WHAT: Exploring Italian wines can be so interesting. Not only are the wines delicious and well made, but they are surrounded by traditions and families who have been in the business for generations.
Many wine drinkers know about Tuscany, Veneto, Prosecco or Asti Spumante. But there is so much more to learn.
Because Italy makes so many fabulous wines, choosing one can be confusing. There are more than 1,000 grape varieties grown on 900,000 vineyards in 20 regions.
One of the confusing things about Italian wine is the way wines are named. In some regions, the wine is named after the grape, but in others, it is named after the place where the grapes are grown.
This week’s wine is named after the family that produces it and the region. It is made from a grape called carricante, which most Americans probably have never heard of. It is believed carricante has been grown in Sicily for 1,000 years, though it was largely abandoned before being rediscovered.
Despite all these complications, the Tascante Buonora is worth tracking down. It is a substantial wine at a bargain price.
It is a pale yellow in the glass with delicate aromas of lemon. On the palate, you get lemon and green apple with pleasant hints of minerals on the finish. The wine has great depth and complexity.
I loved this wine and couldn’t really think of another wine I would compare it to. It is not as lush as a chardonnay but not as severe as a sauvignon blanc. It really does have its own wonderfully complex flavor.
The Tascante estate was formed in 2008, though the Tasca family has been making wine in Sicily for eight generations.
The grapes come from 51 acres of land averaging 2,500 feet above sea level on the northern slope of Mount Etna, an active volcano. The volcanic soils add minerality to the wine.
The 100 percent carricante was fermented in stainless steel tanks for 12 days without malolactic fermentation. Four months of aging in stainless steel keeps the expression of the grapes fresh and lively.
The grape is known for is acidity and high yields, though production is kept down to improve quality in the Tascante. The name comes from a combination of the name of the family that produces the wine (Tasca) and Etna.
As wine makers have rediscovered the charms of Mount Etna, producers have grown from a handful 30 years ago to more than 80 today. The best vineyards are found in a semicircle around the slopes of the volcano.
WINERY: Since 1830, the Tasca family estates have brought tradition and innovation to the Italian wine industry.
Tascante is one of five Sicilian estates operated by Tasca d’Almerita, founded in 1830 and now run by the Count Lucio Tasca and his two sons, Giuseppe and Alberto. The family is considered the first family of wine in Sicily.
Tascante is their only estate on the slopes of Mount Etna, the tallest and most active volcano in Europe.
Besides the Buonora, Tascante produces two wonderful expressions of the nerello mascalese grape, one from older vineyards and one from younger vineyards. These red wines feature balanced acidity and strong tannins.
The wine is imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, which keeps prices down by sidestepping the traditional three-tiered distribution system. This allows distributors to purchase and ship wine direct from the wineries, eliminating an average of 25 percent in mark-ups.
GOES WITH: We had this elegant wine with gumbo, made mostly from a recipe in The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes and Stories of My Life, which is much more than a cookbook. If you haven’t read it and you like Conroy, you really need to give it a look. The late, great Southern writer includes funny details about his life and what he was thinking as he learned to make the various dishes in the cookbook.
My only quibble is that he doesn’t include okra in his gumbo. I was born in Chicago and have lived in the South for only 38 years, but I can’t imagine gumbo without okra.
I used shrimp, crab and Andouille sausage along with all the vegetables and spices to make the gumbo tasty. Sometimes I add crawfish tails or langostinos. The hardest thing about gumbo is making the roux, the mix of oil and flour that you have to stir over heat for a long time.
When I am in a hurry I sometimes take a shortcut and use prepared mixes. The two best are from Louisiana Fish Fry and Zatarains.
The Tascante Buonora matches perfectly with the complex flavors of the gumbo. I like simple wines with simple meals, but a complex dish such as gumbo cries out for a more substantial wine. The Tascante Buonora delivers.
The wine also would pair well with grilled white fish, pasta in cream sauce and creamy cheeses.