Wine of the Month
Note: Create joy, one sip at a time.
Featured Wine: Donnafugata Sul Vulcano
Grapes: 100% Nerello Mascalese
Denomination: Etna Rosso DOC
Production Zone: Eastern Sicily, north side of Etna
Color: Stunning Ruby Red
Christmas Eve was a big deal to my family. It is a big deal to most Italians, but for us, all of our relatives would return to Pittsburgh and my tiny Calabrian Grammy would cook up a storm: spaghetti, cioppino, fried smelts, salad…so much food.
Staggered across the giant table would be jugs of homemade wine. They came from neighbors, friends and relatives; some smelled like jet fuel, but not my Uncle Tony’s wine. His wine smelled earthy and red and full of possibility. Everyone drank wine. If you could sit at the table, you drank wine. And, as a matter of fact, Uncle Tony insisted, as he believed it strengthened the blood. Even as a child, I can remember trying multiple wines until I found a favorite, enjoying the combination of wine with the salty smelts, the savory cioppino, the spaghetti sauce. Now why am I telling you about Christmas? Especially since spring is knocking down our doors? Because as soon as Sul Vulcano was opened and poured, once my senses became aware of this wine, it all came flooding back to me; the rustic earthy aroma, the beautiful color, it is all there.
Yet, the first thing to grab my attention was the label; the head of a stunning woman, with wild hair, resting on top of Etna. Donnafugata’s beautiful wine labels were first created in the 1980’s, collaboration between owner Gabriella Rallo and Sicilian artist Stefano Vitale. Based on Sicilian folklore, they are filled with beautiful color, each picture telling a story. Not only was using all of this color on a wine label unheard of in the 80’s but then so was having a female winemaker; this winery was unique from the start.
The grapes are manually picked and then sorted again on a vibrating table. Once sorted, grapes are fermented in stainless steel with maceration of the skins for 8-10 days at 25 degrees Celsius. The grapes are then aged part time in tanks and part in French oak for 14 months. The wine is further aged for a minimum of 7 months in the bottle before it is released.
The nose is filled with black cherry, raspberries, strawberries and floral notes, along with the earthiness previously mentioned. If you take a sip immediately after opening the bottle, you will, for a brief moment, believe you are about to encounter a very sweet wine, but you are not. Let this medium bodied wine breathe for a bit and the fruitiness subsides into a subtle background; you will be embraced by red currant, earthy tannins and a fine lingering acidic finish. This finish makes pairing it with food essential.
I’ve grown to love the experience of that first sip of wine, where it connects with different aspects of my senses, almost guiding me to the food it belongs with. And Sul Vulcano guided me straight to savory, spicy, flavor packed foods. At first, I denied my instincts and tried to pair this Sicilian beauty with a simple rib eye and pasta with marinara; it fell flat. What was most fascinating to me was how beautifully it paired with Korean Kalbi/Galbi (marinated beef short ribs), kimchi stew with sweet and spicy Korean bbq over steamed tofu and rice. It was as if the wine enveloped all of the flavors, making an incredibly pleasurable dining experience. The beauty of this being, I wouldn’t have paired them on purpose, it isn’t what popped into my mind, but by chance, I had a meal that made this wine shine. It was the Korean food that truly complimented this wine and showed me its true colors and the colors are wonderful.
Al Fresco is a great way to enjoy this wine, an early supper, an intimate group of friends, all sharing an amazing spread of Korean Food as the sun goes down. Flowers are not a necessity because you can use the beautiful bottles of Sul Vulcano as your centerpiece. But, if flowers are a must, bunches of sweet peas, reds, purples and whites would be spectacular.
The music should be soft, just enough to slightly blanket the atmosphere, but not distract from all of the deliciousness going on at the table. Christelle Bofale’s voice is a perfect option; her music will only enhance the already gorgeous evening you have created.
Although my Uncle Tony may have been surprised with the food pairing I selected, he would definitely agree that Sul Vulcano is an excellent representation of Sicilian wine.