
6. Satisfied diners at Siddhartha restaurant
7. A "Bollywood" sendup for the new AGO art exhibit
8. Reception area at BAPS Temple, Toronto
9. BAPS Temple dome
10. Dwight The Wine Doctor and His Royal Highness Y.S. Mandhatasinhji of Rajkot in front of the Star of India

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

“You have come this far, to this place, only to find the truth within yourself.” spoken by a Fellow Traveler

Toronto—After a less than two-hour flight on Air Canada from Chicago to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, I arrived in a world that is steeped in multi-culturalism. From the moment I stepped through customs and made my way to a waiting car and driver, I was aware that I was no longer in the U.S. Announcements over the airport loudspeaker were made in both French and English and the majority of people I saw bustling in and out of the airport appeared to be from every place else but North America.

That first impression may have not been far from the truth. The fastest growing population in Toronto is among those of South Asian descent. As of the current census, there are nearly a half million people from India living in Toronto. In the whole of Canada, there are more than a million and the number is growing.

In the coming months, Toronto will play host to the Bollywood Film Awards, the Indian equivalent of the Oscars, for the first time in the award’s history. Currently, Toronto’s largest art museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario is hosting a massive show, the North American premiere of Maharaja: The Splendors of India’s Royal Courts, now through April 3, 2011.

In exploring the vital contributions of South Asian culture to the arts, cuisine and the general social milieu of the region, I would come to both a professional and personal watershed.

A little-known fact about me, which I have shared with only my closest friends, is that my biological father is from India. Although he did not raise me, I find that, in my advancing years, I am increasingly informed and influenced by his specter. So it was that my trip to Toronto became a real “connect the dots” experience for me. It provided a revealing window into my cultural and ancestral past.

The first stop on my tour was to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (temple), the spiritual repository for the Hindu faith, serving the Indian population of Toronto. There is a similar BAPS temple in west suburban Bartlett on Route 59, but it is not nearly as large, or as visible as the one in Toronto, which is the largest temple of its type in North America.

Standing in the center court beneath the first of two ornate, hand-carved domes, made of alabaster stone, I was overwhelmed. There was a sense of awe and the eerie sensation that I had somehow been there before. It was truly a mind-boggling experience.

“Each of these stone panels is hand-carved in a village in India,” our friendly and informative volunteer guide explained. “There are no stationary pillars or screws or glue used to hold anything together here. All of the pieces are designed to interlock, like pieces of a puzzle. The thousands of pieces were all shipped over here from India and then put together by thousands of volunteers. The whole project, start to finish, took fifteen months to complete.” I can’t imagine the U.S. Government Services Administration or the Military accomplishing a similar feat!

The Mandir, or Temple, acts as a sort of community center as well as a spiritual home for the area’s Indian population. “We’ve just completed the Diwali—the festival of lights, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil. We are now in the midst of distributing the Prasad (sanctified food), a selection of candied and spiced fruits that represent the fruits of the harvest. They will be hand delivered to each and every family here in the area,” our guide said.

Diwali marks the end of the harvest season and the festival of lights is a way if giving thanks for the bounty of the year and to pray for the success of the next harvest. In Toronto, Diwali has become one of the biggest celebrations in the region.

The next day brought a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario, the AGO and the North American premiere of the art exhibit, Maharaja: The Splendor of India’s Royal Courts. The show is a major attraction and a reason to put Toronto on your must-visit list in the coming months. The show runs through April 3,2011 and there are excellent tour packages available through Air Canada and the Ontario Office of Tourism.

The show explores the culture of princely India, from its rise in the early 18th Century to its accession in 1947, at the end of British rule, when the Indian princes acceded their territories into the modern states of India and Pakistan. The paintings, jewelry, metalwork and furnishings of the period are dazzling to behold. The most spectacular possession on display is the Star of India Rolls Royce, valued at more than a million dollars, American. His Royal Highness Yuvraj Saheb (Y.S.) Mandhatasinhji of Rajkot, the great grandson of the Maharaja, greeted me in front of the Star and gave me a brief rundown of its history and significance.

“Every detail of the Star was mandated by my great grandfather,” he recounted. “From the symbols of the royal crest you see on the backs of the seats to the orange lights that were specially made for the front of the vehicle. These symbolize the royal colors. You’ll also see on each of the rear windows the royal seal. Every inch of the car is hand made and steeped in symbolism. Mohandas Gandhi himself, who was a great friend to the Royal Family, graced this car with his presence.” You can’t get a much better endorsement than that!

Lunch at the nearby Siddhartha Restaurant on Gerrard Street East, in Toronto’s unofficial Asian district, was an opportunity to taste authentic cuisine from both North and South India, as well as food from Sri Lanka. The buffet lunch included

Curried lamb and tandoori chicken (my favorites) and the waiter was generous with heaping plates of warm Nan, a soft Indian flatbread used to sop up the fragrant sauces and delicate, crunchy Papadum, a thin, deep fried, almost cracker-like bread made from rice flour, that was thoroughly addicting.

There are a ton of things to see and do in Toronto. The city is quite cosmopolitan, with a European flair. It has just a half million fewer people than Chicago, with signs of growth and development everywhere. There’s an active arts scene and the restaurants, with their Indian and Pan-Asian influence, are terrific. There’s even a celebrity chef, Susur Lee of Lee’s restaurant, who tied with Bobby Flay on Food Network’s Iron Chef America. He was also a finalist on season two of Bravo TV’s show, Top Chef: Masters.

The cuisine at Lee’s was spectacular and ran the gamut from Japanese sushi to Korean bar b que and a stupendous seafood and vegetable salad that was dazzling to behold and among the most delicious I have ever eaten. The parade of house-made desserts at the end of the meal was a testament to the imaginative powers of Chef Lee and his brilliant staff. I dined there on a Tuesday night and the restaurant was packed as if it were on the weekend.

I stayed at the brand-spanking new Thompson Hotel, a completely modern, upscale boutique hotel with locations around the world, including the Thompson in SoHo, New York City and the Sax in downtown Chicago at Marina Towers. The Counter restaurant located on the main floor appeared to be the hot spot for the in crowd in Toronto. Open 24 hours, it was the gathering place for visiting celebs, musicians and their groupies on an after-hours crawl and various looky-loo’s and wannabe’s.

I flew Porter Airlines out of downtown Toronto to Newark in the New York City area. It was an absolutely delightful experience, reminiscent of what air travel used to be like in the days when stewardesses wore white gloves.

The airport is in the heart of downtown Toronto, out on the lake, much as Meigs field used to be in Chicago before its demise. You take a ferry out to the actual terminal from land and that’s where the airline sets itself a world apart. The general lounge and waiting area is like the VIP lounge at any other airline, with free cappuccino, water, soft drinks and snacks.

Porter’s propjet planes are the most fuel-efficient and the quietest in the industry. In-flight service includes complimentary beverages, including beer and wine, served in REAL glasses, as well as complimentary snacks and gourmet sandwiches. Hot meals are offered, free of charge, on long-distance flights. The seats are made of Swiss leather and there’s plenty of legroom on board. I’d fly this airline again in a heartbeat and go out of my way to make arrangements to do so!

I don’t have to tell you that I’m already planning my return trip to Toronto to visit the area’s many wineries, including one that makes premium Ice-wine.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

TRAVEL: Tennessee Civil War Trails-A journey into the dark heart of war

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

1."General" Dwight Casimere surveys the battle positions from atop Lookout Mountain, Georgia
2. French bread right out of the oven at Rembrandt Bakery in the Bluff View Art District, Chattanooga, Tennessee
3. Bluff View Art District
4. The view from Lookout Mountain
5. An Infantryman's view of the Civil War
6. Public art display on the river at Bluff View Art District
7. Hunter Museum of Modern Art, downtown Chattanooga
8. A view from the bridge over the Tennessee River
9. Lookout Mountain from the bow of the Tennessee River Gorge Explorer high-speed catamaran
10. Dwight The Wine Doctor on board the Tennessee River Gorge Explorer

Friday, November 12, 2010

TRAVEL: Tennessee Civil War Trails-A journey into the dark heart of war

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Chattanooga, Tennessee-Veteran’s Day Weekend began with a journey down the Tennessee River aboard the River Gorge Explorer, the Tennessee Aquarium’s state of the art, high-speed catamaran, one of the most technologically advanced vessels on the open water. It became the modern-day vehicle for a time-travel back a hundred and fifty years ago to the dark heart of the nation’s bloodiest chapter, the Civil War.

“Chattanooga was, without question, the most strategic point-of-entry into the South and the supply line to the Confederate Army,” James H. Ogden of the National Park Service said after the two-hour cruise. “It was critical that the Federal Army take Chattanooga if they were to cripple the Confederacy and win the Civil War.” With its railroad lines crisscrossing in all directions, Chattanooga was the transportation hub of the South.

The tour guide/first mate aboard the Explorer leafed through a series of drafting-table sized maps as he lectured through a power-point presentation on the maneuverings of Federal and Confederate troops along the bluffs lining the Tennessee River. As he spoke, images of the maps and historic photos of the war were shown on TV monitors mounted throughout the ship. He spoke in the present tense, as if the battle were playing out in real time.

Chattanooga is a city in blossom. It’s eco-friendly buildings, restored historic sites are dotted with open space containing bike paths, climbing walls and jogging paths. Parks double as sculpture gardens, with both public and privately owned art on display for all to enjoy. The Tennessee Aquarium, built just over a decade ago, became the centerpiece of a multi-million dollar revitalization of the city’s decaying downtown. It was an expensive bet that paid off ten-fold.

Looming over it all is Lookout Mountain, a silent witness to the city’s rebirth and a reminder of its war-torn past.

The historic journey down the Tennessee River was the first stop on a five and a half day preview of the state of Tennessee’s new travel initiative “Discover Tennessee Trails and Byways.” As the state also prepares for the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the tour also included “Tennessee Civil War Trails.”

A stay in the quaint Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel that transformed the city’s shuttered and decaying Central Station into a luxury hotel, with actual train cars serving as its hotel rooms, a flourishing art district with one of the nation’s largest public art collections, an award-winning gourmet bakery and a choice of fine-dining restaurants and sweeping skylines, made this the excursion of a lifetime. The coming days will bring tastings at local award-winning wineries, a sip of two of distinctive Tennessee whiskey at two of the world’s most famous distillers and emotion-laden journeys through some of the nation’s most picturesque, yet historically tragic sites. This journey of discovery and remembrance peers into the depths of the crucible in which the modern-day United of America was forged and spans the vistas of its Phoenician resurrection into the future.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Niner wines of Paso Robles; the 'Fog Catcher' in the rye

Photo 1-Niner winemaker Amanda Cramer
Photo 2-a glass of Niner's award-winning Fog Catcher
Photo 3-Heart Hill estate, Paso Robles

by Dwight Casimere

Paso Robles, California—I first encountered Niner Winery of this lush California wine growing region, now immortalized in the wildly popular 2004 Alexander Payne film “Sideways” starring Paul Giamatti and Thomas Haden Church as two hapless, love-lorn bachelor buddies who find their souls in the bottom of a glass of Pinot Noir, at the Double Gold winners wine tasting of the San Francisco International Wine Competition. The tasting was held at the Beacon Restaurant in downtown Manhattan.

Niner Wine Estates Fog Catcher 2007 ($58) had been named the Best of Show and Best Bordeaux Blend by the competition’s Tasting Panel. Here I was, two months later, walking through the lush, rich volcanic soiled vineyards of Niner’s Heart Hill Estate near Paso Robles, with the picturesque natural formation of its signature heart shaped hilltop looming in the distance, above the landmark stone façade of its tasting room.

At the New York tasting, an employee of the vineyard, in breathless tones, encouraged me to tour the winery on my next visit to California. He informed me that the winery was unique for its use of gravity in the production and vinification of the wine and how the entire facility was constructed with state-of-the-art technology to take advantage of its unique hillside location. I sought out winemaker Amanda Cramer who gave me a personalized tasting and tour of the facility, afterwich; she discussed her personal philosophy of winemaking.

Amanda Cramer won the esteemed Andre Tchelistcheff “Winemaker of the Year” of the San Francisco International Wine Competition. On top of that, she won two Double Gold medals in the competition, including the “Best Bordeaux Blend.” The recent accolades had done nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of this stellar UC Davis grad and New Hampshire native.

“The most important step in the winemaking process is what happens in the grape fields,” she asserted, the strong northwesterly winds whipping through her wavy, auburn hair. “Winemaking is a unique process. It’s the only one I know that’s not dependent solely on exact science. It’s a combination of agriculture, chemistry and artistry.”

Ironically, Amanda began her professional life as a high school math teacher before studying enology and viticulture at UC Davis. She then began getting hands-on experience at wineries in the Napa Valley, South Australia and Chile. After returning to California to work with famed winemaker Heidi Barrett, she honed her skill at crafting Bordeaux varietals. The cutting-edge, eco-friendly techniques she learned abroad served her well as she began designing Niner Estate’s new facility. “I was able to take the best of what I saw out there and had the freedom here at Niner to create a state-of-the-art facility that is also user friendly.”

The proof of all wine is in the drinking. I sampled several bottles of Niner wines in my home, while grilling freshly harvested pheasant and Bison steaks, which I grilled in seasoned oak hardwood. The first wine that I tasted was Niner 2007 Bootjack Ranch Merlot ($24), a Gold Medal winner at the 2010 San Francisco International Wine Competition. I sampled both a selection of California and French goat’s milk cheeses, called Chevres, and a nutty Asiago, Parmesan-like cheese from Tuscany in Italy. As much as I liked the taste of the cheeses with the wine, I liked the taste of the wine alone, better. It was bursting with dark fruit flavor and a heady, berry-filled nose that was just like the sensation I had of the aroma in the air while I walked the fields outside Niner’s winemaking facility in the hills above Paso Robles Valley. It was an epiphany!

The first course of roast pheasant with morel mushrooms and green apple stuffing was accompanied with Niner 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Bootjack Ranch, Paso Robles ($28), and another Double Gold winner. Again, the presence of both intense fruit and the back note of terroir created an elegant experience that heightened the pleasure of eating the succulent pheasant. The presence of wood in the aging of the wine and the light smoky flavor of the meat and the mushrooms made for an all-encompassing taste experience.

After an interlude of a light-herb flavored cheese and a sip of Pellegrino, it was on to the main event; dry aged Bison rib eye steak, grilled on the open hardwood fire with a glass (or two) of the Double Gold and Best of Show winner, Fog Catcher Premium Bordeaux Bland, Paso Robles 2007 ($58). This is a landmark wine worth three times the asking price! I lingered over each sip of this rich, exquisite beauty, savoring its complex aromas and relishing in its complex flavors and long finish. I became so enthralled with the wine that my superb Bison steak became cold and eventual languished on the plate, virtually uneaten. Considering what a steak lover I am, particularly Bison, that is a high compliment.

I had planned to have some delicious homemade chocolate cookies and my favorite ice cream (Hagen Das rum raisin) for dessert, but instead opted for another glass of the superior Fog Catcher wine.

Inclement weather during my recent visit to the winery prevented my witnessing of the harvest and winemaking process in Niner’s technologically superior facility. I’ve already penciled in a return visit on my calendar. If the weather prevents a visit to the fields, I’ll just busy myself in the tasting room. I can’t possible go wrong there and will quickly lose all concerns about the weather!

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Simply Italian" debuts Great Wines US Tour 2010 in New York

Photo 1-Dwight the Wine Doctor and Giovanni Folonari
Photo 2-The Great Hall of the New York Public Library, scene of the Grand Tasting
Photo 3-Michele Bernetti and a bottle of his Cumaro Reserva DOCG 2006 wine
Photo 4-Jose Rallo-owner, Donnafugata wines of Sicily

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

New York-The ornate, stately Trustees Room of the New York Public Library in midtown Manhattan served as the venue for the kick off of the IEM (International Exhibition Management) and its US branch, IEEM (International Event & Exhibition Management) Simply Italian—Great Wines US Tour. This fall marked the debut in New York, followed by stops in Chicago at the Knickerbocker Millennium Hotel, concluding with a stop in Boston at the State Room, atop Sixty State Street.

The owners and winemakers of Italy’s 17 oldest and most distinguished family-owned wineries sat at a long table before a capacity audience like so many esteemed Justices of the Supreme Court. These Barons of Wine, from storied houses, including Antinori, Folonari, Masi, Pio Cesare, Belisario, Venturini, Zuani, Campochiarenti, Lungarotti and Donnafugata, among others, held forth with fact, fable, poetry and even song as they led the attentive throng of wine aficionados, sommeliers, collectors, oenophiles, restaurant, wine bar owners and members of the wine press and trade on a verbal excursion of some of the greatest wine-making regions of the world. The remains of the day would be filled with a luncheon, grand tasting and various dinners, but nothing was as significant as this historic gathering of the greatest minds in Italian wine.

Perhaps the most eloquent of the esteemed gathering was Marchese Piero Antinori, who proudly told the assemblage, “Chianti is not just the most important thing. It is the only thing. It is the fullest expression of not only a region, but a history.” The Antinori wine dynasty dates back to the year 1180, when Rinuccio di Antinoro is recorded as making the first wine at the Castello di Combiate near the Tuscan town on Calenzano. The original castello was destroyed in 1202 and the family moved to Florence. In 1385, Giovanni di Piero Antinori joined the Guild of Winemakers and the rest, as the pundits say, is history.

Besides Chianti Classico, Antinori is becoming known for its latest offering Tenuta Tignanello 2007 ($81), an Estate Grown, Tuscan IGT that is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, a local Italian varietal, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc. The wine is produced exclusively from a 116-acre vineyard site on the Antinori Tignanello Estate. It is the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels and the first Italian red wine in modern times to use a non-traditional grape variety, Cabernet, in the blend and among the first Italian red wines made in Chianti with no white grapes. The results, though controversial, especially in the tightly regulated culture of Italian winemaking, are spectacular. The wine is rich and elegant with a long finish. Yet, it is extremely food-friendly and will go well with most dishes that are now commonplace on the American table. The wine, with its balance of ripe fruit and spice and mild notes of vanilla and toast would work with a myriad of dishes from diverse cultures, such as Thai Red Curry Panaeng (made with either pork or beef), Steak Fajitas or a slow-cooked, braised Short Rib of Beef or a Bison Steak rubbed with Cajun spices and put on the grill. This could be considered an expensive wine, but given its stellar quality and versatility with food, it is a value for the real wine lover. Wines of this caliber typically cost $20-$60 more.

At the Grand Tasting following the formal seminar presentation, I had an opportunity to mingle with Giovanni Folonari who was pouring a dazzling array of wines from his award-winning collection. If you are a frequent wine drinker, I’m sure you’ve had his Folonari Pinot Grigio ($10). It’s a great all-occasion wine that is crisp, light and fruity and goes great with salads, seafood and light cheeses. It’s also great just to drink by itself, well chilled. Folonari Valpolicella ($10.59) is a light, fruity red wine that also goes great with cheese, chicken or lighter beef or veal dishes. It’s the absolutely perfect wine to go with pizza or spaghetti in a traditional red sauce, especially Marinara. Momma’s meatballs will go nicely with it too!

Giovanni Folonari is a tall, theatrical looking man with a gift for words that flow as fluidly as his wines. I was fortunate to have a handful of excellent Pecorino cheese and a few delightful olives and slices of pancetta, which went perfectly with his wines. “These are some of our higher end wines that I’m pouring today. But, as you well know, we have a number of value priced wines that are well received here in America.”

Folonari Campo al Mare Bolgheri Rosso DOC 2006 ($20) was the cream of the crop. With its deep ruby color and violet reflections, it was a delight to the eye even before reaching my palate. The initial aromas were of licorice, pomegranates and a hint of oak. It was velvety on the tongue with a good bit of blackberry fruit. There are some Italian reds that are better, but you’d have to pay a lot more for them. I had a bite of Pecorino and a swallow of Campo al Mare. Bravissimo!

My last, and favorite stop of the long day was with Jose Rallo, owner of Donnafugata wines of Sicily. At the earlier seminar, she embarked on an engaging discussion of her wines and the unique and challenging region in southern Italy where the grapes are grown. “We are on a tiny island between Sicily and the heel of the boot of Italy. We are so small, its almost as if we are forgotten. The growing climate for the grapes is unforgiving. High walls made of volcanic rocks surround the vineyards. The winds are strong and, at times, so unrelenting that the vines have to dig themselves down into little bowls in the earth to shield and protect themselves. The soil is almost like pure rocks. So much so, that the vines have to dig down deep to find water in order to survive. But that gives us grapes with great concentration of fruit and complexity and, of course, great wines. “ Trained early in life as a lyric soprano (“my mother was a music teacher!” she volunteered) and with the heart and mind of a poet, Jose burst into song. “ I often sing to the grapes to help them grow!” She intoned.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jose at Vinitaly in Verona, Italy, the previous year, so it was a treat to meet with her again, taste her wines and hear her sing.

Her Donnafugata Sedara IGC Blanco 2009 ($15) was a perfect example of the superior and complex white wines that are produced in Sicily. The concentration of fruit and flavor makes for a seductive combination of flavors that is irresistible. It’s a great wine to have with almost any type of food. As an aperitif or with cheeses, a light buffet or salads, it’s the perfect accompaniment to a weekend brunch. I still have a bottle I brought back from Italy and will probably have it this weekend.

Charles Curtis, the Wine Director at Christie’s in New York, who acted as host/emcee for the esteemed panel, summed it up best in this quote from Thomas Carlyle. “The proof of the wine is in the drinking of it.” Words well said!