Thursday, July 4, 2019

Vesuvius Wines a Gift from Campania Italy near Naples

Volcanic Wines are complex and food friendly due to rich mineral soils from Mount Vesuvius

by Dwight Casimere

Among the many new wines appearing on shelves in fine wine shops and on wine lists in savvy restaurants around the country are the wines of the Campania region of Italy which is situated along the south western coast of Italy near the capital city of Naples. It's one of the oldest wine growing regions of Italy dating back to the Greeks who first cultivated grapes there in the 8th century B.C. It became part of the Roman Empire when the Etruscans incorporated it and began cultivating wine in the 4th century B.C. After that, the land became subject to an alphabet soup of overlords, including the Visigoths (yes, there were such people outside of the old Prince Valiant comic strips), Lombards, Byzantines, Normans, Spanish, Austrians and French. The region finally became part of the Italian unification of the late 19th century, a definite turning point.

In early June, officials and winemakers from the Consortia Tutelar Vini Vesuvius held a Tasting Dinner  in the Atrium Dining Room of New York's Il Gattopardo Restaurant located in the historic Rockefeller Townhouses in midtown Manhattan.  In attendance were 

The story of Campania wines reads like the libretto of an Italian opera. Born of tragedy, the grapes are nurtured in the mineral rich volcanic soils left behind by the cataclysmic eruption of  the volcano Mount Vesuvio, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 AD. The wines remain unchanged to this day, made primarily from the indigenous grapes of the trime, which were rendered free of the Phylloxera virus which destroyed the majority of the indigenous grapes in all of Europe because the  virus can't survive in ash. Thus, these local varietals, with names that sing out like a Neapolitan opera, Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio (the tears of Christ of Vesuvio), Campi Flegrei, Ischia and Capri DOCs., along with Falanghia and Galluccio, another primary DOC, have survived to be nurtured today. Add in the names of Greco di Tufo and Fiano, Biancolella, Forastera, Olivella and Coda di Volpe, named for their shapes, the olive and fox's tail respectively, and you have a thumbnail sketch of the rich and varied wines that account for these food-friendly wines. Aspirino is the foundation of the regions local sparkling wine, Asprinio di Aversa. Its a refreshing, lighthearted aperitif that literally dances on the tongue, much like the feel of pronouncing its name. 

The wines of Vesuvio DOC are all made with organic and sustainable practices, another plus.

A handful of the wines have been introduced to the United States and will be avilable in coming weeks on restaurant wine lists and at fine wine retailers near you. The wines are best with foods readily associated with the city of Naples and the Campania region. Try anything made with fresh tomatoes or basil, such as a spicy tomato sauce with fresh basil, grated Parmesan cheese or a lasagna-type layered casserole made with Baccala (salted cod fish) olives, and, of courses, fresh tomato sauce. A dessert favorite is Rum Babba with a nice coffee or chocolate flavored Biscotti as a crunchy aside with a glass of two of Aspirino. Buon Appetito!

These are just a few of the wines of Vesuvio DOP that you may encounter. :

-Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio bianco from DeFalco Vini-$18
The wine is made from the region's flagship Lacryma Christi grape which is grown at a very high altitude in rich, volcanic soils. The grapes are picked by hand and pressed very softly and fermented at consistently cold temperatures to preserve the intense fruit character of the grapes. The result is an intensely flavorful wine bursting from tropical fruit and citrus flavors with hints of pineapples, banana and peach nectar. The volcanic soils give the wines an added boost of mineral flavor and structure, making it perfect with a hearty meal of fatty white fish, shellfish and rich tomato sauces and flavorful cheeses. This is a wine to serve with pride at any meal.

-Cantine Matrone Territorio de' Matroni DOC 2016-$25
This is a wine created from old vines indigenouse Piedirosso and Aglianico grapes from ther estates own Monaco and Camoanariello vineyards. The soil is a volcanic mix of sand, lava and basalt, giving it a rich mineral base. Cold Fermented in stainless steel tanks with natural yeasts for two weeks on the skins to give it richness and color, it is then pumped over where it undergoes spontaneous malolactic fermentation for a total of three weeks fermentation. The wine is then allowed to age in large wooden tanks for 14 months before resting again for 10 months in stainless steel. The result is an unmistakably local wine bursting with rich, dark berry flavors and overtones that hint of the tastes of olives and local capers, a bit of white, black and green peppercorn blend, a touch of licorice and a surprising afternote of balsam, perhaps from the underlying richness of the volcanic soil. If you're a fan of game meats, like venison, pheasant of duck, this is the wine for you. But its equally at home with spicy Asian or Indian dishes or even your favorite down-home Chile recipe!

-Cantina del Vesuvio Lacryma Chirsti Rosato DOC 2018-$22.99
The wine gets is captivating color from gently pressing the grapes in order to also preserve the kaleidoscopic range of aromas and fruit flavors from its 100% Aglianico grapes which is aged entirely in stanless steel tanks. Aromas of a bouquet of fresh cut flowers are followed with the flavors of white peaches, honey, strawberries and raspberries with just a hint of honey colored raisins. This is a surprisingly complex wine that goes beautifully with grilled fish, a platter of mixed cheeses, salamis and hams and a whole range of light meats and vegetables taken right off the grill. This is truly the wine of summer. 

-Russo Family Black Label Line  Vesuvio Lacryma Christi Rosso DOP Riserva 2014-$24
Ruby red, like the lava of Vesuvius, this is an unbelievable value considering the complexity of this beautifully made wine. Made from indigenous grapes grown in rich, volcanic soils that basked in warm afternoon sun and cooled nights and mornings by Mediterranean breezes, it was then fermented in stainless steel and allowed to age in small oak barrels 6 months before resting another 6 months in the bottle. This is a wine that truly represents the tradition of fine winemaking in the Vesuvio. Enjoy it with aged cheeses and rich meat sauces, or for a variatrion,  a vegetable lasagna made with fresh  eggplant, basil and rich tomato sauce and a hearty mix of soft cheeses. Sprinkle in a layer of crushed olives to give it an added zing. That will bring out the rich, complex flavors of the wine.

-Casa Vinicola Setaro "Munazei" 2018-$12
This is a real value wine worth twice the price in terms of its quality and flavor. Made from the ancient black-skinned Piedrosso grape, which is found throughout Campania. Known for its rich black fruit flavors and rich mineral backbone, the wine is a natural with just about any Italian dish, particularly those made with tomatoes. Rich, earthy flavored tomatoes are everywhere in the region, along with olives and just about every dish from the region features one or both. Baccala or Bacalao, salted cod, is another food that is common in the region and shows up in various incarnations. Surprisingly, this is a red wine that goes with all of the above and more. Served lightly chilled, it goes with many fish and vegetarian dishes. This was my favorite of all.

-Az. Agr. Sorrentino "Vigna Lapillo DOP 2015-$18
Another favorite. This blend of 80% Caprettone and 20% Falanghina is hand-picked then fermented in stainless steel at cold temperatures and matured in oak barrels for ten months. This is a fresh tasting wine with well integrated tannins. The wine is eminently drinkable with refreshing notes of ripe red berries and hints of balsamic vinegar and a back note of ripe olives. The wine truly speaks to the region and the soil from which it came. Each sip reveals a bit more of its distinctive character, made even more luscious with a bite of locally inspired food. Great mouthfeel with a nice long finish, its easy to go through two bottles of this at lunch or dinner without noticing. And at this price, buy an extra bottle for later!

Sunday, May 19, 2019


by Dwight Casimere

 Giovan Battista Basile (l), Vice President of the Montecucco Consortium, its Communications Manager Silvia Coppetti (r), and Laura Maniec Fiorvanti (c), Master Sommelier and owner of Corkbuzz.

 The tasting seminar at Corkbuzz Wine Studio
 Sangiovese wines from Montecucco

Grilled lamb chop in herbs with rapini and roasted potatoes were the perfect main course accompaniment

Montecucco is a very new denominatin in Italy and is Tuscany's best kept secret. Wines of the region are finally coming into their own, thinks to the high quality and distinctive character of these wines which are primarily made from Italy's most planted grape, Sangiovese. What makes Montecucco Sangiovese difference from all the others is its taste, brought about by its unique climate and soil conditions. Organic production is the norm rather than the exception, with 68% of its vines produced under organic conditions.

Montecucco is nestled in the south of Tuscany between two more famous neighbors, Morrellino di Scansano and the little town of Montalcino which produces t he regal Brunello di Montalcino.

Located inland from the coast of the Maremma, Montecucco is presided over by Mounte Amiata, an extinct volcano which lends its mineral rich soils to the grapes that grow on its slopes and in the valley below. The vines further benefit from the dry climate created by the Mount, which protects them from the storms brewing over the Tyrrhennian Sea.

Montecucco wines are beautifully structured wines with depth and excellent flavors of dark fruit and spice.The wines are terrific now, but they also have great potential for cellaring. They really come to life with food, and that's where the wines are most at home; on the dining table.

Cork buzz Wine Studio in Manhattan's Union Square was the setting for the U.S. preview of the new vintages of Montecucco wines. Presided over by Giovan Battista Basile, Vice President of the Montecucco Consortium and its Communications Manager Silvia Coppetti, the event was hosted by Laura Fiorvanti (formerly Laura Maniec), Master Sommelier and owner of Corkbuzz. 

Giovan Battista Basile, Vice President of the Montecucco Consortium, its Communications Manager Silvia Coppetti, and Laura Maniec Fiorvanti, Master Sommelier and owner of Corkbuzz.

The Montecucco Tasting Lunch featured 10 new releases, three of which are not yet imported to the United States. Each of the wines had a unique taste and characteristics, although they were all made from the Sangiovese grape. As explicated by Giovan Battista Basile and Silvia Coppetti, the wines also had their own unique stories to tell. When combined with the excellent cuisine prepared by the Corkbuzz culinary staff; Brown Butter Cauliflower with capers, garlic and lemon pecorino, Grilled Lamb Chop with rapini, roasted potatoes and tomato, and dessert of a Duet of Cheeses (Pecorino Toscano, Bianco Sardo), the wines literally exploded with flavor and came into their own. 

Below is a listing of the wines presented and their suggested retail prices:

Montenero Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG 2016 N/A
Peteglia Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG 2016 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG $25.00
Poggio Stenti "Tribulo" 2016 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG N/A
Amantis Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG 2015 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG $30.00
Maciarine Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva 2015 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva N/A
ColleMassari "Poggio Lombrone" 2015 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva $69.99
Parmoleto Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva 2015 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva $40.00
Basile "Ad Agio" 2013 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva $49.00
Le Calle "Poggio D’Oro" Riserva 2013 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva $38.00
Tenuta L'Impostino "Viandante" 2012 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva $35.00

Here are some of the highlights from the luncheon seminar, based on my tasting notes:

The hands down favorite of the afternoon was the Peteglia Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG 2016 at a mere $25 a bottle. In addition to its tremendous value, the wine really delivered in the all-around flavor category. Besides its initial impression of ripe, delicious dark red fruit, the wine had a nice, soft finish. It was almost like something you'd find in a really nice Oregon Pinot Noir. There was one distinction, the volcanic soil of the region gave it a robustness that you would normally find in wines that were aged longer. Aged in large oak barrels, the wine has a nice relaxed feel about it and a roundness that comes from also allowing the wine to age in the bottle before release. Unless you're absolutely desperate to impress your guests with the price tag of the wine you're serving, you can't lose with this on your lunch or dinner table.

ColleMassari "Poggio Lombrone" 2015 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva ($69.99) is a shining example of what this unique area of Tuscany is all about. The wine reveals layers of rich fruit flavor, combined with savory herbs, hints of licorice, coffee and shaved cedar, the kinds of complexity found in the finest red wines of Europe. Such elegance and authority would cost considerably more from someplace else, but consider this wine a bargain at well under a hundred dollars. For that special meal of roasted leg of lamb with fresh thyme or oregano, or a nicely grilled whole salmon stuffed with garlic and herbs, this is a wine that keeps delivering with every sip!

Le Calle "Poggio D’Oro" Riserva 2013 Montecucco Sangiovese DOCG Riserva $38, was my third pick. This was a wine designed for contemplation and enjoyment with just some aged cheese or a fine aged steak and some savory Rosemary potatoes and a bit of broccolini tossed lightly in hot olive oil and garlic with a splash of lemon. The less you fuss around with making the food complicated, the more you'll enjoy this wine. It packs a lot of flavor in the bottle. Lean and simple is best as far as accompaniments. Better yet, crack open a bottle, let it breath for a half hour and sip it slowly as you listen to your favorite music. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019




by Dwight Casimere

NEW YORK- Manhatta Restaurant, high above the towering skyscrapers of New York's Financial District was the intimate setting for the U.S. debut of the latest releases of wines from Ramon Bilbao of Rioja, Spain. Established in 1924, it is currently the fastest growing winery in the Spanish market and is recognized as one of the World's Most Admired Wine Brands for 2019 by DRINKS International.

Rodolfo Bastida, the company's affable winemaker since 1999 presented a dazzling array of vintages, dating back to 1999, with a selection of delectable cuisine specially prepared for the occasion by the culinary team at Manhatta. The presentation showcased the versatility of the wines, primarily comprised of the Tempranillo grape, Spain's flagship indigenous variety.

 Ramon Bilbao Lalomba Rose,  wine composed of 90% Garnacha and 10% Viura, was the introductory wine, served both as an aperitif and with the first course.

 Ramon Bilbao Winemaker Rodolfo Bastida with Dwight Casimere at Manhatta NYC
 The dramatic view of the East River and Financial District from Manhatta, 60th flr 28 Liberty

Paired with a variety of flavors; from Lemon Caesar Salad with Baby Gem Lettuce and Anchovy and Steelhead Trout Crudo with Fennel, Citrus and Puffed Grains, to the entrees of Seafood Risotto with Lobster, Shrimp and Cipollni Onions and Wagyu Beef Coulotte, with Turnips, Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms, the wines displayed a remarkable flexibility.

 Steelhead Trout Crudo paired nicely with both red and white wines

Below: Wagyu Coulotte with Turnips, Brussels Sprouts and Mushrooms

 Below: Seafood Risotto
Colangelo Partners Lydia Richards with Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva 2011

For example, Ramon Bilbao Mirto 2014, a 100% Tempranilo ($60), proved equally at home with both the seafood and the Wagyu Beef. The beauty of this wine is its depth. With the aroma of warm blackberry pie giving way to flavors of ripened berries and hints of shaved cinnamon and allspice brought about by fermentation in wooden vats and 19 months of aging in French oak, the wine is made in a luxurious classical style that makes it a perfectly elegant dinner wine.

Its deep, Garnet color literally dances with back-lighted flecks of Rubies in the glass. The long, satisfying finish makes you long for more.

The 1999 Vina Turzaballa, a 100% Tempranillo ($48), was the real show-stopper of the afternoon. Aged for 40 months in American Oak from Ohio and Missouri, the wine benefited from cold maceration on the skins for several days, which gave it exceptional backbone and complexity.

Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva 2011 ($35), with its blend of 90% Tempranillo, 6% Graciano and 4% Mazuelo is an excellent example of the true art of the winemaker. After two days of cold maceraton and a short fermentation, the juice is allowed to macerate on the skins for 9 days. It is then aged for 3 years in American Oak. The resulting wine is rich with layers of flavors ranging from blackberries and ripened plums, to an overlay of dark Bing cherries and bits of candied licorice and undertones of black pepper and currants.

 Vina Turzaballa and (below) Gran Reserva 2011 followed by Mirto 2004

Grown in complex sandy and gravelly soils with limestone sediment. the wine has a backbone of minerals that gives it added structure. This is the perfect dinner wine. It is also perfect as a stand-alone for contemplation and enjoyment with a bit of dry-aged  cheese,  smoked meat or fish and assorted nuts. For the true connoisseur, a Fonseca cigar is the ideal match!

Save the Ramon Bilbao Gran Reserva 2004 ($30) for last. This is a classic Rioja wine, with flavors of bright, red fruit, and hints of Heirloom tomatoes, dill and vanilla. The finish is long and persistent with plenty of berries and spices dancing abundantly on your tongue. A  smoky finish with hints of leather gives it a nice twist at the end. A Flan or  Chocolate Tarte will go nicely.

Thursday, May 2, 2019



by Dwight Casimere
Reviewed at the Tribeca Film Festival and the Miami Film Festival

Dr. Ruth Westheimer is perhaps the most recognizable personality on the planet. In fact, she was the first celebrity  to be known simply by her first name; Dr. Ruth. She's done everything but fly into outer space. She's been to the White House, spoken before the United Nation's, was sung to by Kermit The Frog on Sesame Street. She's even been parodied on Seinfeld.  But, for someone who is so ubiquitous, very little is known about her  life. Who is the real Dr. Ruth? She says it just as  bluntly as she discusses sex on the nation's airwaves in the unflinching documentar, Ask Dr. Ruth, now in theatres everywhere; "I am an orphan of the Holocaust, not a Holocaust survivor"

Documentary filmmaker Ryan White rolls back the covers to reveal the true, unvarnished story behind this diminutive dynamo. With her distinctive thick German accent and elf-like personage, Dr. Ruth has afixed herself for all time in the nation's bedrooms. Few who have heard her call-in radio show or seen her on syndicated TV know her real story. Ask Dr. Ruth lets her tell her own story, as only she can. Combined with White's unblinking camera, mixed with archival footage, TV and radio broadcasts, photos and brilliantly conceived animation, it is one of most wholly satisfying and thorough biographical films of its type.  

White's camera follows her in the days leading up to her 90th birthday. Born Karola Ruth Siegel in 1928 in  Weisenfeld, a tiny idyllic burg outside Frankfurt, Germany, she was sent to a safe-haven in Switzerland as part of the Kindertransport after her father was taken by the Nazis. She lived in and was schooled at a orphanage there, keeping in touch with her parents via letters. When the letters stopped coming in 1941, she feared the worst, but persevered. It was not until much later that she learned that her parents had been murdered in the Holocaust, possibly at Aushwitz.

One little unknown fact about Dr. Ruth is revealed in the film, the diminutive 92 year old was once a sniper! Having emigrated to British controlled Palestine after the War, she was recruited into the Haganah in Jerusalem, where she was trained as a scout and crack sniper. She was severely wounded in an explosion during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 and had to learn to walk all over again. From there, she emigrated to France, where she studied and taught psychology at the University of Paris. Armed with a 1,500 dollar stipend from the World Bank earmarked for the Kindertransport high school graduates from the orphanage, Westheimer used the money to secure transport on a ship bound for New York. As the sight of the iconic Statue of Liberty came into view, an harmonic conversion of events were set in motion that created the nation's first pop sex therapist. 

It was after receiving a Master Degree at the New School and earning a Doctorate at Columbia's Teachers College, that lightning struck. She came under the tutelage of the famed  Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan, whose pioneering research virtually invented the discipline of sex therapy. The rest, as they say, is history. 

After giving a riveting lecture to New York educators on the need for sex education, she was offered a 15 minute radio show on public radio station WYNY after no one else on the faculty wanted to do it.The show, which ran after midnight on Sundays, became an overnight (literally)  hit. It wasn't long before she would move from a  local public radio station to national radio syndication which evolved into television. Thus, a national sex therapy institution was born.

Ask Dr. Ruth is a film that both informs and inspires. At 92 years old, Dr. Ruth is more recognizable than the Pope, published some 40 books with more on the way, and has a lecture and TV appearance schedule that would exhaust a person a third her age.  Its a film rich in visual texture and substantive message. Take the family. They may want to even sit through it more than once. Its that good.


Thursday, March 28, 2019


Great vineyard make great wine in Montalcino Tuscany

by Dwight Casimere

Luce started as a daring project over 20 years ago to create, first of all, exceptional vineyards in Montalcino, that resulted in great wines. It was Luce where the Sangiovese grapes for Luce Brunello was born. It is a wine that is a tribute to the excellent wines created in Montalcino in the second half of the 19th century. Their's was the first wine to achieve the now coveted DOCG (Denominazione d'Origine Controllata e Garantita rating, the highest of all quality and among Italy's first Super Tuscans!

Lucente is the second wine of Luce, most commonly called by those in the trade as  "second label." Don't let that designation deceive you. This is a wine that struts its stuff in contemporary style, with a respectful nod to its elder sibling. This is  an authentic  interpretation of Montalcino and the Luce estate in particular.

Owned by  the Marchesi de' Frescobaldi family of Florence and the Robert Mondavi family of Napa Valley, the two joined forced to create Lucente. The wine  is made with the utmost care. It is a  powerful expression of both Italy's native grape Sangiovese and the International mainstay Merlot. 

Dwight Casimere with Lamberto Frescobaldi at a recent South Beach Wine and Food Festival
Wtih Hon. President Leonardo Frescobadi At the Mormoreto unveiling Time Warner Center NYC
Robert Mondavi at his 90th Birthday Celebration at the winery in Oakville
His son, Michael Mondavi and his family in the vineyards

The wine is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel vats for 12 days before undergoing an additional 22 days of maceration or contact on the skin to add richness and depth to the wine before aging for a year in a combination of new and re-issued small wooden barrels.

The 2016 vintage ($22)  experienced a spring punctuated by numerous rain showers tempered by a mild climate and an early budding phase for both the Merlot and Sangiovese grapes. Summer was exceptionally dry, but there were enough significant rain events at the beginning, the middle and the end of August, to mitigate that effect. The grapes matured gradually and completely, coaxed along by the mild temperatures and absence of stress. 

Careful nurturing in the vineyard and equally patient husbandry in the winery resulted in a wine of exceptional quality.

From first pour, Lucente 2016 is  well-balanced and well integrated. Its vivid, Garnet jewel color and gleam is a clear sign of its careful aging. 

There's much to say for this wine, even with the first sip. There are layers of aromas and flavors;   blackberries, ripe black cherries, plums and hints of lavender, olives, with back notes of muti-colored  peppercorns, baking spices and sandalwood and a final flavoring of silky caramel that speaks for its soft tanins and augments its long, satisfying finish. 

This is a terrific wine to drink all alone or with some delicious soft ripe cheeses. Its also a great dinner wine with Eggplant Parmesan, lightly pounded veal  or chicken breasts in a lemon-butter sauce or  sauteed shrimp with fresh Basil leaves and  light tomato/vodka sauce over freshly made linguine. Serve slightly chilled and let your imagination soar. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2019



by Dwight Casimere

Spring is finally here. Time to warm up the barbecue grill, sweep off the patio and roll out the lawn furniture and get ready for outdoor cooking and dining fun! Good weather brings garden parties, leisurely buffets and languid weekend afternoons lingering over a glass of Prosecco. The San Francisco Winter Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center provided a sneak peak at many of the delicacies that are now on the shelves and in the fresh food cases of your local specialty stores and gourmet shops. Pre-cooked Kobe Beef from Japan, ready-to-eat gourmet pasta sauces, giant wheels of Parmesan from Italy, luscious Serrano hams from Spain and sumptuous soft-ripened cheeses from France were just a few of the mouth-watering treats to savor. Here's a sneak peek at some of delights you can look for.

 Jan Craens Kaaslust-Veenhuizen, Netherlands

Sean McEniry (c) USHICHAN Farm Company, Japan External Trade 
Ready-to-Eat Kobe Beef

Pierre Bagador Consortium du Jambon (Ham Consortium) Bayonne, France

Gianni Gaitelli-MARCOS Salamanica, SotoSerrano, Spain (Serrano Ham from Spain)

Jonathan Whalen-Mr. Espresso Oakland, CA