Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Munjebel, The Elegant Wines of Passopisciaro

Winding through the switchbacks and little hill towns around the Etna, we arrive at the church in Passopisciaro to meet vineyard manager Vincenzo Lo Mauro who leads us up the narrow roads that circle the vineyards. We stopped along the road above the estate to get the full view of the terraced vineyards of Chardonnay, Nerello Mascalese, Cenase d'Affile and Petit Verdot.

The property was bought by Tuscan wine superstar Andrea Francetti in 2000. Completely abandoned since a fierce eruption of the Etna in 1947, they had their work cut out for them. They completely renovated the 150 year old lava rock buildings and replanted the vineyards using the existing terraces. There is a specific spot on the property where the lava flow from the 1947 eruption stopped, saving the structures and the vineyards from complete devastation. Marked by a Madonna in a lava rock shell it is a constant reminder of how lucky and how vulnerable they are.

Piling in to the bed of the pik up, Vincenzo drove us up into the vineyards where winemaker Anne Martens was collecting samples of nerello mascalese to determine the precise moment of harvest in the next few days. It was an absolutely stunning day with temperatures in the low 80's and soft breezes rustling through the vines.

From there we went to the production facility where we were greeted by a few adorable dogs with a little girl named "pucci" stealing the show before we went inside. After touring the fermentation tank area Vincenzo took us to the cellars where the wine is stored before bottling. Only one wine, their franchetti sees small barriques for a short 6 month period, everything else is aged in large, well used foudres that impart little to no flavor to the wines. There are 4 current releases , the Guardiola, a Chardonnay; the Passopisciaro, a Nerello Mascalese; the Franchetti, a Petit Verdot/Cenase blend (that just happened to receive 97 Parker points); and the Dolce, a beautiful passito style white dessert wine. But they've got a few new wines in production right now and we were able to barrel taste a few of the 2008 that will highlight the nerello mascalese grape at different elevations.

Next we went up to their sorting room that they set up as a tasting area for us. Here they laid out a table covered in typical Sicilian foods such as the local pecorino and smoked ricotto cheeses, salumi, grilled eggplant and zucchini, olives, fresh tomato salad and a house baked bread all accompanied by the 2007 Passopisciaro, delizioso!

While we were enjoying the food and wine, winemaker Anna Martens had finished testing the bags of grapes she had gathered from the different vineyard sites. To end our visit with a special treat, she squeezed the bunches of nerello mascalese and handed us glasses of the most amazing grape juice I've ever had!

We reluctantly said our good byes and headed back down the mountain to the agriturismo.

To view the complete slide show from Passopisciaro, click here: Munjebel, Visiting Passopisciaro

Monday, October 26, 2009

Pistaccio di Bronte Cake, A Sicilian Delight!

One of the highlights of our wine and culinary trip to Sicilia was the cooking classes we participated in as we moved from region to region. Putting on our aprons and rolling up our sleeves we were taught how to prepare wonderful Sicilian recipes using products that were specific to the area we were visiting. As we learned new cooking techniques using fresh local ingredients we had a blast interacting with the local chefs who proudly taught us family recipes passed down for generations. And in true Sicilian style, after a few hours together in the kitchen we then sat down at the table and ate what we cooked, enjoying every delicious bite!

During the first part of our journey we stayed at the Scilio Agriturismo in Linguaglossa on the north eastern slope of Mount Etna. This beautiful property has been in the Scilio family for four generations and the current owners are Giovanni and Elisabeth Scilio. In the cucina, our gracious hostess Elisabeth and chef Carmella, gave us our first taste of the most sought after pistachio in the world from the tiny town of Bronte. Bronte is perched at the top of slope of volcanic rock, located about half a mile northeast of Etna.

The Arabs, who once controlled the region, are responsible for bringing pistachio trees to Sicily from the Middle East. Sicily is the only place in Italy where pistachios are grown, and have become quite expensive due to their limited production. Pistachio cultivation in Sicily is laborious work. The trees only bear fruit every two years and the steep volcanic slopes prevent the use of machines to harvest the fruit. The intense, full flavor and grassy aroma of Bronte pistachios comes from the mineral rich soil and the Sicilian sun and air. Bronte pistachios are an essential ingredient in many Sicilian cakes and cookies but also find their way into just about everything from pasta to meat dishes and of course the infamous gelato.

This pistachio cake was the simplest dish we prepared on the trip and is amazingly rich and sinful. Elisabeth Scilio was kind enough to share her house made walnut liqueur with us that evening and the pairing was heavenly. I had to convert grams to ounces and Celsius to Fahrenheit so hopefully everything will come together!

8 large organic eggs whites
14 ounces (400 grams) of sugar
1.5 t. pure vanilla extract
14 ounces (400 grams) of ground pistachio, shelled, skins removed
3.5 ounces (100 grams) of cake flour ("00")

Preheat the oven at 325°. Mix all ingredients together to form a moist paste. Pour the mixture into a well greased spring form pan. Bake for about 30 minutes until an inserted knife comes out clean but moist. Dust with powdered sugar and drizzle with chocolate sauce if desired.

Friday, October 23, 2009

When in Roma...

We sadly said arrivederci to Sicilia and its amazing food, wine,
culture and people this morning. It was a truly wonderful trip with
an incredible group of adventurous wine lovers who spent the past two
weeks falling in love with Sicilia and sharing a very special time
together. We'll never be able to recreate the experience and feel so
fortunate to have been a part of it!

So on to the next leg of our trip, Kerry and I hopped on a quick
flight to Rome. With only two days to explore this amazing city, we
are cramming a lot of walking, eating and drinking into our schedule.
We found a great little enoteca for lunch and went to La Pollarola
near Campo dei Fiori for a wonderful Roman meal. The photo is of
Kerry chowing down on the classic Pasta alla Carbonara!


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Winery Free Day

Feeling a little over saturated with our wine consumption we took the
day off from visiting wineries today to explore the western coastline
of the island. We had a picnic on the beach at San Vito lo Capo, a
little seaside village noted for its beautiful ceramics. Afterwards we
drove up the amazingly steep limestone spur high above the sea to the
medieval walled town of Erice. The views of the surrounding country
side are breathtaking and on a clear day you can see the coast of
Tunisia to the south west and the Etna to the east. I'll post the
photos as soon as I can, absolutely stunning!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Visit to Planeta

Today we left our beautiful home at Mandranova and headed to the western side of the island where we will spend the next four days at the Donna Franca agriturismo just north of Marsala. On the way we stopped to tour the Planeta winery at Sambuca with our very gracious host, Chiara Planeta. One of five properties they own on the island, the vineyards here are the main production areas for their white wines and merlot and overlook Lago Arancio. Chiara led us through a wonderful tasting of many of their wines that are not available in the states as well as their award winning Cometa and Merlot. Afterwards she put together a delicious lunch of regional products including the absolute best fresh ricotta we've had yet, and believe me we've had a lot of it in the past week!

We're back on the road now, heading to our next home that will look out to the Egadi Islands and the Mediterranean Sea...ah la dolce vita!!!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Olive Oil From the Gods

The beautiful weather today allowed the staff at Mandranova to finish picking the olives. We were able to watch the pressing today and the photo is the end product, amazing and delicious freshly made olive oil. We are heading to the cucina in a few minutes for a tasting of the four different single varietal oils made on the estate. I've eaten more olive oil in the last few days than I usually have in a month and loved every drop of it!

Beth & Kerry

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wish You Were Here!

Today we are at Principi di Butera for a tasting of their wines and
the most amazing lunch of regional foods. This is the group making a
toast to all of you wishing you were here!


Magnifica Mandranova!

Yesterday was a travel day as we said arrivederci to Etna and drove
south west to the Mandranova Olive Estate. They be picking olives
over the next few days and we will watch them press tomorrow!

Our dinner last was the best yet which is quite an accomplishment
considering what we've eating over the past 6 days! I'm having
difficulties with Internet connectios and AT&T will cost us a fortune
if we're not careful! But I've been taking tons of photos and making
detailed notes so I will try to post more when we can find some free
wifi. But I think it is safe to say that everyone is having a fabulous
time and we go to bed each evening with our bodies and our minds
completely satiated.

A presto,
Beth and Kerry

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From the Etna2

After way too many hours of flying and terrible airplane food, we
arrived at our first agriturismo on the northeast slope of the
volcano, the beautiful Scilio. The terrain and vegetation here are
similar to that of southern California with undulating sepia toned
foothills, dotted with cactus, palm trees, oleander and scrubby
bushes. However the most remarkable and dramatic feature is the
abundance and use of black lava rock. Not only does it create dramatic
rock formations but it is also one of the primary building materials
for local structures, terrace and retaining wall and even roads
circling the Etna. And of course it is what makes the wines of the
region so interesting, unusual and amazing!

I woke early after a belly-filling evening of delicious local wines
and foods from the farm and decided to investigate the property. The
black lava soils line the paths and roads which weaved through the
vineyards and olive orchards eventually leading me to the Catina where
the wines are produced. Lucky for me I met a little companion cenino
who accompanied me during the rest of my walk (don't tell Sangi!).

The estate has been in the family now for five generations and the
current owners, Salvatore and Elisabeth remember that electricity was
a luxury that they didn't receive until the late 1960's!! The property
was just recently renovated and the colorful stucco and lava rock
buildings are in perfect harmony with the surroundings and the view of
the Etna from anywhere on the property is breathtaking!

Time for a quick shower and breakfast before we head up to the
vineyards of to meet Vincenzo at the vineyards of Passopisciaro!

Interent Issues

Sorry all, we are having internet issues that are keeping me from posting! We are trying to resolve it!!

From the Etna

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The First Supper

We're off and flying! Our first memorable meal (not!) on Alitalia; at
least we know that things can only improve from here! Once fluent in
Italian, Kerry is practicing on the flight attendents and asking if
she can pay with carta igenico (toilet paper which is about the
current value of the good old American $!). And just in case you are
wondering, yes they still give free wine on European airlines!

Kerry's meal review: bistecca inedible and land o' lakes butter...I
mean, really. And the vino rosso - drink at your own risk. The final
word is ewwww...I wouldn't have paid for this meal with carta igenico!

Next stop Roma! We'll meet up with the rest of the group there and
then a quick flight to Catania.

A presto,
Beth and Kerry

Saturday, October 3, 2009


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