Thursday, August 22, 2013




By Dwight Casimere

NAPA VALLEY, CA—Labor Day Weekend is typically considered the end of summer, but in reality, some of the best days, in terms of weather and overall desirable climate, are still ahead.

There are still plenty of days and warm, mild nights ahead for lingering on the patio or in the garden with the sound of simmering barbecue coals crackling in the background or to experience the subtle smell of a savory tagine simmering in
Its earthenware pot or the smell of a mildly spicy traditional Thai stew or whole fish with Tamarind sauce wafting from the kitchen or the unmistakable aroma of Indonesian peanut sauce of Chicken or Lamb Satay skewers gently charring on the grill.
What a perfect time to crack open a bottle that brings forth the taste and aroma of the heart of the Napa Valley, Franciscan Equilibrium 2012 ($23).

This is a bracingly fresh blend of white wine grapes that, when you first twist the easy-to-open Stelvin (screwtop) closure, you immediately get a rush of aroma, redolent of the grape fields that line the sides of the road along Highway 29, as you pass through Oakville, in the heart of the Napa Valley. These are some of the lush, ripe grapes that make the wines of America’s premium wine growing region so coveted. Franciscan is one of the pioneers of California winemaking, and Equilibrium is the capstone of their collective 40 years of winemaking primacy.

Director of winemaking Janet Myers and her superlative winemaking team have achieved an enviable state of equipoise with this exquisite wine. “Equilibrium means harmony and balance and that’s what we’ve created here with this blend of 72% Sauvignon Blanc , 17% of Chardonnay and 11% Muscat.”  The Sauvignon Blanc is the dominant grape, but the other grapes, all harvested from small lots from Franciscans choice vineyards clustered in the heart of Napa Valleys prime Oakville region, harmonize to create a singularly stunning effect.  “This is a fun wine that we debuted this summer with the 2012 vintage,” Myers expounded.  “Each of the components is doing something special to the wine.The 72% Sauvignon Blanc gives it the  lime and grapefruit notes,  17% Chardonnay  gives it thebackbone and richness  you’d expect from a Napa Valley wine. The cherry on top is the 11% Muscat, which gives it the white peach and jasmine notes.  The result if a light, semi-sweet wine that has a nice richness on the palate. This is a flavor that lets the wine go from crab dip and seafood, to salads and other light fare, all the way up to spicy Thai food. When you first open the bottle,  the smell of jasmine and the taste of white peach is really evident. The real bonus is that little bit of lychee, that’s from the Muscat, it gives it a little hint of honey in the back of your mouth, that makes it really special and easy on the palate.
This is really a great wine to toast the last days of summer.”
One of my favorite dishes for a light brunch in the garden is Crab Avocado Salad. I substitute a bit of the Equilibrium wine for vinegar and use the scooped out avocado as the serving vessel.  It's the perfect treat as you twist off the cap of Franciscan Equilibrium 2012. Yummy!

Crab Avocado Salad Recipe
Serves 4

4 medium Hass avocados
1 lb fresh lump crab meat
2 Tbsp chopped shallots
2 Tbsp Franciscan Equilibrium
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
1 Tbsp  finely chopped tarragon
1/2 tsp Mediterranean sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Then split avocados in half, carefully remove and discard the large pit. Carefully scoop out avocado meat, chop into small pieces and add it to the crab. Gently scoop the entire mixture into the hollowed out avocado shells. Serve on your best Fiesta ware and enjoy with Franciscan Equilibrium 2012!

 Franciscan Director of Wine Janet Myers
Below: The lush vineyards of Franciscan winery in Oakville-photo by Dwight Casimere
Crab avocado salad

Celebrate the end of summer in grand style with Villa Sandi Prosecco


by Dwight Casimere 

VENICE, ITALY--The Veneto region in northeastern Italy, near this ancient city, is home to one of the great, newly-discovered treasures of the wine consuming community; Prosecco. Once considered the lowly stepchild of champagne, Prosecco now has come into its own as the beverage of choice for those seeking a light, fresh-tasting  sparkling wine that is low in alcohol,  long on taste and light on price. While not possessing anywhere near the finesse of fine champagne, Italy's Prosecco takes another route that seems to be clicking with younger, hip wine afficionados and gaining the grudging respect of more staid, curmudgeony wine coveters (present company included!).  One of the best examples of Prosecco is Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior DOCG ($18), although it can be had online for as low as $12 a bottle, particularly with a case purchase.

 Villa Sandi owner Gioncarlo Moretti Polegato
 Nova Scotia Lobster with Classic Bernaise Sauce

The underground cellars at Villa Sandi
 The Villa Sandi estate located in the hills of the Marca Trevigiana

This beautiful, light-straw colored blond is a perfectly delightful way to celebrate the end of summer in grand style. 

Have an end-of-season feast by splurging on steamed live lobster with my favorite adprnment, classic Bernaise sauce and a side of fresh, garden asparagus. Fresh New England-style lobsters from Nova Sotia are readily available right now, and can be had for bargain prices. Try your local supermarket, such as Best Yet in New York or Hmart Asian Market in Englewood or Cherry Hill, New Jersey, or any of their locations nationwide (check for a store near you.) The bernaise can be a little tricky, but, given the right company, an extra bottle of Villa Sandi Prosecco to be had as an apperitif with antipasti during the preparation of the meal on bright Indian summer day, and you have the recipe for enchantment. 

Villa Sandi Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior is delightful and refreshing. It has the taste of  succulent ripe, white peaches, Golden Delicious apples and a hint of honeycomb with the aroma of dew-dropped covered white accacia flower petals and notes of wistful chamomile. There's a lingering, pleasantly sweet flavor on the tongue that sings like a hummingbird on a lazy, hot afternoon. Why not celebrate these last simmering days of summer with a special meal of lobster, luxurious Bernaise, fresh, young asparagus and a bottle (or two) of Villa Sandi Prosecco.
The recipes for Classic Bernaise and Steamed Lobster follow:
Steamed fresh, live Nova Scotia or Maine Lobsters
2- 2lb fresh, live lobsters
1 very large steampot filled with 1/2" purified water add
2 Tbs Mediterranean Sea Salt
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
Bring water to a boil and add fresh, live lobsters by gently lowering them into the bottom of the pan while they are still alive and kicking. Cover and let steam for 12 minutes, then turn off the flame and let them sit for a few more minutes until they turn crimson red.
Remove cooked lobsters and set them to drain in the sink. When they have cooled, place them with the underbelly up on a cutting board. With a large. ultra-sharp chef's knife or Chinese-style cleaver, split the lobsters lengthwise, right down the middle. Arrange on a large platter with lemon slices and additional sprigs of tarragon or parsley.
Classic Bernaise Sauce


  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1.25 dl (1/2 cup) white wine or white wine-vinegar
  • 1.25 dl (1/2 cup) boiling water
  • 2.5 dl (1 cup) clarified butter 
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 5 minced shallots
  • 2 tablespoons minced tarragon (fresh)


  1. Make a reduction from wine/vinegar, shallots, 1 tablespoon tarragon and pepper by boiling all the ingredients in a saucepan. Stir constantly until liquid is reduced.
  2. Remove saucepan and let the reduction cool down.
  3. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, to reduction while whisking.
  4. Add the boiling water and stir  until  smooth.
  5. Place saucepan over  low heat. Bring slowly to a boil while whisking  the sauce until its creamy.
  6. Remove the sauce to a shallow bowl and let it chill down to the same temperature as the butter. Add butter in small gobs while whisking it gently into the sauce. Sauce should be slightly thickend and silky in texture, with a consistency that will allow it to just cling to the back of a large spoon. Add salt and more tarragon to taste.
Steam fresh asparagus in a large steamer or in the microwave for 1 minute in a shallow microve dish with 1/4 inch of water and covered with a paper towel. Asparagus should still be firm when cooked. 

Smother lobster in Classic Bernaise sauce and, on a seperate small plate, place the asparagus stalks and drizzle on the remaining Bernaise. Serve with Villa Sandi  Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superior and enjoy! Buon Appetito! 


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Calici di Stelle (wine goblets of stars) celebrates the magic of Night Harvest at Donnafugata, Marsala

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere
Workers execute night harvest at Donnafugata Contessa Entellina estate
Dwight The Wine Doctor with Donnafugata owner Antonio Rallo

Workers hand sort grapes before crushing

Celebrants at Calici di Stelle

MARSALA, SICILY--More than 1500 wine enthusiasts turned up at Donnafugata's Contessa Entellina estate to celebrate Calici di Stelle (wine goblets of stars), the annual night harvest of Chardonnay grapes. This traditional event is promoted by the Wine Tourism Movement in Sicily and celebrates both the wine harvest, which is in full swing, thanks to the ideal weather conditions, and the night of San Lorenzo. Under a blanket of stars and a crescent moon, revelers tasted the latest vintages of Donnafugata wines, side-by-side with rare old vintages from the Donnafugata cellars. This was truly an experience for both amateur and experienced oenophiles! Among the stellar attractions, Mille e una Notte 2008, the winery's top wine offering and an icon of Scilian wine excellence. Also offered was one of Donnafugata's flagship wines, Tancredi 2004 with a vertical tasting of Tancredi 2007 for comparison. Magnifico! Among the whites, the elegant 2007 Chiandra, with its intense, but well-rounded flavor and of course, the famous award-winning Ben Rye' 2010, one of the most perfect expressions of Marsala ever created. Finishing the night with an excellent Grappa, there were olifactory fireworks that matched the brilliance of the stars and moon in the Sicilian sky!  Calici di Stelle was celebrated around the world with 65 events, including celebrations in Japan, Germany and the United States, and live streaming on the world wide web. Wine lovers were connected to Donnafugata owners Antonio and Jose Rallo live from Sicily for an innovative Social NetworkWine Experience. Utilizing live steaming on the internet, participants were able to experience the magic of the moonlit grape harvest on the dedicated channel YouTubeDonnafugataWine. The event was made vibrant with live music throughout the winery estate and the vineyards and the terrific wines that flowed into the wee hours of the morning. It was an historic event in a wine lover's paradise.  Bravissimo!        

Friday, August 9, 2013

Wine of the Week: Donnafugata Lighea, A Wine from Paradise Island

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere
 Sunrise over the Mediterranean Sea at Donnafugata Pantelleria
 Donnafugata Lighea Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) 2012
 Zibibbo grapes grow in low-lying bushes planted in hollowed out basins, protecting them from the island's intense winds
 The wine is aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve floral bouquet and delicate fruit flavor notes
 The experimental Zibibbo vineyards in the hills above the Pantelleria estates
 Grape growing and harvesting is almost entirely manual. Some of the vines are 100 years old
 Warm Caponata is a local Sicilian dish that pairs beautifully with Donnafugata Lighea

PANTELLERIA, SICILY--This tropical island on the Mediterranean Sea just north of the coast of Africa is home to one of the most deliciously intriguing wines of all of Sicily. Donnafugata Lighea Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) 2012 ($20), is a dry expression of the Muscat grape historically associated with the lush, sweet Marsala wines for which the region is famous. Donnafugata has 168 acres planted with Zibibbo. The winery, in the Khamma district, is a shining example of sustainable architecture. Grape growing and harvesting is almost entirely done by hand, much of it in challenging conditions involving steep, terraced hillside vineyards and grapes grown in low bushes hunkered down in basins of hollowed out earth to protect them from the island's intense dry winds. The vines are stressed by the dry, windy climate, in which rain falls but a few scant days a year. Most of their moisture is derived from the damp, humid air that blankets the island every morning and evening.  Donnafugata is the leader in the cultivation of the Zibibbo grape. The grape grower's work at Pantelleria is one of the last examples of heroic viticulture in the Mediterranean. In 1999, Donnafugata reclaimed a 17.5 acre vineyard of Zibibbo with non-grafted vines that were more than 100 years old. These Zibibbo grapes in the Khamma district are resistant to drought, limestone and salinity and produce an harmonious grape quality that is exceptional. Growing in the rich, volcanic soil of the region, they are resistant to the virulent vine pest phylloxera. These vines are an historic find that is one of the legacies of biodiversity as borne out in studies carried out by Prof. Mario Fregoni of the Catholic University of Placenza.

Donnafugata has launched a new research project dedicating an experimental vineyard of 33 bio-types o the Zibibbo grapes (Muscat of Alexandria. These experiments are designed to enhance the preservation of this rare and historic variety. Under the supervision of Prof. Attilio Scienza, bio-types of  Muscat of Alexandria were chosen in Spain, France, Greece and southern Italy and planted in the hills high above sea level. These experiments will further enhance efforts to identify clones of Zibibbo that will increase Pantelleria's viticulture potential.

Donnafugata Lighea is the perfect wine for light, summertime cuisine. It's great with seafood and with grilled or sauteed vegetables. A terrific local Sicilian dish is Caponata, a dish that can be served hot or cold and which features a mixture of fresh, local ingredients that vary according to the season and the whim of the preparer. The most popular versions usually involve eggplant, or aubergine, as they're called here locally, and copious amounts of capers, onions and olives and, of course, olive oil. Here's the recipe to one I sampled at the restaurant La Favorata in the hills above the winery at Pantellaria.
To learn more about Lighea and Caponata, visit


Warm Caponata with toasted almonds

Ingredients serve 4

4 aubergines (eggplants) diced
1 medium-sized white onion,diced
2 ozs. black olives
2 ounces sliced, toasted almonds
1 small jar of capers packed in oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 celery stalks, diced
1 tablespoon vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar (optional, although the sweet-sour contrast is central to the flavor of the dish)
3 tablespoons tomato sauce
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil for sauteeing
Mediterranean sea salt to taste

Peel and dice the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes. Salt and sweat them for about an hour. Combine them with the diced celery and in a frying pan with the cooking oil and the water and sautee' over moderate
heat until the water evaporates. Add the capers, olives and optional sugar and tomato sauce and simmer for 15 minutes. Fry the eggplant in oil separately and drain excess oil before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Sprinkle with toasted almonds and serve with chilled Donnafugarta Lighea and enjoy. Buon Appetito!

Sicilian winemaker Donnafugata celebrates the harvest

Story and photo gallery by Dwight Casimere

MARSALA, Sicily--Harvesting is in full swing in the hot, humid vineyards of Donnafugata winery, located in t he heart of western Sicily, one of Italy's southernmost wine producing regions.

The harvest began in early August with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, used as the base for their superlative sparkling wine. The strong grape aromas and citrus fruit flavors combined with the excellent acidity of the grapes, makes for an outstanding sparkling wine, made in the traditional method, Donnafugata Brut. It continues with a celebration this weekend with the nighttime harvesting of the Chardonnay grapes at Donnafugata's flagship winery at Contessa Entellina. The grapes are the first to ripen in the areas of Duchessa and Mazzaporro and are among the earliest to ripen due to their location on the valley floor. Night harvesting is a technical choice on the part of Donnafugata's wnemaking team, headed by Antonio Rallo, owner of Donnafugata and the company's production manager. According to him, "everything promises to to bring a good vintage, with peaks of excellence. This was a year with healthy and ripe grapes, which brings the promise of harmonious and balanced wines."

Looking out over the dramatic expanse of Donnafugata's vineyards in Marsala, with sweeping panaromas of volcanic mountains, sandy-soiled valleys and cascades of terraced and sloped vineyards, this is as close to paradise as it gets.

The year 2013 promises to be a banner year for Sicilian wine. and Donnafugata is leading the charge!
Saturday, August 10 marks an auspicious and historic occassion, the Nighttime Harvest of the Chardonnay grapes at Donnafugata's Contessa Entellina estate. The showcase event, entitled Calici di Stelle (the wine goblet by starlight), is an experienced that will be shared by wine lovers throughout the world. Over 1500 wine enthusiasts will be connected to Donnafugata's owners Jose' and Antonio Rallo, live from Sicily. A streaming, live broadcast on the dedicated website and on the DonnafugataWine Facebook page will allow wine lovers to assist the grape harvest in the moonlight and experience the magic on their PCs and mobile devices via the internet. This innovative Social Media Wine Experience will create a virtual community of wine harvesters. Along with this virtual experience, a series of real life experiences have been organized around the world to follow the nighttime harvest. Ten nations, including Japan, Russia, the United States and Brazil, will be connected with Contessa Entellina at 68 events. They will be joined with over 1500 attendees at the estate for a tasting of the wines under a starry sky. Bravo Contessa Entellina!

Bravo Donnafugata!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Wine of the Week: Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere


Celebrate those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer Aussie style with a great new offering from down under, Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay.  What makes it even more exciting is that, in addition to the intense, bright flavors that we associate with Australian wines, it sells for about $10 a bottle. You can find a case price online of just $7.99 a bottle if you do a little Google searching.

Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay is the perfect summer “house wine” because it goes with just about anything you’d put on the grill; or serve on the patio or backyard picnic table. Grilled fish, chicken, shrimp, corn on the cob and all kinds of salad and fruit dishes are the perfect match for its bright, fruity taste filled with flavors of ripe peaches and nectarines and a bouquet of white flowers with just a touch of light oak. I lucked out with a recent sale of lobster and dungeness crab at the local market and made myself a “white” version of that  San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf favorite, Cioppino. The dish is based on a Sicilian dish, Zuppa di Pesce (soup made of fish) and uses a marine “kitchen sink” mish-mosh of fish, with crab and lobster as the star attraction. I substituted fresh leek for the onion and garlic in order to lighten the flavor profile.  I also left out the chopped tomatoes that customarily go into the dish for the same reason and in order to enhance the use of HARDYS Nottage Hill Chardonnay as a vital ingredient.

Here’s the recipe:

In a large stew pot, slow cooker or Le Creuset cookware pot, combine ingredients in stages

1/4 cup  extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium sized leek, sliced into thin slivers
1 cup HARDYs Nottage Hill Chardonnay
1      container free range chicken stock from Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s
4 sprigs fresh garden thyme, or one tablespoon dried
2 tablespoons of chopped, flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 pounds sea bass, grouper, cod, or any other fleshy white fish, cut into 2-inch chunks
Salt and pepper
2 medium to large lobsters, preferably live Maines,  broken into pieces
1 large Dungeness crab cleaned and broken into pieces
8 large shrimp, preferably head-on and deveined (find them in your local Chinatown or at any Korean market)
1 lb. bag or raw mussels, thoroughly scrubbed
A big loaf of Sourdough bread for sopping
In the large pot,  simmer the olive oil with the leek until soft and shiny,. then start adding the chopped white fish in handfuls and allow to saute.

 Add the Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay wine to the pot and reduce wine by about half before adding the chicken stock, thyme, and parsley. Bring sauce to a bubble and reduce heat to medium low.
 Add all of the shellfish and cover the pot.  Let it all C-cook for about 10 minutes, then turn the pot off and just let it steam for a few minutes so the flavors can marry.
Remove any mussels that didn’t open.
Laddle the stew out onto your best vintage Fiesta  ware bowls (I use the handmade pottery bowls I brought back from Sicily last Spring!) Pour the Rest of the Hardys Nottage Hill Chardonnay, pass around the loaf of Sourdough bread, letting each person break off a piece in large chunks and enjoy. Molto Bene!