La Sibilla: Lessons in Salt and Acidity

Falanghina and  Salty Fried Fish

Photo by Oliver McCrum- Falanghina and Salty Fried Fish.

One of my favorite terroir-minded producers from the area around Naples is La Sibilla, a winery owned and operated by 5 generations of the Di Meo family.  I love Southern Italian wines, especially from Campania.  This is where you can go deep into Italy’s history, and uncover the really authentic, time-tested grape varietals.  More importantly, you’ll also find winemakers here like La Sibilla who love and respect these local grapes, and with them continue to craft elegant and authentic wines.  Volcanic ash dominates the soil, the sea surrounds the vineyards and the local viticultural practices all combine to highlight what makes these wines special: salt and acidity. 

I became enthralled by the La Sibilla wines after having found them in California, thanks to Oliver McCrum, Italian Wine Importer Extraordinaire.  Rule of thumb if you love Italian wines- get to know your importers.  If you find one whose palate you appreciate, you’ll likely enjoy most of their wines.  For me, Oliver McCrum is a great example.  I will buy anything they import!download

I really love Falanghina, and the original version from La Sibilla is truly special.  As Oliver says on his site, “This is an excellent seafood wine. I also drink it as a dry aperitif, with olives and salami, while deciding what to make for dinner.”  

Basically, you should never be without a bottle of this wine in your fridge!

I also found a beautiful 2-minute video created by Farm+Cellar, an amazing marketing group dedicated to wine and agricultural endeavors.  These vidoes are truly the next best thing to actually walking the vineyards with these producers.  Watch this- if only just to see what a 100-year-old Falanghina vine tree looks like…

I was already enchanted by these wines, but now I am also in love with Vincenzo Di Meo, his sun-drenched vineyards, his adorable accent, and his beautiful family.  Even at such a young age his philosophy is wise beyond years, “I am 24.  She [the vine] is 100.  I cannot change her.  I can only take the best she can give to me.”  Now that’s some wine-making I can get behind.DiMeo

Photo by Oliver McCrum- Famiglia Di Meo of La Sibilla

Let the vineyards speak for themselves.  Invite us into your home, your vineyard. Let us discover what is so special about your particular place in the world- your history, your family.

Grazie, famiglia Di Meo.

(If you like what you see in this viedo, and you’d like to support Farm+Cellar in their good work, vote for them here, to help them win a business grant from Chase.  Come on, you know you liked it!)

Grandma Lorraine will teach you a lot about wine.

Mugsy-1I am Italian by ethnicity on my father’s side of the family.  Grandma Lorraine is his mother, my Calabrese nonna.  She’ll remind you she’s Calabrese too- anytime it’s convenient.  Mostly when she’s being stubborn about something and she’s using her cultural heritage to remind you she won’t change her mind about something. “I’m Calabrese,” she says as she raps her fist on the table.  “You know what they say about the Calabrese.  Hard-headed.” Continue reading

On Spaghetti Westerns and Brunello. @michaelnemcik

Col dÓrcia 1997-1

Thanks to Michael Young of Palm Bay Imports, I had a chance to enjoy this bottle of Brunello the other night at Union restaurant in Pasadena.  (if you haven’t tried this place yet, do yourself a favor and get over there. Seriously.)

Col d’ Orcia’s 1997 Brunello di Montalcino was the perfect wine to compliment Chef Bruce Kalman’s hearty, local-Italian cuisine.  Especially his toothsome Spaghetti alla Chitarra

Spaghetti alla chitarra

(Spaghetti image courtesy of Gastronomy Blog.)

John-WayneThe wine was just perfect- the epitome of Sangiovese from Montalcino.  Tannins were softened by time, it was almost dusty- like that fine grit that coats everything after a trail ride.  The fruit was beautiful too- all brandied cherries and black plums.

However the nose was extraordinary.  This was one of those wines that defies all reason.  You smell things in the glass that couldn’t possibly be the creation of fermented grapes.  Sun-warmed saddle leather and spices.  Pine trees baking in the Tuscan sunshine.  Freshly dried, sweet hay.

 Michael Nemcik (sommelier, photographer, mixologist and general Renaissance-Man-of-Brentwood) proclaimed this wine, “The John Wayne of Brunello”.  So. Right. On.Nemcik

Michael Nemcik, enjoying a glass of Marina Cvetic Montepulciano at Castello di Semivicoli in Abruzzo.

It’s possible this beautiful Brunello had an even bigger personality than the people who enjoyed it that night.  Maybe.

PS. Even with almost 20 years of age, this wine can actually still be purchased!  Contact your local wine shop and ask them to order it from Palm Bay Imports.  It’s not often we get a chance to drink wines like this, at the quintessential moment in their life-cycles.  This one is cellar-aged to absolute perfection!

I say take no thought of the harvest…

… but only of proper sowing. (T.S. Eliot)


Ripe Prünent grapes waiting for harvest at Cantina Garrone.

These powerful words by T.S. Eliot remind us that in these frantic, labor-intensive days of harvest, and through these sleepless nights and anxious moments waiting for the right weather, the right temperature, the exact moment of ripeness- the real work is already done.cellar

Botti at Monteraponi, full and pregnant with years of hard work waiting inside.

I love this time of year when the world, both virtual, online and physical, is full of the harvest.  It is a good time to remember that wine is really just farming.  Agriculture at its most basic level.

Let’s not forget, the people who put wine in your glass spend a lot of time with their hands in the dirt.  These farmers are the backbone to our society.  They feed us: our souls, our bodies and our minds.  We need them.TeachingWinemakers from Vigne Surrau in Sardegna, explaining the intricacies of Vermentino.

This is a good time of year to remember: the world needs a winemaker.





Kings of the Carso. @winestories

Benjamin Zidarich and his Vitovska

Friends of mine are going to the Carso soon.  I am ecstatic for them because, even as this is a place I have not yet seen in person, I feel like I know it already.  There will be a stiff breeze from the Adriatic and an electric, razor-sharp quality to the sunlight here.  There will be lots of wine, cured pork, lovely cheeses.  Bright red soil crunching under your feet.  A salty brine- electricity in the air.  

The wines from the Carso are authentic.  There’s no other word for them.  They are stone and sweat and dirt and rainwater.  They’re not orange wines because it’s hip to make orange wine.  Skin-contact is a necessary tool for ensuring native fermentation- not a political statement.  Color is secondary to the very nature of the wine. Stick your nose in a glass of Vitovska and you won’t care about the color anyway- it’s beguiling and smells of jasmine and tea leaves and sea-spray.  There’s acidity like a lightening bolt and a lingering umami that clings forever on your palate. The Carso is calling you!

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Bubbles by Benanti

Benanti Bubbles 1-1

I had the pleasure of tasting this bottle, Benanti’s Noblesse, a few weeks ago after we found it thanks to Dan Pirelli, at the Wine Hotel in Los Angeles.  100% Carricante grapes, 100% Etna.  Who says great sparkling is only made with Chardonnay?! Crisp and yeasty with a great acidity- this wine is masterful and will age well for many years. Although it’s not uncommon to find producers in Italy who work mainly with still wines, conducting sparkling wine “experiments” on the side, this bottling is clearly way more than a side project.   I love finding first-class bubbles in unexpected places!

When Giuseppe Benanti saw my picture posted to Facebook he was happy to comment:

“26 years ago, when I decided to take up this Ancient Family Passion of wine-making, I gave myself a goal: To make wine on Etna, from Etna, and to protect the great capacity of the terroir of our mountain!  …We stayed straight on this path, and we took no shortcuts.  Having been a pharmacist for 42 years prior, I can assure you of the time and effort we took to research and analyze various techniques- all of which were very familiar to me. Continue reading

Take me where I can see the Mountains. #valdossola #prünent

View of valleyA view of Val d’Ossola in Piemonte.

Wines are emotional for me- some more than others.   Cantine Garrone makes some of the most potent wines I know- effectively pulling at my heartstrings anytime I taste them. This obscure winery is the result of winemaker and visionary Mario Garrone’s unflagging love for his land.

vineyard management

Mario Garrone and Diego Meraviglia in the vineyard.

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