A new name from Sicily
One of the many enjoyable things about wine-as-hobby for me is watching - and better still, tasting - trends and developments in wines and wine regions that I've been following for years.
One such region is Sicily, which seems to have lagged a few years behind the rest of Italy in its efforts to emerge as a respected source of quality wines.
Somewhat like Tuscany in our parents' time, when Chianti was still seen as a wine to be quaffed with pizza but not much contemplation, this football-shaped island bouncing off the toe of Italy's "boot" has only recently begun to attract serious attention from wine consumers beyond the long-loyal core of cognoscenti who have been believers all along.
Today's featured wine from Sicily might just inspire a few converts. Although it's arguably "modern" in style - an approach that's not without controversy - it bridges the new and the traditional in a blend of indigenous and international grape varieties that brings together trendy Syrah (30 percent) with Sicily's own Nero d'Avola (70 percent).
The winery, Cusumano, has only recently gained attention outside Sicily. In 2001, brothers Alberto and Diego Cusumano took over management from their father, Francesco, and began an aggressive program of purchasing vineyard land and rebuilding the winery. With the Tuscan wine maker Mario Ronco as consultant, Cusumano now produces some 1 million bottles annually. It is widely available in Europe and is beginning to turn up at retail stores in the U.S., Australia and elsewhere around the world.
Imported into the U.S. by Vin DiVino of Chicago, Cusumano "Benuara," a $12 Nero d'Avola-Syrah blend named after a Sicilian wildflower, recently turned up locally. Dark and hearty, made entirely in stainless steel but left on the "lees" (yeast sediment) for several months to add earthy complexity, it's a balanced and food-friendly wine, impressive enough to put me on the lookout for more from Cusumano.
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Cusumano 2001 "Benuara" Sicilia Nero d'Avola, Syrah ($11.99)
This hearty wine is very dark reddish-purple, almost black in the glass, showing only a dusky ruby glow even when it's held close to a light. Its spicy and fruity aromas show the Nero d'Avola component as a characteristic scent of blueberry-compote. Ripe strawberries and a touch of fragrant Syrah pepper join the blueberries in the flavor, juicy fruit framed by tart, lemon-squirt acidity that enhances its palate-cleansing quality as a food wine. U. S. importer: Vin DiVino Ltd., Chicago. (March 30, 2004)
FOOD MATCH: It would be fine with steaks or roast beef, and went very well with a simple pasta dish of chicken sausages and thick, peppery homemade tomato sauce over rigatoni.
VALUE: Quality and balance place this wine well above the competition at this price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: There's nothing fragile about this wine, and it will keep on the wine rack or in a cellar; still, its ripe and juicy character suggests drinking it up soon while it's fresh.
WEB LINK: Animated and musical, accessible only with the "Flash" plugin, the Cusumano Website is in Italian with some pages in English.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE: The winery Website includes an international list of distributors. You can also find vendors and prices for Cusumano on Wine-Searcher.com:
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Wednesday, March 31, 2004