The second I read that Ronald (and Katia) of Love Sicily and ismyblogburning.com had chosen Vinni Rossi di Sicilia (Sicilian Reds) as the theme for the eight installment of Wine Blogging Wednesdays I let out a big Yes!
There would be no need for me to explore the many fabulous wine merchants in the city, drive around searching for juice or even have any of my favorite wine guys and gals special order an obscure bottling or two.
Nope, for this effort all I’d have to do is grab my phone and call my dear friend and neighbor (dinner party guest, master griller, expert taster, and host extraordinaire) Michelle Zacco, who happens to be Sicilian, the most knowledgeable person I know on Sicilian wine--and how's this for a bonus?--the chef owner of Pontevecchio in Fremont where it's all Sicilian, all the time.
His is, without a doubt--along with Armandino Batali's Salumi and my very own humble homemade efforts--my favorite Italian food in the city. The fact that he is always eager and enthusiastic to try my culinary experiments and can whip up a meal in two shakes also scores highly in my book.
And last night, around dusk, it was time to drive down Westlake Avenue to Fremont to sit down and talk Sicily, il vino Siciliano and perhaps--why not?-- even whip up a Sicilian food pairing, cooked especially for the occasion by Michele himself.
We talked about growing up in Catania, in his nonna (little bambino sitting on the counter) and mamma's kitchen (garlic first, basil last) picking up culinary inspiration and family heirloom dishes along the way.
Later on, while living in Edinburgh, falling in love with a Seattle woman and following her and his lust--his words-- all the way across the pond to Emerald City.
Before opening his restaurant, Michele taught Italian at local community colleges and through private lessons, and even worked as a pronunciation coach with Seattle Opera--opera being yet another of his passions.
He told me about how disappointed he was in the Italian offerings at local restaurants with too many Americanized dishes (spaghetti and meatballs, cheesy lasagna and not enough heart) so he saw a need that he could meet. Italian comfort food with dishes from his family's repertoire, unlike anything else in the city.
So here he is, after more than nine years living in Seattle, still in love…only this time with the city itself--the girl long gone--, its culinary scene and everything that it entails.
The restaurant, Pontevecchio, named after the Florentine bridge, sits across one of the oldest bridges in Seattle, the orange-and-blue Fremont Bridge.
Nine years ago when it opened, the neighborhood was ripe for a cozy bistro--inspired by the turn of the century Café Teatros who were in turn molded after Parisian Bistrot des Artistes, places to go be entertained with food, music and warmth, that made you feel as if you were dining in somebody's home, the kind of atmosphere that would inspire artists such as Puccini to write La Bohème.
At Pontevecchio the menu speaks of home and family gatherings. In this cozy room food and wine are 100% Sicilian. There is always music in the background--lots of Puccini-- and not a scintilla of corporate or sterile feel. The neighborhood was ready for such a place, it embraced Michele's vision and it has been a success ever since.
So it was about this point in our conversation that the wine started pouring in. A bottle of MandraRossa 2003 Shiraz, the latest varietal to come out of Sicily and the next big thing according to Mr. Zacco.
This is a wine that reflects the passionate cultural individuality and wine traditions of the Sicilians. Not content with being known globally for their fabulous citrus fruits (blood oranges and those amazing Sicilian lemons) they continue to improve an already thriving and yet utterly insular wine industry.
Sicilian winemakers have been honouring and exalting their better known varietals such as the Nero D'Avola and experimenting with grapes as brambly as the Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Mantellato (both grapes that grow exclusively on the mineral-rich, volcanic sands of Mount Etna) that makes wines such as the Etna Rosso, tomorrow's upscale Barolo.
The MandraRossa is a wine without a hint of ego, made with Shiraz grown on the southern coast of Sicily, facing North Africa. A lovely juice that wants to be enjoyed with food instead of just showing off meaty or overpowering spiciness and intensity.
It has a beautiful ruby red color--evident even as the pale blue afternoon light gave way to the evening sky with the light of the candles growing brighter and warmer by the minute--and a subtle but beautiful and well rounded bouquet.
As we shared the wine and I kept asking questions, we were reminded that some nosh was in order. What did I feel like eating? and what would be a good pairing in his opinion for this lovely wine? were the questions.
Michele suggested an antipasti of Salumi and a sharp and aggressive Gorgonzola as the perfect accompaniment for the wine.
What about lamb? Perfect, I said! So Michele went back to the kitchen and prepared Agnello al Rosmarino (baby lamb chops marinated in rosemary, olive oil and Limoncello) on a bed of Risotto allo Zafferano (Saffron Risotto), for two.
More wine was poured and more conversation was in order--women, his family and his gorgeous kids, opera, the Arab presence in Sicily and its legacy, the exciting future that awaits Sicilian wine.
Soon enough three additional bottles brought to the table. Some to inspect the labels of (after all this was supposed to be a tasting and I was driving back home), others to taste (Morante Nero D'Avola) and the house wine list to peruse.
Mamma mia! As we ate every succulent morsel of the lemony and herby lamb along with every single grain of risotto on our plates, we continued our chat, washing it all down with the delightful Shiraz.
In such fabulous company, delectable food and tasty wine all was well in this slice of Sicily in Seattle. Buon Appetito indeed!
710 N. 34th Street
Seattle, WA 98103
Lunch: M-F 11:30-3:00
Dinner: M-Sat 6:30-10:00
A Night at the Opera
Friday Nights at 7:30pm
(call for reservations)
Cristina Villareale, soprano
Gary Arpin, piano
2003 MandraRossa Shiraz
MandraRossa is a premium range of estate-bottled wines from one of Sicily's most respected and progressive wine producers. Located in the historic town of Menfi in the southwest corner of this idyllic Mediterranean island, MandraRossa is led by Diego Planeta, President since 1973.
MandraRossa’s extensive investment in advanced winemaking technology, combined with the expertise of a distinguished team of five full time winemakers (headed by internationally renowned enologist Carlo Corino) has resulted in an outstanding line of wines that capture the flavors, essence and mystique of Sicily.
The MandraRossa estate vineyards near the town of Menfi, Sicily
Stainless steel fermentation; 3 months oak aging
Bright ruby red
Offers ripe blackberry fruit intertwined with vanilla aromas.
A well defined structure frames the soft, jammy fruit with persistent, integrated tannins and finishes with a firm, rounded length.
Perfect with pizza, rare grilled tuna steak or hearty pastas in red sauce.
Other MandraRossa Wines