City Winery has closed out 2023 these last few months with some incredible food and wine events. The series, in collaboration with American Airlines, has been consistently wonderful to experience as we delve into the wines from all these different countries and regions of the world, opening up a breadth of knowledge outside of the common varietals and wines that we already know and love. Not to mention the thought put into the menu pairings that are also within the theme of the evening. This post recaps a few of the newer dinner destinations of Sicily, France, and Germany
With Sicily’s rich history and culture, there are plenty of reasons that make it one of the hottest destinations in Italy, and now more notably one of the hottest destinations for wine. Known as the “Island of the Sun”, Sicily is extremely geographically diverse, creating hundreds of perfect microclimates for a very wide range of wines.
The winemakers are some of the best in the nation, each approaching their craft in a unique way and all dedicated to showcasing terroir of their land and to the production of high-end wines that span from aromatic whites to bold reds. Each grape variety is hand-picked and carefully handled so as to maintain the fruit expression and achieve wines with a singular unique style.
The region is volcanic in origin and there are hundreds of native varieties of grapes. However, if you are used to fruity plush expressions of wine, that is not particularly how Sicilian wines are .
The dinner was hosted by Stephanie Johnson, the Italian Wine Editor from Wine and Spirits Magazine, who proved her passion and proficiency in these Sicilian wines and vineyards. The evening began with a sparkling welcome wine, one of the traditional sparkling wines produced in Mount Etna. With that said, it is produced more like a champagne than a prosecco, with a lovely toasty yeast flavor. The grapes are produced on Mount Etna, on all sides except the west side of the mountain as it is too hot, and the other three have the sea to cool it down, giving it a savory salty aspect. These red grape are used for sparkling wines, rose and still red ones.
The first wine, a 2022 Feudo Montoni Grillo della Timpa is a white variety and also often used as the basis for Marsala. The wine is restricted in yield and grown more carefully to release that fruity lush and peachy expression. It has a really wonderful citrus, richness and a little salinity, but still fruity enough to drink on its own. The salty butter and rich toast pairs nicely with the offset of the sweeter wine.
The second wine is also another white variety from Mount Etna. While whites don’t usually age,this is one that gets better over time. It has a salty savory flavor, and slightly austere with a bit of a flinty volcanic note. It is a bit more intense than the first wine we had and is needed more with food than the first. A dish like scallops or something with a little sweetness, such as the tomato puttanesca and swordfish we had paired, go really well to balance the saltiness in the wine. It should also be noted that, similarly to most wines, they open up with exposure to air and the aromas come out more, this wine definitely changes as it sits and developes more lemony notes – also really nice with fish. This kind of transition into different expressions is also a reason that Johnson prefers not to serve whites too cold.
The third wine is produced in region a little closer to North Africa. It is the only blended wine of the evening, combining a Nero d’Avola which is a dark, rich, plummy and textural variety, with Frappato, which has a more intense berry component and is fruitier. These grapes balance each other out and this wine is a beautiful marriage of the varieties. It makes it fresh with nice crisp fruit flavors but is still very soft and aromatic. It makes a great pairing with both cheese and pasta. So this hearty and creamy dish was a great option especially with an element of brighter citrus almost lemony note from the gastrique running through it.
The fourth wine, a Nero d’Avola, is definitely darker, a little spicier almost licorice flavor but also a bold fruit intensity. Food and wine pairings often match or contrast the notes in the dish. This wine in particular goes great with rich meaty meats and this osso bucco also has melt-in-your-mouth texture and that spicy smoky flavor as well. It overall pairs really nicely together.
Finally the dessert wine which is made on the small island of Pantelleria. It is produced with the Zibibbo grape, also known as the muscato grape from Alexandria, which are left to dry almost raisin like, making it very concentrated and intensely aromatic. There are notes of apricot and black tea and spice aromas like clove coffee or ginger. It was paired with a matcha tiramisu, which was almost like an ice cream cake, and a nice subtle coffee note to match the spices in the wine. Another great pairing for this wine with a really salty cheese after dinner.
The journey begins in the cool, vine-covered hillsides of Champagne, then onto the mosaic of the climates in Burgundy, followed by the sun soaked terraces of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Valley, and ending on the river banks in beautiful Bordeaux, with no one better to lead us than Phillipe Newlin, who hosts the A Major Crush Edutainment Series (another example of the stellar events at City Winery you HAVE to check out).
We began the evening with a Laurent Perrie La Cuvee Champagne. Champagne is high acidity bubbly wine. This one in particular had wonderful finesse and freshness. It was delicate and elegant with a subtle effervescence and soft citrus notes. Generally speaking, champagne is one of the best wines for meals, especially if you have to stick to one throughout courses, because it really does go with everything. For us it was paired with creamy and tasty crawfish with a nice well-rounded flavor of the sauce, which was lobster bisque reminiscent.
Our second wine was a French white from Burgundy. It has the richness of the Chardonnay grape but is grown in a very under-watered area of more limestone, chalk – it is this factor that gives it a freshness, having that richness, but a mineral and fresh pure finish. These are also wines that age really well. With the scallop pairing this wine goes great as you typically want that citrus and that squeeze of lemon. This is a wine that brings that needed element to the dish. The scallop itself was also very tender with a nice nuttiness.
This third wine is a Syrah from the northern Rhone in Lyon, a 2020 François Villard, Saint-Joseph, “Poivre et Sol”. One of the most sought after and expensive wines in France is the Hermitage, which is particularly expensive. A little secret hack for those who can’t afford it is this very similar wine from Saint Joseph right across the river. Syrah is pure dark berry flavors, a good fresh acidity and a little dryness. Wines are very characteristic to the places where the grapes are grown and so are the foods. Fennel has that licorice aspect and a little offset by the sweeter marmalade.
A little deviation off the wine and more into wine production is that all wine is clear in the juice but red wines are made by leaving the skins on. This element is also what makes wine dryer and have structure in its texture, more tanic. The older red wines get, the smoother they get.
Our fourth wine, a 2010 Cháteau du Tertre, Margaux, is from the Bordeaux region in the southwest. It is a region that is very hot but has the cooling of the ocean acting as an air conditioning to the grapes, and also a lot of water nearby. Bordeaux is a thick-skinned grape giving it that tanic dry element. But grapes tend to ripen at different times, and while the winemakers want it to taste like where it is from, they have to use the good grapes available at the time. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant variety in this particular wine. It is more tailored, precise and pretty and 2010 is an exceptionally good vintage. This is a wine that works great with fatty foods. Our pork belly had that aspect but also a nice tart jam to cut through that richer texture as well.
Our final wine of the evening a 2009 Chateau Doisy-Vedrines, Sauternes is made from grapes essentially left out to raisin on the vines, essentially letting the grapes to rot from the outside in. The wine is from the concentrated sugar and acid. Sauternes is an area that is very humid with a lot of creeks, a special environment allowing for this sweet wine. That humidity creates a “Noble Rot”, as Newlin put it. It has elements of apricot and honey and a nice freshness and sweet finish. The dessert pairing was also phenomenal, with a perfect light airy texture and just the right sweet cream and tartness element of the berries.
Germany has a long history of winemaking dating back to 70 AD. Thousands of years ago during the Roman conquests – who adopted viticulture from the Greeks and Etruscans – the Romans introduced viticulture to the Germanic territories. The 19th century could be seen as a “golden age” of German wine, a time when wines from the The Mosel area which is the oldest city in Gemany and a former Roman city, as well as the Rhine and Nahe regions were favorites among royalty and more expensive than even Champagne and Bordeaux. Today, German vintners are introducing innovative ideas to modernize their centuries-old traditions: celebrating iconic varieties like Riesling (the dominant grape of Germany), and Pinots, while experimenting with new grapes, styles, and techniques.
Our wine tour of Germany was hosted by Abigail Oliveras, a brand ambassador for German wines at Michael Skurnik Wines, who gave us her bubbly, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable perspective on these lesser-known and definitely underrated wines.
The evening started with a Schlossgut Diel Pinot de Diel Brut produced by a seventh generation and female winemaker. Made in the style of champagne blending the varietals Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, this wine leans bright, juicy and forward, rather than rich and toasty, and was the perfect fresh start to the evening.
This dinner was formatted a little differently in that we were immediately given a flight of three Rieslings to compare the range and how they paired with the different dishes based on the level of sweetness. One note about Riesling in general is that it is not an exclusively sweet wine and there are dry varietals. Another is that sometimes the sweetness and residual sugars of the wine make great food pairings in unexpected places, like with a charcuterie board for example.
For our purposes of the evening, our first Riesling was a 2017 Dr. Bürklin-Wolf Wachenheim ‘R Riesling Trocken (R for Reserve). It is aged in oak barrels for six years. The grapes are from vines that are over 100 years old, grown in an area further from water, with lots of sunshine as well as sandstone and limestone to hold onto the heat and assist in ripening. The wine itself is a bit off dry with a touch of minerality and fresh acidity. It also has nice herbal qualities, making it a great accompaniment with vegetables such as the asparagus. In our pairing. It was served with the most incredible hollandaise.
Selbach is the greatest ambassador for German wines from a wine business beginning at the 1600s. It is a family business in the village of Zeltinger with very old vines, not seen almost anywhere else, that were planted in the 1900s. Our second wine a 2021 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr ‘Uralte” Reben’ Riesling Spatlese Feinherb is another in the Riesling family. Deconstructing the title, Urlate meaning ultra old vines, Feinherb means off dry, while Spatlese signals that it is on the sweeter side. I think perfectly defined, it has an intense and mature elegance, a little spice, but also delicate light and fruity side to it as well. Riesling in general has a lot of acidity overall It is a great pairing with this dish in particular as well, which combined the hearty sausage with lighter-braised greens and a pop of flavor from the mustard seeds.
Our third Riesling was a Kabinett, and the sweetest of of the three with a lot more residual sugar. This is also a family-operated vineyard. The grapes are grown in volcanic soils and have a riper, juicier and more fruity quality with peachy notes. This wine is one that goes with any meal any time of day, like a substitute for a mimosa during breakfast or like this rich stew which plays off and cuts through the fatty and saltiness with its sweetness.
The vineyard of our fourth wine is located right at the border of three countries. It is located in Germany but about 15 minutes from Basel Switzerland and has views of France in the distance. While this is typically an area known for more mass produced affordable wines, but not necessarily the best table wine, this vineyard by winemaker Hanspeter is something different and more special. A Frenchman at heart Hanspeter makes the vineyards and the wines sync. Both passionate about wines and the place that he is from, he fights to keep the wines authentic and true to the terrior which for him includes the nearby black forest. The grape varietal is a Pinot Noir, with a nice dark berry cherry note and herbal finish. It has a great balance and finesse. As our only red for the night. It made for the perfect delicate pairing for the delicious roasted meat and nutty almost popcorn like spaetzle.
Finally, we finished with a Merkelbach Ürziger Würzgarten ‘Urglück’ Riesling Auslese from 2022. This wine has a really delicate floral sweetness with plenty of aromatics and acidity. It also has a very low alcohol content. Another general note is that the lower the alcohol content the sweeter the wine.
There are so many incredible destinations left in the series. I highly recommend you come along with us on this world-wide wine trip.
Starting with the next destination, Israel, right after the New Year on January 17