I would love to go wine tasting in Italy.  Really, there are few trips I would love to go on more, and am planning a trip in 2014.  But until then, I will seize any and all opportunities to learn and savor the best that Italy has to offer on this side of the pond.  This past Tuesday, my favorite local wine store (Tower Wines) had a wonderful wine tasting with three different Italian wine makers.  It was a lot of fun and the wines were great.

Tower recently built a beautiful tasting room with long tables make from wooden wine boxes.  The space is well lit and small enough for an intimate feel.  It has a different entrance away from the retail store so you really feel like you are in a completely separate and secluded setting. I am really looking forward to more wine events here.  It does not hurt that Tower is less than 10  minutes from my house.

When we walked in, we were handed a sparkling glass of Prosecco Treviso (Extra Dry, NV $9) that was light, refreshing and a wonderful start to the evening.  The nose was a little fruity but it was a dry bubbly which is right up my alley.  This was a seated tasting so we selected our seats and admired the gorgeous set of wine glasses waiting to be explored.

Tasting Glasses of Italian Wines

Each winery sent their winemaker to lead the tasting of their three wines.  The first winery, Occhipinti, is located in Sicily and was represented by winemaker Arianna Occhipinti.  The first wine, the only white in the tasting, was the Tami Grillo 2010 ($18).  It was a light, slightly fruity wine that was golden in color and lovely.  I can see enjoying the wine with some grilled fish or brie and crackers.  Next up was the Tami Nero d’Avola 2010 ($20).  This varietal is very popular in Sicily.  This particular wine was young and fruity and instead of using oak, they aged  the wine in a cement container.  The balanced acidity and tannins will allow for further aging in the cellar (I asked about this).  The last wine in this set was the Occhipinti SP68 2010 ($26).  While this blend also included Nero d’Avola (along with Frappato) the nose was very different.  If I has to pick a wine that this reminded me of I would compare it to a Pinot Noir in body and color.  The winemaker also commented that this wine would pair nicely with fish similar to Pinot Noir.  At the end of the tasting I had the opportunity to meet the three winemakers.

Occhipinti winemaker Arianna Occhipinti

Tower generously provided us with a wide array of food pairings for the wines which really helped me to get a feel for how they would complement various types of meals.  And, any place that serves me wine, cured meat, salmon spread and cheese earns me as a friend for life.

Tasty provisons to enjoy with wine

The second winery was Roagna which is located far away from Sicily in the northen region of Piedmont.  This area is famous for its legendary Barolos that I yearn to try more of in the future.  The winemaker, Luca Roagna, shared with us tales from his winemaking experiences while we savored his wines.  The first was the Roagna Dolcetto d’Alba 2010 ($20).  This is often a varietal enjoyed as a younger wine relative to the wines made from Nebbiolo so it was fruity.  It was light bodied and smooth with some acidity.  The vineyards are pesticide free because they believe that chemicals and poisons like pesticides will make their way up the food chain and into the wine which makes sense to me.  This wine could age a little but it was ready to drink for those who like young, fruity wines.

Roagna winemaker Luca Roagna

Next up was the Roagna Barbaresco “Paje” 2005 ($65).  A very different wine than the Dolcetto due to the different varietal (Nebbiolo) and considerably more age.  As a result, it was much drier yet smooth, elegant and light with some acidity.  Of course I loved this wine as it was triple the price of the others tasted thus far.  The last wine from Roagna was the Barolo “La Rocca e la Pira” 2005 ($65).  This was lighter in body than I was expecting because Barola’s have a reputation for being ‘big”wines, but it was smooth, elegant and my favorite wine of the night.

The last winery of the event was Marco De Bartoli which makes dessert style wines in Sicily.  The winemaker, Sebastiano De Bartoli spoke about making his wines while we enjoyed them with sweet and decadent treats provided by Tower.  The first wine was the “Pietranera” Zibibbo 2010 ($36), a fruity and light dessert wine.  Interestingly, the winemaker recommended pairing this with fish and not just sweet dishes as I would have thought.  The next two wines were Marsala wines which I was very curious about.  I cook with Marsala wine often and have tasted it before and could not imagine drinking a whole glass.  But, I was determined to have an open mind and was so amazingly surprised!  The first Marsala was the Vecchio Samperi Ventannale.  Aged 20 years and made from the grillo grape.  $70.  The second was aged 10 years and was the Superiore Riserva 10 Anni $65.  Both were so delicious!  I know that these are wines to be sipped slowly and in small quantities but both were like liquid gold.  My view on Marsala was completely changed but I fear that this level of quality is rare.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable and informative experience.  There was one thing that I was not sure if I was going to write about but it definitely affected our experience.  As I mentioned before, this was a seated and somewhat formal tasting.  One guest arrived really late, after the first winemaker had started her presentation.  He disrupted everyone and loudly announced that he has mistakenly gone to a competitor’s store which was not something he needed to share.  Then he sat down next to me, and opened up a book.  The winemaker from Occhipinti was speaking and I thought it was so rude to not give her his attention.  After about two minutes, he got up to get some of the food from the table which was behind the winemaker and pretty much pushed her aside so he could get to the table.  Then he came back to our table and proceeded to power through all his wines at warp speed, loudly swishing them and then even more loudly spitting into his spit bucket that he brought from home.  In several cases, he tasted more than one at the same time before spitting both.  It was so distracting.  I had to ask because maybe he was some famous wine writer who was required to spit.  Turns out he is a pilot and had to get tested for something the next day.  Regardless, I was appalled at how rude and disruptive he was.  All I can hope is that I don’t set seated near him in the future.