How many of you remember Huey Lewis and the News? Yeah, I’m older than dirt! For those of you who don’t know the band’s hit, “It’s Hip to be Square,” it is sung from the perspective of an individual who was once a free-spirited hippie, but now embraces the square life style.
I never subscribed to the hippie life style, and if anything my spirit is freer now than when I was in my teens, so to put it plainly I am not a hip guy. Decidedly not hip. Politically I am to the right of Attila the Hun. Technologically, Apple made me wait until two years after the death of Steve Jobs before they reluctantly agreed to sell me an IPhone, and I use it to maybe 10% of its capabilities. I’m not allowed to wear anything advertised in GQ, especially Abercrombie & Fitch. I have absolutely no idea what’s on network TV, and I’ve never listened to a Lady Gaga song.
However, there is one area where I’m on the cutting edge of societal evolution, wine. Yup, I’m a trend-setter, especially after reading this month’s edition of Wine Spectator’s feature story, “Off the Beaten Path.” Their wine editors pick 30 wine hot-spots, some I’ve been talking about for two years now, and even visited some of them last year.
My proudest pick is Sicilian reds from Etna. I’ve visited Sicily twice in the last two years and I claim the island as my spiritual home land. If I had to spend the rest of my life studying and drinking wine from just one place I think I’d pick Sicily. Etna is the home of Nerreollo Mascalese and Nerrello Cappucio grapes. Planted high on Etna’s lava flows, they are known locally as “contradas.” Since the soil and climate of each contradas are different, the windswept vineyards of Etna resembles the “cru” system of Barolo and Barbaresco with the climate of Burgundy at a price tag a fraction of the cost of any of the wines from those areas.
So in celebration of my hipness I held my own personal tasting of two Etna wines; Luce di Lava Cantine Russo 2008 and Tascante Ghiaia Nera 2010. What a joy; for a few hours I was back in Sicily.
In the glass both wines looked identical. “Rosso” is the best description but that technically is a wine term, not a color description. Rosso is a term used for a red wine that is also very dry and boy that description hits the nail on the head for both wines. You had to work to generate an aroma from the Tascante, frequent swilling was required. The Luce di Lava responded better with less work. When it came to the taste you had to weigh finesse vs. fruit bomb. I’m used to big fruit bombs, however with both wines you get the red berry flavor but not that rock’-em-sock’-em blockbuster effect we American’s love so much.
I enjoyed both but preferred the Luce. My resident Sicilian and those who joined the tasting via e-mail from Sicily favored the Tascante. By the way, it wasn’t until I was past my fourth glass I noted that Tascante is the vineyard owners name, Tasca, and Etna spelled backwards. What is the alcohol percentage of these wines?
Unless you’re nuts like me, you’ve never tasted wines like these and you should. They are light in the European tradition, but with berry and peppery flavors that will put a smile on your face. You’ll be thinking Burgundy and not Nero d’Avola, not that there is anything wrong with Nero d’Avola. Drink them blended or as single Varietals you will not be disappointed.
My next two big picks were the “pinks” of Provence and the reds of Banol. I visited here last fall and absolutely loved the wine and terroir of this section on France. Land of Light and Wine is how the area is best described.
Cru Beaujolais, I didn’t know what Beaujolais was two years ago when I fell in love with Beaujolais Nouveau, so consider Cru Beaujolais a wine for grownups. Look for wines from Fleurie, Morgon and Moulin-a-Vent, they’ll set you back about $30 but that’s about half the price the Bordeaux will set you back. I’ll bet you’d enjoy it just as much.
The article also talked about Greek wines. Want to guess where my travel plans already on the books are taking me next year? Better quality, no retsina, value packed reds and whites; yeah, Greece is the place. Some of the best are from the Island of Santorini.
If I ever took a vacation from Sicily I’d go drink Vermentino di Sardegna in Sardinia. I’d go to the Argiolas vineyard and enjoy this white wine with some cheese and local bread and just enjoy the sunshine. For those who would prefer a French flavor of this wine, sail a little further north to Corsica.
Other hip wine spots are Spain and Portugal. And I predict that we’ll be hearing more from South Africa, Brazil, and not too long down the road, we should get ready for China. Here in the United States wines from the Finger Lakes in New York are going to make a mark. Texas is already the 5th largest wine producing region in the United States, try some wine from there they are very good. Virginia is getting better and better.
In short, it’s a fantastic time to be a wine nut. It’s Hip to be Square!