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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Best wishes for the coming New Year 2011.

Reno Spiteri & granddaughter Julia wish all of you a
Very Successful & Happy New Year 2011.
I have not posted any features these last couple of weeks due to the Festive Season's commitments.
I have a few features in preparation on various wine topics and shall continue with the popular features "A Taste of:.." in January. I have reviewed selected premium wines from Campania, Piedmonte, Malta, more from Tuscany and Sicily, and some others are also lined up from other countries and regions.

I shall be changing the large photo display of the Vina' Tondonia White Gran Riserva 1964 at the beginning of the year, so if you are a wine producer, anywhere in the world, and wishes me to display your topmost, premium wine brand for six months at the head of this website, contact me on for further details.

In the meantime, I wish everyone that follows this website, wine producers, wine enthusiasts and afficionados, sponsors and friends a VERY SUCCESSFUL AND HAPPY NEW YEAR 2011.
Happy New Year to all. Thanks for your support.

Next feature due first week of January. Stay tuned.

Best Regards & Heartful Best Wishes,

Reno Spiteri.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Taste of Italy: TUSCANY (1).

Sangiovese grape variety cluster.
TUSCANY is the quintessential Italian wine region and is the home of three of Italy's most important wines: Chianti; Brunello di Monatlcino; and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It is also the home of the "Super Tuscans", a range of IGT non-traditional wines that are superlative in quality.

The Sangiovese grape variety is the most important red grape in this region, and apart from its use in the production of the above three, major, traditional wines, it is considered to be one of the greatest red grapes in Italy.

Since the 1970's and 80' when the major winemakers of Italy decided to produce wines of a much higher quality than in the past, and with the advent of the new Italian wine classification laws coming into play, not only were the traditional wines improved to world class calibre but this era gave birth to a high quality wine which was produced outside the norms and rules in an untraditional manner. These are the so called "Super Tuscans", which apart from being superlative wines, are in most cases quite expensive.

With so much excellent red wines being produced in Tuscany, with the exception of the region's famous and unique dessert wine, known as Vin Santo, white wine has been mostly an aftertought for both wine producers and wine drinkers. Therefore, although some very good and exciting white wine is being produced in small quantities from mainly Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and from Tuscany's traditional Vernacchia di San Giminiano grape varieties, we shall at this stage deal with examples of three of the top Tuscan red wines and a sample of the sweet Vin Santo.

Chianti Selections: Riserva, Classico and Chianti
To understand these wines we have to emphasise the fact that the Sangiovese grape varietal comes in different clones, and that the main ones differ enormously in flavour. The major Sangiovese clones are the "Sangioveto", which is one of the clones found in the production of the very best Chiantis. Chianti wine comes under names of Chianti Riserva, Chianti Classico and just Chianti, all boasting the coveted DOCG classification, although most vary in taste and quality depending on the blend, and the calibre of the Sangiovese grape vintage which must provide 85% or more of the wine blend.
For the production of Brunello di Montalcino we have the "Brunello" clone; and the "Prugnolo" clone is used in the production of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

Trebiano and Malvasia vines have been planted over a period of many years for the production of the white and sweet dessert wine Vin Santo.

The four wines that we have under review in this first feature about Tuscany, are produced by:
CANTINE LEONARDO DA VINCI of Vinci, Florence, Tuscany:


Da Vinci Chianti Riserva 2006.
This wine is an extremely supple wine, which in my opinion is less tannic than a Cabernet Sauvignon and more elegant than a Syrah or a Merlot wine. It contains excellent balance and good acidity that cleans the palate and makes one want to eat and enjoy food more. Hence, Tuscany's traditional seven course lunches and dinners, with selections of antipasti, primo piatti for various pasta and ravioli with ricotta and different sauces, secondi of bistecca ala fiorentina, grilled chicken, roast lamb; accompanied by selections of fresh vegetables; various dolci fatti in casa (desserts), fresh fruit, cheeses and coffee.

The Da Vinci Chianti Riserva is only produced if vintages are good and the Da Vinci Riserva 2006 is produced from pure "Sangioveto" Sangiovese grapes. This vintage has won the International Wine Challenge 2009 Bronze medal and the AWC Vienna 2009 Silver Medal. The 2004 Riserva which we have also taste- tested was also produced from 85% pure Sangiovese grapes, 10% Merlot and a 5%  blend of Syrah, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes.

The 2006 Da Vinci Chianti Riserva 2006 DOCG is ruby red in colour, full-bodied and with a distincly fruity bouquet of ripe cherries with hints of vanilla and cinamon. On the palate the wine is spicy yet mellow, with hints of chocolate, cherry and prunes and a little salt. The finish is lingering with balanced tannins and good acidity.

Alcohol content: 13% by volume.
Serving temperature: 18 deg. C.
Price range: Eur16.



A taste of Brunello di Montalcino.
The dark one, or as it is more commonly known BRUNELLO, is Tuscany's most exalted wine. It is considered to be Tuscany's rarest and most expensive range of wines. It is made in Montalcino, hence the official name and classification of Brunello di Montalcino. This region is some two hours drive from the Chianti Classico region.

Brunello di Montalcino is based on the Sangiovese - Brunello clone- alone, and unlike Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, other grape varieties are not blended in with the Brunello Siangiovese grape varietal to layer in more flavour in weak vintage years. In good years, the brunello clone, yields a lavish full-bodied wine, with more structure, texture and complexity than Chianti, having splendid aromas and flavour.

The Da Vinci Brunello di Montalcino 2005 DOCG, is clear and purple red, with orange shades that are typical of all excellent red wines. It is produced from 100% pure "Brunello" Sangiovese grapes, handpicked and sourced from the small hillside in the commune of Montalcino. The wine takes a long, careful time to be produced with fermentation and maceration taking about 15 to 20 days with frequent pumping over. Fermentation then takes place in 100% stainless steels tanks under controlled conditions to ensure excellent colour and good tannins. Once fermented the wine is then aged in oak barrels for two years. After this period the wine spends three years aging in the bottle prior to its release.

The wine has a rich bouquet of chocolate, blackberry and cherrys,. On the palate it is full-bodied and well balanced with strong tannins and good acidity, with tastes of cinamom, spice and black pepper. It has a very elegant, long and persistent finish with an excellent aftertaste of fruit.

Alcohol content: 13% by volume.
Serving Temperature: 18 Deg. C.
Price range: Eur36.


3. STO. IPPOLITO - TOSCANA 2006 IGT. (Super-Tuscan).

Da Vinci Super-Tuscan Sto. Ippolito 2006.
Super-Tuscan wines are classified as IGT wines, but nevertheless they are some of the very best and most expensive wines on the market. Choosing a Super-Tuscan is a matter of taste as the blends vary in accordance with the winemakers' own formula, and may and may not contain Sangiovese in the final blend. What one can say at this stage is, that the Super-Tuscan concept is no longer the sole preserve of the world famous Sassicaia or Tignanello, as other producers in Tuscany are producing and introducing various excellent wines which fall under this category. Super-Tuscans are made in an international style, generally dense and powerful, packed with tannins and good acidity and imparting that vanilla flavour which is eminated to the wine by new oak barriques in which the wine is matured.

The SANTO IPPOLITO-TOSCANA 2006 IGT Super-Tuscan is produced from a blend of 50% Syrah and 50% Merlot grapes, grown and harvested on the small hilly area of Sto. Ippolito near Florence.
Maceration takes place on the skins for some 20 days with frequent, gentle pumping over to maintain good colour, supple tannis and the rich fruit aromas and flavours that are characteristic to both grape varieties.
The wine is then matured for twelve months in 2.25 hectolitre barrique, after which it is racked into bottles without fining or filtration. The wine is aged for a further six months before release.

Purple-red in colour, with good depth and legs on the glass indicating a strong structure. On the nose one immediately senses  red fruit perfumes, with spicy oaky vanilla and black pepper, and toasted oak. On the palate it is savoury and soft at the same time with a strong, ripe and  fruity taste. Tannis, acidity and alcohol are perfectly balanced, giving a lenghty and elegant finish.

Alcohol content: 13%
Serving Temperature : 18 Deg.C
Price range: Eur20.


FOOD PAIRING: The above three traditional wines of Tuscany pair well with roast lamb; roast beef and grilled prime steaks; bistecca fiorentina; game; mature Pecorino and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses; dishes containing truffle; pasta with red and meat sauces. Strong and flavoured vegetable dishes. Typical and traditional Tuscany cuisine.


The best known sweet wine in Italy is known as Vin Santo, or holy wine. It is so named as it has been drunk by catholic priests for centuries during the celebration of Holy Mass. Vin Santo in Tuscanny is the customary finale' to every decent meal in this region, and is served after dessert with an espresso coffee.

Da Vinci VinSanto Dessert wine.
The Da Vinci VinSanto - Bianco Dell' Empolese DOC 2004,  is produced from a blend of the best clusters of Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes which after carefull handpicking are dried for several days or weeks in the vinsantale to remove all water from the grapes to retain only the nectar prior to pressing, maturing and aging. The result is a superb, rich, amber coloured dessert wine.

This sweet, white, dessert wine is amber in colour, having an intense fragrance of honey and hazelnuts, and with rich, creamy and delicate flavours on the palate as diverse as a selection of honey-roasted nuts and sweet chile raisins. The taste is well rounded and balanced.

Alcohol content: 16.5% by volume.
Price range: Eur28
Food pairing: Desserts and after dinner coffee, espressos.


A taste of Tuscan wines for the enthusiast and afficionado.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Taste of Sicily (1).

Nero D'Avola Ripe Grape Bunch.
Sicily is the land where the Medeterranean Triumvirate of Wine, Olive Oil and Bread, is the most apparent. The island's hilly terrain, poor soil and persistent sunlight are tailor made for the production of all three Italian necessities.
For many years, Sicily like many other regions in the south of Italy, suffered from the same mentality that quantity mattered more than quality. Consequently in much of the twentieth century, yields in Sicilian vineyards were pushed to the limit and wine making was haphazard. Thus Sicily and several Southern Italian regions on the mainland, became infamous for the production of extremely cheap vino di tavola, (table wine) of abysmally low quality.

This massive decline in the reputation of Sicilian wines caused several serious producers to launch a mini-revolution to change the status quo in the 1970's and 80's towards the production of better quality wines.

Today, some fascinating wines are coming out of Sicily than was the case even some ten years ago, and although some of these wines are still not yet widely known, some of them rank with the best wines produced in the whole of Italy.

The quality revolution targeted among other grape varietals, the Nero D'Avola  (Calabrese') grape variety, which is an indegenious grape of Sicily. This grape was and still is the most widely planted varietal all over Sicily and consequently was prostituted and abused all over the island in the production of cheap wines by anyone who could make wine, being farmers, vineyard owners and even some commercial winemakers.

In its present cultivation, Nero D'Avola can produce some excellent wine of the highest quality having an intensive black colour, with real depth, fruitiness and appeal. This only came about by the fact that Sicilian winemakers of note, have in their employ the very best wine consultants, agronomists, viniculturists and oneologists. Success does not come easy especially in such a competitive market, and the reconstitution of shattered reputations take a long time and effort to be rebuilt.

A winemaker who has come a long way to produce and bring to the market some of the very best Sicilian wines is FEUDO MONTONI di Fabio Sireci. This winery extends over 73 hectares of prime land in the region of Montoni Vecchi in the province of Cammarata. Wine is derived from an age-old and unadulterated clone of the Nero D'Avola grape variety which has been grown for many years in the Feudo Montoni vineyards.

A premium wine of note from this winemaker which we have been following for some vintages and years is the: FEUDO MONTONI -del Principato di Villanova - NERO D'AVOLA VRUCARA IGT.
Although classified as an IGT wine, this wine ranks well above than some of the best DOCG wines of other varietals. I have taste-tested and reviewed vintages of this wine since the 2005 vintage was introduced to me, with the latest vintage recieved being the 2007 vintage.These wines can be drunk now, but although excellent in their present form, in my opinion these vintages are still very young and require more bottle aging in good cellars to bring out the full structure and complexity of such a full-bodied red wine.

Vrucara 2005 & 2007 Vintages.
The VRUCARA is produced from 100% Nero D'Avola grapes, culled from the very best vineyards of Feudo Montoni, and are handpicked primarily from old vines averaging 40 years.

Vinification: The grapes are destemmed and crushed through soft membrane. The must is then pressed and fermented with natural yeasts and left for a long maceration process on the skins lasting for 25 days under temperature controlled conditions. Malolactic fermentation is then carried out in wooden barrels to soften the acidity.

Oak Aging- is carried out for 8 months in barriques after which, the wine is transferred into larger wooden barrels for another 4 months (tonneaux).

Bottle Aging: The wine is then bottled without any fining or filtering and left to age in the bottle in the winemakers cellars for another 6 months prior to release.

This wine has a dark red, nearly inky black colour, with floral aromas and a bouquet of cherries, vanilla, and berries. On the palate the Vrucara is full-bodied, strong and elegant at the same time, with flavours of red berries, vanilla, ripe plums and chocolate. It has a high level of tannins and decent and good acidity. 

This particular Nero D'Avola wine is rich, complex and well structured, spicey and very well balanced. It has a long, unique and mellow finish which does not leave an aftertatse that would interfere with a sweet dessert after dinner. My recommendation, as with most full-bodied, premium red wines, is to open the bottle about two hours prior to serving and/or to decant it for better complexity and refinement.

Overall, the FEUDO MONTONI NERO D'AVOLA VRUCARA in any of its recent vintages resulted in an excellent premium wine for this grape varietal.

FOOD PAIRING: This wine pairs well with roast shank of lamb; roast red meats; grilled prime steaks; game and mature cheeses.
Alcoholic content by volume is: 13.5%
Price range : Eur30.

RATING: RS92 Points.

Aging potential: 10 to 15 years.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

WHITE WINES- Fish, Seafood and Shellfish.

French Selection - Burgundy whites.
Sommeliers and experts on food and wine have for many years experimented with food and wine pairings and have come to the conclusion that the perfect foods to pair with white wines are fish and seafood. But, alas, when one asks most diners as to what their preferences in white wines are, most would come out with the same stock answer of - Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or in some case a Chenin Blanc. One might ask what about Semillon, Vernacchia di San Giminiano, Greco di Tufo, a Riesling or a Muscadet, Viogner, Vermentino, a crispy Arneis, a Gavi di Gavi, or a Gewurztraminer?

Reno Spiteri's Seafood Platter Arrangement.
 But what makes white wines so perfect a pairing with fish and seafood?
As some shellfish contain iodine, this creates a problem which complicates harmonious pairings with wine. This component has a negative interaction with tannins found in red wine, as it produces a disagreeable metalic flavour on the palate, that is in mouth feel, the taste. In addition to iodine, seafood may also have a very strong flavour, so that the wine should also have a similarly strong structure and also good acidity to lower the intensity of the iodine. This acidity can be found in wines such as a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling, a Semillon, Chardonnay, Trebiano, a Viogner and others, which are excellent unoaked and pair well with seafood and shellfish including mussels and oysters. Wine matured in wooden, normally oak barrels or barriques, due to the implemenation of the wood notes (tastes and flavours) in the resultant wine, can be too aggressive and structured for shellfish, and are thus not perfect mates. With reference to Chardonnay, an unoaked wine choice can be suitable if the wine is drunk young to ensure good acidity.

White wine should ideally be drunk at  cooler temparatures, depending on the grape varietal. Temperatures of anything between 8 deg.C and 12 Deg. C are suitable as white wines have a more delicate texture and are lighter bodied than red wines. White wine flavours are generally fresh, citrusy, and having good acidity which gives them a light feel in the mouth, thus creating complimentary flavours and textures which in turn leads to a perfect pairing with fish, shellfish and seafood.

Fish can be classified into three categories: lean, medium-fatty and fatty.

Grilled Scorpion Fish.
 White or lean fish having a high water content are considered to be the most delicate. They have as little or even less than 2% fat per 100grams of fish fillet, which makes them easily digestible in the stomach. Little fat also means that their caloric content is less than 100 calories per 100grams. Lean fish varieties vary from country to country whereas some countries may enjoy lean fish such as cod, haddock and flounder, sole and grouper and red snapper, others might have different species. For these types of fish a delicate and subtle wine is recommended such as an unoaked Chardonnay whose fruity notes compliment perfectly the character of this type of fish. A good Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Trebiano or an excellent Arneis or a Chenin Blanc, all unoaked of course, light or medium bodied, are also good choices, especially for fish eaters who love to squeeze fresh lemon juice on their fish. Creamy sauces should be avoided when drinking unoaked white wine. Other fish types in the lean category include: Bass, Turbot, Monkfish, John Dory ( Pesce di San Pietro), and many others. Wines such as an unoaked Viogner, Vermentino, Greco di Tufo, Semillon, and others are good choices. Seafood and seashells that have a low fat content are: Clams, Crab, Lobster, scallops, shrimps, prawns, oysters and squid. If any of this fish and seafood is served with a cream sauce, as in cases of lobster and crab, then a good oak aged white wine at a temperature of 11deg. C would be your choice.

The second group of fish is the medium-fatty fish category which have some 2% to 6% fat content per 100 grams of fish fillet. Among the most common fish in this category we find: sea bream, scorpion fish, trout, swordfish, marlin, and others. Wines for this type of fish should have more chatacter and could also have a brief aging period in oak barrels, and must be served at the correct temperatures. If the fish cuisine served has a cream sauce, then wine aged in oak is the best choice. Wine choices here are numerous and depend on one's preference of the grape varietal. Light and medium bodied wines are more suitable here.

Italian Whites Selection.
Finally we have the fatty fish category. The fat content in fatty fish, seafood and seashells can vary between 8% and 15% for every 100grams and may also contain a higher caloric content of between 120 and 200 calories per 100 grams. In this category we can include salmon, tuna, sardines, mackarel, farm raised Bream (Awrata), sturgeon, and even octopus. Fat content might vary and depends from which region the fish is caught and even in what season and time of year. The texture of this fish type is fattier and more fibrous and they are best accompanied by wines with the same type of charater and structure. Other fish that are served as popular dishes in the Mediterranean area are: Amberjack (acciola); Dentex (Dentici); Wreckfish (Dott); Pilot Fish (fanfru); Corb (gurbell); Dolphin Fish (lampuka); Pandora (Pagella); Bass (spnotta); and of course there are many others. Maybe I have only mentioned the type that I like or what is mostly found in good fish and seafood restaurants. With this type of fish my wine choices would vary in accordance with how the fish is cooked, grilled, poached, steamed, baked, and the sauce served with it if any. Creamy; or red sauce with tomatos, herbs, and olives; or just plain with lemon juice. Then I pick what I might fancy at the moment, sticking to oaked wine for the creamy servings and the unoaked for the rest. Medium or full bodied wine, chilled to 11 or 12Deg.C, pairs well with this type of fish and seafood.
The list is vast. so I'm giving you here a selection of choices of white wine by body structure:
Light-Bodied White Wines:  Bordeaux white - Semillon, Sauvignon and Muscadelle; Most Italian White wines; Muscadet; Orvieto; Pinot Grigio; Riesling;  Soave; Verdicchio; Vinho Verde.
Medium-Bodied White Wines: Albarino; Bordeaux white wines cru;  Chablis; unoaked Chardonnay; Chenin Blanc; Gewurztraminer; Macon-villages; Pinot Blanc; Pinot Gris;Pouilli-Fuisse'; Pouilly-Fume'; Sancerre; Sauvignon Blanc.
Full-Bodied White Wines: Burgundy white-Chardonnay Grand Cru; Chablis Grand Cru; Oaked Chardonnay; Viogner; Vermentino, Alsatian Pinot Gris; Gavi di Gavi (Cortese'); Greco di Tufo.

Poached Salmon Steak

Mixed Seafood.

White wines selection from Malta.