Exclusive offer: 4/21/2023 — Recession fighters from Sicily (plus recipes)

Offer available through Monday, 4/24/2023, or as inventory lasts.

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Hi everyone –

With all the rollercoasters of economic news hitting our brains, it’s perfectly understandable to reach back and make sure your wallet is still in your pocket.

We’ve been tightening our belts a bit around the house. No more ribeyes. Instead, at the Costco Business Center I found some most excellent packages of Coulotte Steak available for $5.99 a pound. It’s a cut from the top part of the top sirloin, also known as Pichana in some circles (especially in Portugal), and it’s absolutely delicious and long as you prepare it with some knowledge in mind. I prefer to cut my steaks into 1-2″ strips, keeping the fat cap on (hashed a bit with a blade), then curl it into a “C” and skewer it (fat side out). I didn’t take a picture of my steaks, but they looked a lot like these.

We’ve also trimmed back a bit on non-essentials. Our course wine is not on that list. Wine is food, and food is a requirement. And wine brings us pleasure, balances out our meals, and gives us something to look forward to after a long day at work.

But we need wines that are good and cheap.

We’ve found a couple of gems that fit these needs.

Zagare Vermentino, and LaBaca Nerello Mascalese from Sicily

These are some of the best affordable wines we’ve tried in the last six months.

What I’m looking for in this category of “cheap and cheerful” is a short but important list:

  1. The wine has to smell and taste great. This is a high bar that votes most affordable wines off the island right away.
  2. If it’s not a blend (ala Marietta Old Vine Red or something like that) it has to show varietal typicity. It has to smell and taste like it should based on where it’s from.
  3. The label has to be pretty and classy. I know it may sound petty to say that, but for me it’s important. If I’m spending as little as possible on a bottle of wine, I don’t want to look at it and think “wow that looks cheap.”
  4. It has to be touch out of the ordinary, not easily found stacked up at the big stores.
  5. It has to have family ownership and land stewardship involved. It has to be a real wine, not a widget or a product of the wine-industrial complex.

A bit about Sicily

The warm and dry climate of Sicily has made it a natural fit for over 2000 years of viticulture. In fact, growing grapes on Sicily is relatively easy compared to many other places due to temperature moderation and wind. The soils, mostly volcanic, achieve the balance between profitable yields and dependable quality.

However, a bit of a good thing can be exploited, and that’s exactly what happened with most of the Sicilian wine industry in the late 20th century. Then, at the height of the agro-chemical industry, many producers over-fertilized, over-sprayed, and pushed their vineyards to unhealthy levels of yields. Greed set in, and wanting more and more they convinced the Italian government to financially incentivize the replanting of old vineyards filled with indigenous varieties so they could supply the world with more Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet. *sigh*

By the mid-1990s, most Sicilian wine available to consumers was pretty thin and forgettable stuff. They were only trying to compete on price and unfortunately they won that race to the bottom.

Over the last 20 years some producers, such as what we have here in this offer, started to rethink things. They wanted to get away from the dependence on fertilizers. They wanted to plant the old native varieties, or at least distinctive varieties that fit the concept of Sicilian Wine.

Lucky for us, the families that make this week’s wines focused on Vermentino and Nerello Mascalese.

These two wines are from western Sicily, near the sea. On the western flank of the island you’re more apt to smell the ocean in the air, and have reliably sunny days for ripening. But being surrounded on three sides by the sea, the temperatures are moderated and the wind is almost always blowing (important to keep the vines dry and reduce use of pesticides).

Winesearcher has some fantastic information on the history of the wine industry in Sicily. Check out their whole article.

All about Vermentino and a nice simple recipe

Vermentino is one of our favorite varieties.

We LOVE seafood. It’s a big part of our diet (except the nights we grill big steaks as mentioned earlier), and balances well with our drive to eat more veggies. And Vermentino is the perfect pairing for such dishes.

An awesome little recipe for you

Vermentino is most associated with another Mediterranean island, Sardinia.

I also associate it with, of all places, Australia.

Why Australia? When I was there in 2009 I was spending a ton of time with the winemakers and executives at Yalumba and they were on the hunt for the perfect white grape to plant in some new vineyards. They wanted to get away from Chardonnay, and felt they couldn’t compete well with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. So they started with two simple facts: 90% of Australians live within 10 miles of the ocean, and there is a big pan-Asian influence in the food and restaurant scene.

A very common simple recipe in Australia (and elsewhere in the world, but it’s super common Down Under) is to take any seafood (shrimp works particularly well), squeeze a lime over it (saving some zest for later), and add some chopped cilantro and minced hot pepper, and pan-fry or grill just until done. On the plate, add the zest and some more cilantro. Presto, instant fresh pan-Asian seafood with a burst of flavor.

And what goes great with it? You guessed it: Vermentino.

Photo credit: The Girl Who Ate Everything (a great site to check out)

Here’s a wonderful and super simple cilantro lime shrimp recipe from The Girl Who Ate Everything blog (I love that name): https://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/cilantro-lime-shrimp/

Zagare Vermentino: in the glass

Aromas of lemon zest, peach, dried herbs, and touch of sea spray/marine. The flavors are bright and lively, lip-smacking without being too aggressive. This is an infinitely gulpable white for the (trust me, it’s coming at some point) spring and summer.

All about Nerello Mascalese

I like grape varieties that make you pause and contemplate after the first sip. A bit of “huh. I didn’t expect that!” without being off-the-charts odd. This one does just that.

Nerello Mascalese is the great red/black grape of Sicily, and is often grown with stunning results in the pure volcanic soils of Mt. Etna. The style it brings is typically powerful without being weighty. It’s like Nebbiolo and Gamay had a baby, with aromas of red fruits on one hand, then a wave of earthiness and minerality, followed by herbs and game.

In other words, Nerello Mascalese is pretty cool stuff, and does a great job with a huge variety of foods.

Interestingly, it was recently discovered that Nerello Mascalese is an offspring of Sangiovese (along with an obscure grape called Montonico Bianco).

I did a little research trying to find the perfect recipe to go with this particular wine, and I think I found it on the website Half Baked Harvest.

Look at this!

That, my friends, is Herby Buttered Mushrooms with Tagliatelle Pasta. OMG.

Here’s the link: https://www.halfbakedharvest.com/herby-buttered-wild-mushroom-tagliatelle-pasta/

Why does this work? Nerello Mascalese almost always has a combination of red fruit aromas, smoky/herby aromas, and an edgy flavor with a balance of acids and tannins. That whole combination works great with mushrooms (the same way that Pinot Noir and mushrooms have a natural affinity). The richness of this dish is cut by the edge of the wine, and will simply blow your mind.

La Bacca Nerello Mascalese: in the glass

Light to medium bodied in color, with loads of cherry red. Medium bodied aromas of bing cherry, black cherry, brick, herbs, a touch of clove, and mellow minerality. On the palate it’s light to medium bodied and refreshing, almost lip-smacking on the first few sips, then a bit of tannin kicks in and the wine begs for a little food. Serve with a slight chill for the utmost enjoyment.

Buying advice

This is our springtime stock up wine. We’re about to enter that time of year where the neighbors gather randomly and these are the perfect wines to pop. Stock up a bit, and you won’t regret it. Especially at these prices.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

Offer is open Friday at 3:00pm central until Monday at 6:00pm central, or as inventory lasts.

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