Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Course on Italian wines at Incanto: a sweet ending

Our last wine class at Incanto was about Dessert Wines. It seems to me that every Italian wine region is making its own dessert wines, from the very far north all the way to Pantelleria Island, which is at the latitude of the north coast of Africa. Some are fresh, light and gently fizzy and others are opulent and luscious, but one thing is sure: there is no better way to end a fine Italian dinner!

Vineyard on Pantelleria Island

We started our tasting with a Moscato d'Asti. This low alcohol, semi-sparkling wine is made from the Moscato grape that grows on cool, steep hillsides between the Piemontese towns of Asti and Cuneo. Fermentation occurs until an alcohol level of 5.5 percent is reached, and then stopped by a filtration that removes any remaining live yeasts. The level of sweetness can be adjusted by the addition of unfermented must. The 2004 Moscato di Asti Sori del Re De Giorgis had a light straw color and an aromatic flowery nose with notes of pears and white peaches. On the palate, it was refreshing and lightly sparkling with a good acid/sweetness balance. The finish was clean and crisp. This is a good easy-going aperitif wine to drink well chilled.

Our second wine was a Lambrusco Reggiano. This is a locally popular wine from Emilia-Romagna. Thanks to its fizziness, this lively red wine is good at cleaning the mouth during a meal consisting of the region's rich food, pork-based dishes and meat ragout. At first, I did not like the Lambrusco Reggiano Rosso Dolce Lo Duca. It had a pruny and earthy nose that was hard for me to describe. On the palate, it started sweet, and finished dry, with more earthy and herby tones. After a couple of sips, though, I kind of got used to the wine, and could well imagine eating some mortadella, panchetta, and prosciutto with it.

Our next wine was the 2002 I Capitelli Anselmi from the Veneto's Suave region. Roberto Anselmi is a passionate winemaker that believes that Soave's DOC laws promote over-production and mediocre quality. In 2000, he made the bold decision to produce his wines outside the Soave Appellation. I Capitelli is made from 100% Garganega grapes grown in the low-yielding I Capitelli vineyard. After a rigorous selection during harvest and again at the winery, the grapes are dried in a well-ventilated room. By December, the grapes are affected by botrytis (or noble rot), and in February, they are pressed and barrel fermented in French oak barriques for 16 months followed by a year in bottle. The wine had a deep golden color with an intense nose of pineapple and mango. On the palate, it was amazingly fresh and lively, yet opulent, with caramel and pineapple jam flavors, followed by a long, lingering finish. We thought about having an upside down pineapple cake with it.

The next wine was a Vin Santo del Chianti Classico. Symbol of Tuscan joviality and hospitality, Vin Santo has been produced in Tuscany since the 14th century. The wine is made from dried Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes. After a selection of the best bunches, the grapes are dried for about four months on mats and racks. Then, vinification and aging is carried out in small barrels called caratelli during 3 to 4 years. The barrels, which are not completely full, are exposed to varying temperatures, hot in the summer, cool in the winter, which produces wines with distinct oxidized and nutty aromas. The 1995 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico Fattoria di Felsina had an attractive dark golden color, cherry liqueur aromas with toasty wood, cherry pit, and almond notes, and some burnt sugar flavors on the finish. This wine should go very well with an almond cake or the traditional almond biscotti.

With our last wine, we moved to the Pantelleria island, the southernmost territory of Italy, closer to the Tunisian coast than to Italy. The island produces a sweet wine called Passito di Pantelleria made from dried Zibibbo (Muscat) grapes. It is believed that Passito di Pantelleria was invented by the Punicians who also founded Carthage. Zibibbo is the principal grape that grows in the island. Its name comes from the Arab word zibib, which means grape. To dry the grapes and increase sugar concentration, clusters are arranged on a bed of stones and wood, a cannizza, where they are exposed to the sun during the day, and protected from the dew with a cover during the night. This way, the grapes are dried in just a few days. The 2001 Passito di Pantelleria Fernandes had a deep amber color and a rich nose with citrus notes. On the palate, it showed intense dried apricot flavors and a bittersweet finish of candied kumquat. This wine is truly delicious with the brown sugar date torta with orange crème fraîche and maple syrup that is offered in the restaurant's dessert menu.

More on Italian wines:
• Sparkling Wines
• The North
• Tuscany
• Piedmont
• South and Islands

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