Sunday, February 28, 2016

Wine Heaven: James Suckling's Great Wines of Italy #NYC #Winetasting

Highlights from Great Wines of Italy, NY

Great Wines of Italy is a wine tasting event, organized by James Suckling, that features "114 of the finest wineries Italy has to offer, together with tasting notes on some of their best vintages."  Each of the featured wines were curated by James Suckling and received ratings of  90 points or higher. Many of the Italian regions were represented, including Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily.  Additionally, the wines were from producers both big and small, some well-known, some lesser known.  Thus far, for 2016, the Great Wines of Italy wine-tasting event was held in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
James Suckling is CEO of and a respected, world renown wine critic.  He is also the wine editor of the Asian Tatler magazines, a writer, an international wine event organizer, and film producer. (Cigars: The Heart and Soul of Cuba and Cannubi: A Vineyard Kissed by God). At the Great Wines of Italy event, attendees had the opportunity to experience wine tasting in a James Sucklings 100 Points Wine Glass by Lalique, which they were able to keep. The glasses are apart of the Lalique 100 POINTS Collection of stemware by James Suckling.  What a treat!

Zachys also partnered with James Suckling to deliver the goods for the Great Wines of Italy event and for subsequent orders.  This wine and liquor store, located in Scarsdale, NY is a "true destination for premium wine and spirits tastings," and they also have an impressive collection of wine and spirits.

Now that we are finally coming down from our Italian "wine flu," we wanted to highlight a few of our favorites from the tasting event.

The Wining Hour's Favorites:

Nino Franco
Rustico Proseco
Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Rustico NV (91 points) This was our first stop, and as lovers of prosecco, we were off to a great start.  This truly set the tone for a wonderful Italian wine tasting!  Nino Franco is one of the oldest wineries in the Valdobbiadene wine region. The Superiore Rustico was absolutely refreshing, creamy and delicious.   It was difficult not to return to this table for glass after glass.  Made from 100% Glera grapes.

2010 Banfi Brunello Riserva
Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino Poggio alle Mura Riserva 2010 (99 points) This Brunello was captivating and demanded attention.  In fact, it was an outstanding example of everything a Brunello should be-rich, bold, full of body, powerful and enduring. Full of chocolate, dark berry flavors and leather.  This bodacious Brunello dances down the palate and speaks to the heart.
Cusamano Sàgana

Cusumano Sicilia Tenuta San Giacomo Sàgana 2013
(93 points)  This was a delicious, fruity Sicilian Nero d'Avola that is elegant and rich with a persistent finish.

Donna Fugata
Donnafugata Sicilia Mille e Una Notte 2010 (94 points) This was another Sicilian Nero d'Avola that was full of fruit, intense, structured and complex.  In addition, Donnafugata Grillo Sicilia Sursur 2014 (90 points) was one of the few white wines I tasted and enjoyed at this event.

Contratto Piemonte For England Rosé Pas Dosé 2011 (95 points) Ahhh...a bubbly that we could drink all day, every day.   This pink sparkler is made from 100% old vine Pinot Noir, which makes it a Blanc de Noir.  It was dry, delicious and smelled of spicy baked apples.  Contratto is on our list for our next visit to northern Italy.  Contratto Rosé Pas Dosé is one that all lovers of bubbly or sparkling wine will enjoy.

2012 Le Pupille Saffredi 
Fattoria Le Pupille Toscana Saffredi 2012 (100 points) Although all of these wines were expertly selected, when asked for his recommendation, James Suckling specifically pointed me in Le Pupille's direction.  Of course, we were not disappointed.  How could we be? As a lover of Toscana, I was surprised that I had never heard of Saffredi. Blueberry, rosemary, licorice, rich berry fruits--this full-bodied Tuscan blend has it all. According to James Suckling, "It’s the greatest Saffredi ever, cementing its reputation as the Lafite of Tuscany. This needs at least five years in bottle but it’s entrancing to drink now. A must-buy for Super Tuscan lovers."

Luce Della Vita
2013 Lucente
Luce Della Vite Toscana Lucente 2013  (92 points) This awesome Super Tuscan is a blend of Merlot and Sangiovese. It is full-bodied, with lots of fruity tannins. We also tasted Luce Della Vite Toscana 2012 (94 points) and plan to add both of these to our wine cellar.  One can never have enough sangiovese.

2010 Ruffino
Chianti Classico
Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale Oro Gran Selezione 2010
(95 points) Spicy black cherry flavors for all Chianti lovers.  Smooth finish.

Castello Romitorio Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 2010 (97 points) This Brunello immediately caught my attention and made me do a double-take.  This one must be added to my collection. It is packed with rich, dark fruit flavors.  The nose was intoxicating with spicy dark cherries, licorice and vanilla.  In fact, we still smell it now.  Full-bodied with a lingering finish.
Castello Romitoria Brunello 2010

2012 Antinori Superiore
Guado al Tasso
Antinori Bolgheri Superiore Guado al Tasso 2012 (96 points)
This is a well-balanced Cabernet Sauvignon, with lots of blackberries, black current, black coffee and spice.  Delicious!

While the aforementioned wines certainly do not cover all of the ones we enjoyed at this event, we chose to further our relationship with these particular wines.

Great Wines of Italy provided a fantastic networking opportunity, as it facilitated the meeting and greeting of many top Italian winemakers, importers and distributors. Great Wines of Italy was tastefully done--from the tasty tidbit accompaniments to the expert showcasing of one outstanding wine to the next. This was, by far, a grape...or great wine-tasting experience. We be certain to attend future events.

Also read about our experience at James Sucklings Great Wines of the Andes, featuring Argentina and Chile.

To stay abreast of the latest and greatest in the industry, be sure to follow @JamesSuckling and @Zachys on Twitter!

Have you tasted any of these wines? What is your favorite Italian wine?

About The Wining Hour

The Wining Hour writes about wine, Italy and global travel.  The Wining Hour boutique caters to wine-lovers across the globe by offering all wine-related items.  The Wining Hour markets unique wine décor and furnishings, accessories, glassware, barware, wine racks, storage and cooling options, games, gifts and more. The Wining Hour also hosts #wininghourchat on Twitter (@wininghourchat) on Tuesday's at 9 p.m. EST.(For more, see links at the top of this page)

For more information, please visit­­­

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Thursday, February 18, 2016

Ripe Life Wines: A Woman with A Grape Idea #Wine

The Road to A Ripe Life

Ripe Life Wines:
Clambake Chardonnay
While some of us have good ideas, others have great ideas.  Mary McAuley is one such person who not only had a "grape" idea, but a great idea.  As she was accustomed to eating coastal cuisine in the Northeast, she decided to launch her own line of wines, Ripe Life Wines, as an accompaniment.  As a fellow Northeasterner who lives on an island with an abundance of fresh fish and seafood, I can certainly appreciate a good wine to accompany my oysters, clams, and other fruits of the sea.  This was one of the things that caught my attention about Mary's line of wines.  However, the main thing that piqued my interest was that Mary is young and female.  According to the Wall Street Journal, women only make up 10% of the vintners in California, which is where 90% of wine is produced in the U.S. Nevertheless, things are changing, and Mary McAuley is someone you should know about.    

Ripe Life Wines:
Limited Edition Rose
Mary McAuley is the Founder and CEO, of Ripe Life Wines, which launched its first wine, Clambake Chardonnay, in July 2013.  Mary's inspiration grew when she was given the responsibility of selecting the wine for a clambake she threw with her friends back in 2011.  However, Mary's love for the grape had already been cultivated and developed, as she is a seasoned sommelier and culinary school graduate from The Institute of Culinary Education and The French Culinary Institute.  Mary knows well that good food and wine go together, and she took charge to ensure it.

We wanted to know more.  We had a few questions for Mary about her thoughts and ideas about the process for anyone involved in the wine industry:   
TWH: When and how did you develop a passion for food and wine?

MM: I’ve always had a passion for hospitality and entertaining, as food and libations naturally go hand in hand. I would say it was in college when I first started fantasizing about having my own restaurant and finally started to pursue this dream a few years after graduation by attending culinary school. It was there that I discovered a zeal for food and wine pairings, and how a wine can really make your food sing a bit louder.

TWH:  That's for sure!  There is nothing like a delicious wine to accentuate delicious food.  I know that coastal cuisine was influential, but what else really guided your decision to launch Clambake Wines?

MM: The impetus to pull the trigger came when I realized that my vision for the Clambake Chardonnay, in a lot of ways, was an unprecedented concept and would be most successful if we capitalized on being “the first” in these ways.  Namely, I saw an opportunity to be the first wine label focusing on cuisine first and crafting the wine accordingly.  I also saw the opportunity to become one of the first premium wines (prestigious growers, first-press juice, single-vineyard-designated, etc.) being bottled under a “cute and beach-y” lifestyle label—usually the wine under those kinds of labels are bulk blends and poorly made in the sake of margins.  They call them “Frankenwines” out here (in Napa). Anyway, realizing the uncontested market-space for my concept, I knew we could dominate if we acted fast. I went ahead and launched rather quickly knowing the risk of being hasty could be worth the reward of being “first to the market” if it worked out. I knew if I didn’t, I would see something very similar on the shelf in a few years time and I would kick myself for sitting on the idea too long.

TWH:  I appreciate the 'guts' and drive involved...and your background as a sommelier and culinary education is the perfect fit for your model and your vision.  Wines that focus on cuisine is definitely innovative, as it is usually the other way around.  Innovation is the key, and it is certainly paying off for you. I am very excited for you! Now, crafting your own brand of wine sounds both fascinating and daunting, and like anything worthwhile, I'm sure that it involves lots of time, patience and energy. What would you tell anyone interested in crafting their own brand of wine?

MM: Stay true to the concept. I feel like when people try and capture the biggest audience possible (aka they’re completely sales focused) their concepts start to become weak as to not alienate any possibility of a sale.  These brands don’t have strong messages and get lost on many--completely backfiring. You have to stay to true to the concept; people become emphatic about strong messages and a committed following to your brand is most important for repeat buyers and brand champions.

TWH: Good, solid advice.  What would you say is the main highlight of your journey so far?

MM:  My main highlight is the travel. I am equal parts wine lover and beach lover.  My company takes me from wine regions all over for operations and product research, and then coastal beach towns for sales and market research. When the stress adds up I think about how much I love the places I get to work and the stress is worth it.

TWH:  I totally understand that!  I love to travel, so I can see how that is a highlight.  Lastly Mary, what advice would you extend to anyone wanting to embark on a venture in the wine industry?

MM: My advice would be to work in a wine region first.  It doesn’t matter in what capacity (tasting room manager, server, wine making assistance, wine equipment sales, etc) but if you spend time in a wine region such as Napa or Sonoma you will make contacts and have people to ask questions to who are in-the-know. You will learn so much from just being on the ground of where the whole industry begins--next to the grapes.

TWH:  More good advice.  We appreciate being able to learn more about you and the road to Ripe Life Wines.  We also appreciate your helpful pointers. Thank you!

Along with winemaker, David Sundberg, Ripe Life Wines' team strives for balance in everything, not just winemaking. "We believe you should strive for balance in everyday life as well--one of work and play, and one of give and take."

I am looking forward to hearing a lot more about Ripe Life Wines...and tasting them!   

The Wining Hour’s Tasting: Ripe Life Wines
We were excited to taste two wines: Clambake Chardonnay and Clambake Limited Edition Rosé both from the 2012 vintage.

Clambake Chardonnay was a tasty surprise.  Chardonnay is not my usual go-to for white wines, so I was eager to taste this one.  It was pale yellow in color.  It smelled of citrus lemon and grapefruit. Clambake Chardonnay was crisp and tasted of green apple and peach, with a light minerality. Nevertheless, it was medium-bodied, bright and acidic, with firm tannins and a lasting finish.  Clambake Chardonnay was barreled in stainless steel, unlike many other oak barrel Chardonnays.  Ripe Life says that "this isn't your big boy Chardonnay."  Instead, this one was lighter and very appropriate for the cuisine for which it was created.

We paired Clambake Chardonnay with...clams, of course. We had baked clams stuffed with chopped clams, shrimp, mushrooms, garlic, butter and breadcrumbs.  Yum.  I want more as I type.  It was a delightful pairing and truly an example of how a wine should compliment food.

Our chardonnay is picked in its youth to produce a lighter and crisper expression of California chardonnay than you may be used to, and its stainless steal fermentation gives it a clean finish that will make your clambake food sing a little louder (and cut through that dunk of butter, too).

Clambake Limited Edition Rosé was next.  De-lic-ious. Need I say more?  No, but I will. Ripe Life says that this particular wine makes for "the perfect pairing for your entire seafood feast." They were not kidding.  Clambake Limited Edition Rosé is just that-a limited edition, and one that I can't wait to get my hands on for the upcoming warmer months.

This rosé had a warm, pink-peach hue.  On the nose was a floral bouquet and scents of fresh apricot, strawberry and melon, which were immediately inviting.  To the palate, this wine was clean and crisp, tasting of summer fruits like peaches, nectarines and strawberries.  I liked that it wasn't too sweet or tannic, but well-balanced.  Although it was perfectly capable of being sipped alone, we paired Clambake Limited Edition Rosé with an organic spring salad and homemade lump crabcakes. For the record, this pair needs to be on, but we'll just spread the word this way for now!

Clearly, Mary McAuley had a grape idea that has ripened into something great-Ripe Life Wines. The company plans to expand their collection to other lines in the near future and I can't wait.

Have you tasted Clambake Chardonnay? If you are looking for a wine to accompany your seafood, check out Ripe Life Wines.

About The Wining Hour

The Wining Hour writes about wine, Italy and global travel.  The Wining Hour boutique caters to wine-lovers across the globe by offering all wine-related items.  The Wining Hour markets unique wine décor and furnishings, accessories, glassware, barware, wine racks, storage and cooling options, games, gifts and more. The Wining Hour also hosts #wininghourchat on Twitter (@wininghourchat) on Tuesday's at 9 p.m. EST.(For more, see links at the top of this page)

For more information, please visit­­­

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Calabria: Sun, Sea and Cirò Bianco #Wine #Travel

Beach Lover? Consider Calabria for Your Next Vacation

Calabria's Coastline
Abundant in sun, sand and sea, Calabria is located at the southernmost tip of Italy.  In fact, it is considered the toe of of the Italian boot, with Basilicata to the north and Sicily to the south.  This is an amazing location for food, wine, culture and relaxation.  Calabria has it all: mountains, national parks, Medieval villages and seaside towns that can be enjoyed all year long. Lovers of all things aquatic will be in their element, as Calabria is situated in between the Ionian Sea to the west and the Tyrrhenian Sea to the east.  There are many water sports on either coast, from diving and swimming to snorkling and sailing and much more. One can take their pick, as there is no shortage of pristine beaches in this region.  It is not wonder, then, that Calabria is referred to as the Caribbean of Europe. Here are some of its highlights:

La Cattolica, Stilo
Ionian Coast
While the Ionian coast may be a little less crowded and less popular, than the other coast, it does not disappoint. There are many villages of historical significance located here, such as the medieval villages of Badolato, Gerace, and Stilo, which is known for its 10th century Byzantine church, La Cattolica. Each of these medieval villages is well preserved and has much to offer in the way of sightseeing, architecture and history. Capo Rizzuto is a protected beach area with special marine life and Camina, in the town of Catanzaro is another noteworthy beach. Nearby, there are Siderno and Soverato, two modern cities along this coast that are frequented by tourists. Moreover, along the Ionian sea is where the communes of Cirò and Cirò Marina are located.  Cirò is home to Calabria's most notable wine of the same name. So this coast is for the beach lover and the wine lover, as they can explore both the beaches and the vineyards.

Capo Vaticano, Calabria
Tyrrhenian Coast
The white sand beaches of Tropea and Capo Vaticano are the two most popular beach resorts along this coast.  Tropea is said to be one of the cleanest beaches with quaint villages and historical sites that rests on a coastline called “Coast of the Gods” by the ancient Greeks. Capo Vaticano is one of Italy's most beautiful beaches, chock full of tropical fish, fauna and flora, which make it ideal for snorkeling.  Also along the “Coast of the Gods” is Pizzo, which is known for tartufo di Pizzo, not mushrooms, but the delicious gelato treat make with chocolate and hazelnut ice cream. There's Diamante, another fishing town referred to as the ”Tyrrhenian Pearl” and Praia A Mare, with it's black volcanic sand beaches. We would be remiss if we did not mention Scilla, the picturesque fishing village most noted for the sea monster in Homer's The Odyssey and Palmi on the "Costa Viola" or "Violet Coast" named for the deep purple hues of its waters.  Another beach of note along the Tyrrhenian coast is Scalea.

Scilla, Calabria

Sunset in Cirella, Diamante by StudioEG
Grisolia, Calabria by StudioEG 

Palmi, Calabria

Clearly, Calabria is Europe's version of the Caribbean, as the aforementioned was only a highlight. Anyone who loves the beach, sand and life by the sea would find pleasure in this region of Italy.  The food, wine and culture are the icing on the cake.

Calabrese Gastronomy & Wine
The sea plays a huge role in the food and culture of Calabria.  Much of their cuisine is characterized by lamb and pork dishes, ciambotta, or eggplant and other vegetables, olives, olive oil, dried tomatoes, peperoncino, seafood, swordfish and other cured fish, such as baccala or dried codfish. A typical Calabrian dish is caviale dei poveri or poor people's caviar, made with herring and hot chili peppers. Breads, cheese, cured meats and pastas are all staples of Calabrese cuisine.  In terms of formaggio, Caciocavallo Silano (PDO) is their star, while Soppressata, Capocollo, Pancetta and Salsiccia di Calabria all have PDO status.  Nduja, a soft sausage made with local chilli peppers, is a favorite. Calabria produces some of Italy's best olive oil, only second to Puglia.

The vineyards of Calabria also produce very good wines.  Calabria has 12 DOC titles, but only 4% of the wine produced holds that designation. Cirò Rosso Riserva is one of them.  Cirò is not only a commune in Calabria, but also its flagship wine. Cirò is produced as rosso, rosato and bianco and is considered one of the oldest named wines in the world.  Over 90% of the wine produced in Calabria is red.  Ciro Rosso is made from a minimum of 80% Gaglioppo grapes, while the remaining 20% is from other indigenous grapes. Greco Bianco and Trebbiano Toscano are used for Cirò Bianco and Cirò Rosato.

*The other DOC regions of Calabria are Melissa, Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Bianco, Bivongi, Donnici, Lamezia Terme, Pollino, San Vito di Luzzi, Savuto, Scavigna and Verbicaro.

All this talk of wine persuaded us to have a glass!

The Wining Hour Selection: Cirò Bianco

Our first experience with Cirò involved Cirò Rosso.  This time, we decided to explore Cirò as a white wine.  We tasted Librandi Cirò Bianco 2013.  Made from 100% Greco Bianco grapes, this was pale yellow in appearance and had aromas of pear, apples and melon.  It was crisp on the palate with a dry minerality, fruity green apples. and bursts of citrus.  Cirò Bianco is a good, refreshing summer wine.

We paired this Cirò with fresh, sauteed clams over linguini-a favorite. Librandi Cirò Bianco would function well on its own as an aperitif, or with fish or crustaceans. As a lover of seafood, this was right up my alley!

Read about our experience with Cirò Rosso and watch our interview with Luigi, "The Handyman" from Calabria

Have you tasted wines from Calabria?  Now that we have tasted both white and red Cirò, we understand why Cirò is wine of note in this southern Italian region and are more eager to visit this town.

Want more Calabria?

Join us on Twitter this Saturday @ 11am EST at #ItalianFWT to talk about the food, wine and travel to Calabria.  We'd love to hear your experiences or just come to learn more about this southern region in Italy.   Here are fellow bloggers sharing their insight into Calabria:

Vino Travels - Reinvigorating the Almost Extinct, Native Grapes of Calabria
Culinary Adventure with Camilla – Ciambotta, A Delicious Calabrese Mess
Rockin Red Blog – Calabria: A Rustic Food and Wine Pairing
Cooking Chat - Italian Wine for an Easy Indian Feast
Confessions of a Culinary Diva - Exploring Gaglioppo & Aglianico
Enofylz Wine Blog - Calabrian Gaglioppo Paired with Lamb Chops Calabria Style
Food Wine Click - Swordfish and Ciro from the Land of Scylla and Charybdis
The Wining Hour - Calabria: Sun, Sea and Ciro Bianco

*Special thanks to Emanuele Giannini of Studio EG for sharing your photos of Calabria!
Visit Studio EG for more stunning photos and videos.

About The Wining Hour
The Wining Hour writes about wine, Italy and global travel.  The Wining Hour boutique caters to wine-lovers across the globe by offering all wine-related items.  The Wining Hour markets unique wine décor and furnishings, accessories, glassware, barware, wine racks, storage and cooling options, games, gifts and more. The Wining Hour also hosts #wininghourchat on Twitter (@wininghourchat) on Tuesday's at 9 p.m. EST.(For more, see links at the top of this page)

For more information, please visit­­­

Follow The Wining Hour: