It has been more than one year since the first serious Covid restrictions were implemented in many parts of the world as well as where I am here in San Francisco. It’s been a rollercoaster of a year – one day the situation seemed to be improving only for it to nosedive the next, with spikes of new cases, more casualties and even harsher restrictions.
Aside from the obvious tragic consequences, the pandemic truly tested human adaptability and perseverance. For the most part, we’ve passed that test. Finally, there seems to be a glimmer of true hope and the promise of better days on the horizon. Increasingly, science and common sense have allowed vaccination programs to roll out speedily and efficiently.
With cautious optimism, I decided to celebrate by opening some special wines and bring a bit of festive spirit into the daily minutia of my pandemic routine. My choices were dictated by the uniqueness of the wines, quality to value factor, the story they came with, and general distribution availability. Here they are – I present you with four wines of hope and better days to come.
Ferrari Brut NV Trento, Italy
Let’s pop a cork and kick off the celebration in style with one of my favorite sparkling wines, Ferrari’s Trento Brut. It may come to you as a surprise that this gem of a sparkler doesn’t come from the Champagne region. Champagne would have been an obvious and more predictable pick; that’s not the point of this lineup.
This sparkling wine comes from Italy’s northeastern region of Trento where the Ferrari winery was founded in 1902 by a visionary entrepreneur, Giulio Ferrari, whose dream was to create a sparkling wine in his native Italy that would rival the best of Champagnes.
His grape of choice was Chardonnay and Trento D.O.C. became the first Italian region with specific designation for sparkling wines made by the Methode Champenoise. Ferrari offers a wide range of sparklers but their Brut is, in my view, the best quality to value offer in their portfolio. This 100 percent Chardonnay wine stuns from the get-go.
In the glass, an exceptionally fine, persistent perlage dominates. On the nose, the wine offers intense bouquet of lemon, white peach, baked apple and a classic aroma of yeast derived from 20-month aging in the bottle. The palate is concentrated yet vibrant with balanced body and long-lasting finish of pumpernickel flavor accentuated by mouthwatering acidity. The wine exhibits a tremendous food and wine pairing versatility, from caviar to sushi and a variety of seafood dishes all the way to cheeses and lighter desserts. With its sticker price of around $25 a bottle, this wine can only exceed one’s expectations. Ferrari is one of the most award-winning wineries in the world and as of 2021 season it has become the official winery of the Formula One races.
2018 Escalada Do Sil Blanco Godello Valdeorras, Spain
Imported by my favorite Spanish-Portuguese wine importer, Olé & Obrigado, this white wine is made from 100 percent Godello grape, indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula, and was one of my favorites tasted during the Covid lock-down. The winery is in the eastern part of Spain’s Galicia region in the appellation of Valdeorras. The vineyards are planted on the steep slopes above the Sil river called The Valley of Gold by the Romans. With the granite and slate composed soil and cool nights and warm daytime temperatures, this site offers perfect growing conditions for the Godello grape. And it is a stunner of a wine at a very approachable price. No skin contact, no malolactic fermentation and ambient yeasts are parts of the wines vinification along with used 600-liter barrels and a 12-month aging process. This wine delivers at all stages of the tasting experience.
An expressive, yet elegant, nose of white peaches, ripe Meyer lemon and jasmine flowers seamlessly intermingle with herbal notes of coriander and flinty minerality touched by the ocean breeze salinity. Its viscus texture thoroughly coats the palate delivering a sensual, long-lasting finish carried by impressive acidity. Its versatility will easily please both Chardonnay as well as lighter body white-wine drinkers.
I shared the wine with a couple of friends while munching on octopus and sardines in rich olive oil marinate. Guess what?! It was sublime! At a moderate price of around $45 a bottle, the wine is worth every penny.
2019 Gaintza Roses Getariako Txakolina, Spain
Is there a better way to induce a festive, frivolous mood than opening a bottle of rosé? I cannot think of many. Even better if that rosé has a sparkle to it. Too good to be true? Here comes Gaintza rosé from the region of Getariako Txakolina. This appellation lies in the Basque country of Spain on the Cantabrian Coast and is one of the most beautiful wine regions I have visited in my travels.
The historic city of San Sebastian offers some the best culinary experiences in Spain with multitude of restaurants and pintxos bars where Txakolina is being poured generously. The wines are known for their light, brisk, low-alcohol, joviality inspiring character. Two endemic grapes are used in the make-up of Gaintza wine: Hondarrabi Beltza and Hondarrabi Zuri. One hundred percent estate fruit comes from 40-plus year-old vines grown on limestone and clay soils. Its irresistible efflorescence is the result of the intentionally induced fermentation in the bottle. The sparkle and its zesty acidity only enhance the aromas of raspberry, grapefruit, wild strawberry, and a slightly salty finish. This wine begs for sunshine and pretty much any shellfish-based food. This is the most fun you will get for under $20 a bottle.
2018 Planeta Eruzione 1614 Nerello Mascalese Etna, Italy
It’s time for a red wine now. Planeta winery owns vineyards throughout the island of Sicily. One of their operations is situated in one of my favorite wine regions in all of Italy: Etna D.O.C. Most of the vineyards of this appellation are planted on the slopes of the notorious Mount Etna volcano, which is poor in organic matter, but rich in minerals, making the terroir of this area unique. Both white and red wines are made here.
The reds are based on two local varieties: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio with former one being more reputable. Etna reds are often compared to the French red Burgundy wines due to their complexity, aging potential and the reflection of the vineyard typicity. Planeta’s Eruzione 1614 cuvée is mainly composed of Nerello Mascalese grapes coming from some of the choicest vineyards in the region.
Handpicked grapes are destemmed, pressed, vinified in stainless steel tanks and aged in oak barrels for 12 months. The year 1614 commemorates one of the most severe eruptions of the volcano and the one which lasted the longest: 10 years. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly light body of the wine in the glass; there is nothing feeble about it. The aromas are intense and the wine delivers an intricate combination of fruit and savory flavors. Exotic spices, sandalwood, and herbs of fennel and hibiscus meld with wild red berry fruit and currants all harmoniously cloaked in firm tannins with a touch volcanic saltiness. There is a certain wild, untimed characteristic to the wine making it a great pairing with game and rustic Italian dishes, cheeses and truffles. Coming at around $40 retail, the wine isn’t necessarily a bargain, but the experience completely justifies the price.
If during these trying times you have been caught in a wine rut, always reaching for the same wines, made from the same grape varietals or produced by the same wine makers, maybe it is time to broaden your wine horizon and drink outside the box (not from the box). Look up the wines I introduced to you. Ask at your local wine shop or check with your favorite online distributor and give your palate a chance for reinvention.
While we are it, let’s go beyond wine and do a revision of our lives in general. Reemerging from the gloom and the restraints of these long months of the pandemic, let’s look for a silver lining and lessons that can be learned from the experience. Maybe returning to the normal is not what is needed. Apparently, the old normal did not quite work, since we found ourselves in this pickle in the first place. This may be a good time for a personal inventory, reevaluation and adjustments, so we can create a new normal, a better one. A new normal where people are valued for who they are and not for what they have. A new normal filled with integrity and selflessness and void of self-entitlement and complacency. A new normal empowered by determination to do better for the future ahead.
Cezar Kusik Wine Contributor Polo Lifestyles 2021