The ICCC invited local freelance writer, Rosie Carbo, to our August Wine Tasting and here’s what she had to say…
American Market Savors Emerging Italian Wines
By: Rosie Carbo
The Italian Cultural and Community Center, the voice of the Italian-American community in Houston, hosted another Italian wine tasting session recently. This educational wine tasting focused on the extraordinary “Emerging Wines of Italy” and their developing popularity in the American market.
“When you’ve got restaurants like the Olive Garden, coming to the table with a bottle of Moscato di Asti, that means something. We know from experience that restaurants often set the pace for wines that will be popular,” said Philip Cusimano, a 30-year veteran wine broker who led the discussion.
Moscato de Asti, an elegant white table wine with notes of green apple and tropical fruits, was the first wine tasted by approximately 100 members and guests of the nonprofit, who gathered at the group’s community center in southeast Houston.
Cusimano, who selected three white wines and three reds from different regions of Italy, said that according to Italian restaurant data, Moscato di Asti has become more popular in the United States in last few years.
“In the ‘60s, 70s and 80s, Anti Spumante was king. But Moscato de Asti, which has received the DOCG designation from the Italian governing body for wines, is more refined and more elegant. So in the last three to four years, it’s become more popular,” Cusimano told the crowd.
Claudia Sims, president of the ICCC, is a true wine aficionado who often doesn’t detect the individual notes in wines. But Mascato de Asti, which retails for $23.00 a bottle, resulted in her wine epiphany.
“I never taste anything in most wines, but this is the first wine where I can really taste the green apples,” said Sims, during the question and answer session that followed each tasting.
The next wine tasted was Vermentino, a mellow white varietal from Sardinia that takes its name from the grape. Cusimano explained that in order to be classified as a varietal, a wine must contain at least 70 percent of one single grape. He also explained that two characteristics of a good white table wine are mineral and acidity content.
“Wines from Sardinia have been in the market for about 10 years, but it’s only in the last three or four years that they’ve become popular in the United States. There are several reasons, and one could be its characteristics. Other reasons are that it goes well with different types of food. Personally, I think it goes great with clams and mussels,” he said of Vermentino, which sell for $19.00 a bottle.
He said the wines of Sardinia have been around for centuries. In fact, they are so resilient that in the 1800s, Sardinia’s vines escaped a dreaded disease that wiped out vines in France and other European countries.
“All the wines we taste here tonight are good quality. They have greater integration, which means they are so well balanced that it’s more difficult to determine their notes, and to pick them apart,” Cusimano said.
The third wine of the evening was Soave, which comes from the Garganega grape. The straw-colored wine’s indispensible characteristic is its low yield. Cusimano said Soave came from a single vineyard and single grape or a group of grapes, making it a generic wine.
“A generic wine like Soave can be from a single grape or a group of grapes. For example, look at Bordeaux, with its cabernet sauvignon. Or white Bordeaux, and Burgundy, Rioja and Barolo. These are all generic, low yield quality wines. This Soave carries the DOC designation and has notes of honey, pear and vanilla. Some people think it tastes like white Burgundy and Chardonnay,” he said.
“In the 70s, Soave Bolla was very popular in the United States. But it was mass produced and people in Italy wouldn’t drink it. Now, that’s changing. New generations of wine drinkers are asking for it again. Remember what I said about good wine having lower yield,” he said of Soave, which retails for about $32.00 a bottle.
Tasting of the three red wines began with a Gaglioppo, which retails for $19.00 a bottle and comes from the Calabria region of Italy. Cusimano said red wines from Italy, including Calabria, are outstanding when paired with food because of their inherent characteristics.
“Reds have signature characteristics, which are peppers and spices. You ought to be able to taste and smell the spices. Just think of some of the Italian dishes you pair with red wines. When you match the spices with food, it’s great. So I think this type of wine could become very popular in the United States,” he said.
Cusimano pointed out that these reds had soft, rounded tannins rather than harsh ones found in some red wines. The Gaglioppo was silky smooth with notes of plums, chocolate, vanilla bean and licorice.
The next featured wine was a bold red Rosso Toscano from the popular Tuscan region of Italy. It was a soft, elegant red wine with notes of cherry, peppers, cinnamon and other spices. At $24.00 a bottle, this red wine is a great value among red table wines from Italy. These generic wines, blended from Sangiovese grapes, are called Super Tuscans.
Morellino di Scansano was the final red wine of the evening. It was an extraordinary red with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg and black cherries. This wine is from Scansano, in the lower region of Tuscany known as Maremma. This area is also the home of the Italian Cowboy.
“These wines have just started coming to the United States. Part of the reason it’s taken so long to discover them, is that the people of this region are very independent and very stubborn. So they resisted the Italian government’s classification system. But Morellino is like Chianti where you have the Sangiovese grape. This is the biggest wine we’ve tasted tonight,” Cusimano said. A bottle of Morellino di Scansano retails for $24.00.
Before wrapping up the wine tasting, where the selected wines are poured until the bottles are empty, Sims reminded attendees that the next wine tasting is scheduled for November. She also said the ICCC encourages people interested in learning Italian, its culture and its food and wine to come join the Italian Cultural and Community Center.
“We have many programs here at the Italian Cultural and Community Center, whether you’re Italian, want to be Italian or just learn about Italy, you can become a member. In fact, we have the only center in Texas that provides the PLIDA (Dante Alighieri Italian Language Project) exam,” Sims said.
The ICCC will celebrate its 33rd Festa Italian (Italian Festival) in October. Its November wine tasting, “Masters of Italian Wine” will be offered in two parts. For more information, go to the group’s web site at www.iccchouston.com or call (713) 524-4222.
About The Author
Rosie Carbo became a wine lover on her first trip to Spain. Since then the Texas journalist has made wine tasting a hobby. The former newspaper reporter has written articles on the wines of Spain, Portugal and Argentina. Currently a full-time freelance writer, Carbo also writes about food, travel, art and fashion for Texas magazines and web sites.