More Beautiful Bianco!

I suppose you can get too much of a good thing, but we are nowhere near our limit with the white wines we started exploring last week. Part two of my ode to Italian vino bianco is a review of a couple of Sicilian wines.

As I mentioned in my last post, Etna Bianco is a wine from Sicily, usually made from a blend of indigenous grapes: Carricante, Catarratto, Grecanico, Insolia, Minnella and other local varieties. Sometimes, as in the case of the one I am reviewing, it is made entirely of Carricante. Throughout Sicily, many of the other grapes used in Etna Bianco are also vinified on their own to make single varietal wines with unique characteristics. The second wine is an example of a single varietal Insolia.

Tornatore Etna Bianco 2018

$24.95  |   VINTAGES#:  577676

Etna wines are, as you might guess, from the slopes and surrounding hills of Mount Etna. The volcano is still active and its many eruptions have created nutrient rich soils that impart mineral and saline notes to both the white and red wines (red wines from Etna are usually labelled Etna Rosso and are a blend of two indigenous grapes: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio). Because many of the grapevines are grown at significant altitude, they benefit from a cooler growing season and big swings between day and night temperatures, the results of which are more flavour complexity and brighter acid, respectively. This wine is no exception.

Smoky, flinty, mineral on first sniff. The wine opens up to peach and green pineapple with fresh herbs. On the palate it has nice weight and medium alcohol. The fruit is less ripe, with lots of zesty lemon notes and a piercing salty mineral finish. The acid is so bright here that I would pair this with many things from deep-fried appetizers to pasta with seafood to lighter meats like veal or pork, breaded and pan fried. It was also perfect with my simple tortellini pasta (avert your eyes my chef friends, alas, store bought) with oven-dried tomatoes, pesto and a healthy dose of parmesan.


Cusumano Insolia 2018

$12.95  |   VINTAGES#:  173336

Ripe peach and apricot, ginger, lemon extract on the nose. Very dry palate, tart stone fruit, peach pit, a bit of white pepper. The fruit doesn't really linger and the wine finishes, albeit pretty quickly, with a mineral note. I will admit, I didn't find myself entirely moved at first and had a [shrug], "you get what you pay for" moment. What surprised me about this wine, however, is how it transformed with food. I had a glass with the same pasta dish (having finished the Etna Bianco, oops!) and it started to sing. The fruit was enhanced, the zippy acidity balanced by the cheese and oil in the dish, the finish a bit more generous. It was a much more enjoyable wine with food.

This is the beautiful aha moment I always delighted in when I worked in restaurants. Choosing a pairing to suit a chef's dish or at a guest's request is a perfect time for a sommelier to push the limits of what people would normally be game to try. Because the wine almost always comes out before the food, I've had more than one frowning face when a guest inevitably sipped that wine before taking a bite of its betrothed dish. Once united, however, I heard almost 100% of the time that the guest was pleasantly surprised, that the wine seemed to change and that they liked both the wine and food better together.

Many people will say that a good wine should be able to stand alone, that it shouldn't need food to be enjoyed. I think most well-made wines can stand alone, but that doesn't mean that they can't do better with a great food pairing that enhances what that wine has to offer. And vice versa. I've been privileged to eat many a great meal and know that the right wine can make great become divine. The blushing bargain Insolia didn't get my dinner to divine, but it went from fine to pretty good, which works for me on many days!

Until next time, stay safe and healthy and enjoy your wine.