Vino Dei Fratelli offers a broad array of tasty Italian values

Lately, I’ve tasted quite a bit of Italian wine. The wines I’ve tasted recently represent a real cross section of what’s available from Italy — they’re all over the spectrum in terms of price points, grapes used and style. And at the end of the day that’s really a microcosm of what Italy produces, which is great variety. The Vino Dei Fratelli line features wines made all over Italy, and made by several families that vary by area. Basically each family specializes in making wines from varietals that are indigenous to their area. By sourcing from a host of family producers throughout Italy, Fratelli is able to offer genuine regional wines at reasonable price-points under one umbrella. Here’s a look at a handful of their newest releases that I feel represent very good values.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Pinot Grigio – All of the fruit for this wine came from the Veneto region, and is 100 percent Pinot Grigio. Fermentation took place over a period of 20 days in stainless steel tanks. About 1,500 cases were produced and the suggested retail price is $12.99. Apple and yellow melon aromas are present on the nose of this Pinot Grigio. The palate shows off a continued parade of fruit characteristics with Yellow Delicious apple and bits of mango making their presence known. Lemon and tangerine zest, white pepper and a touch of Granny Smith apple are all in play on the crispy finish. This refreshing wine shows off fine varietal character for its price category. I found that this particular Pinot Grigio was at its best ice cold. It’s tasty all by itself but steps up when paired with light foods.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – The fruit for this wine came entirely from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG region. It’s a 100 percent varietal wine. After harvesting and manual selection, the choice grapes were de-stemmed. Fermentation took place in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Three months of bottle aging followed prior to release. About 1,500 cases of this wine were imported, and it has a suggested retail price of $11.99. Dark violet aromas lead the nose here along with interlaced red and black raspberry fruit characteristics. Sweet, fresh, black fig leads the juicy palate along with hints of blackberry and pepper spice. Montmorency cherry and dried date notes show up on the finish, along hints of rhubarb. This Montepulciano craves food and will work well with casual foods such as charcuterie, wings, simple pastas and the like.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Primitivo – All of the fruit for this wine was sourced in the Southern Italian region of Puglia. It’s composed entirely of Primitivo which is a close relative to Zinfandel. Fermentation in a temperature-controlled environment took place over 15 days. Malolactic fermentation followed by aging in stainless steel tanks. About 1,500 cases of this wine were imported and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Fresh raspberry and blackberry aromas leap from the nose of this Primitivo. The charming palate of this wine is laced with continued blackberry, not to mention blueberry as well as red and black plum. Bits of earth and sweet chocolate emerge on the finish of this fruity, juicy and simply pleasing wine. Medium tannins and solid acid provide nice structure. This Primitivo is just a touch rustic in nature, which adds to its charm. It’ll work well with ribs, burgers, pulled pork or just about anything you pull off your grill or out of your smoker.

Vino Dei Fratelli 2011 Chianti – This 100 percent Sangiovese wine was produced from entirely Tuscan fruit. Temperature-controlled fermentation took place over 12 days, and aging in stainless steel occurred over 8 months. About 6,000 cases of this wine were made and it has a suggested retail price of $14.99. Leather, violets and tobacco aromas are all in evidence on the nose of this 2011 Chianti. Cherry flavors continue on the palate where they dominate things and are supported by underlying bits of dried wild strawberry. Pomegranate and a hint of dried red apple emerge on the finish, along with a tiny bit of black pepper. Firm acidy and medium tannins are present. This is a classic red sauce wine. Pair it with anything covered in a good Marinara or Bolognese, including a slice of Pizza on a Tuesday night, for a delightful match.

Italy as much (if not more) than any other country is food-obsessed. Part of that is a glass of wine with their meals. These four examples from Vino Dei Fratelli remind me of precisely the kinds of wine that Italians are drinking on a daily basis. These are well made, local offerings, aimed at youthful consumption. They’re also attractively priced for regular drinking. Look for these on the shelf at your local wine shop and take them home so that you can drink just the way regular Italians do every day.

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Drink of the Week: Ward No. 5 (TCM Fest Salute #4)

Ward No. 5.You can make a case that the final drink inspired by some of the best films I was lucky enough to see at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival is easily the best of the batch — the rest of which you can see for yourself here, here, and here. I wouldn’t say, however, that it’s worthy of the film that inspired it. That’s only because the movie that inspired is so stratospherically its own thing that it stands out among other film classics. If I had to make a choice, I’d much rather you saw the movie than tried my drink. Fortunately, however, there’s no reason you can’t do both!

You can read a little bit about my impressions of “A Matter of Life and Death” from five years back in my review of a DVD set, “The Films of Michael Powell” (fortunately still available from Amazon for a reasonable price, and also as a DVD rental from Netflix). Suffice it to say the film was the personal favorite of an English filmmaker who was every bit the equal of such contemporaries as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lean. He famously befriended Martin Scorsese and married his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, but his latter day influence extends far beyond that. The important thing is that he made film as a form of healing magic with a dash of wry, realistic humanism that was witty, occasionally sensual (but not quite sensuous), and nearly always as British as British could be — but he did so with the help of a brilliant WWII-era expat Hungarian screenwriter/producer named Emeric Pressburger.

In “A Matter of Life and Death” (alternately titled “Stairway to Heaven,” way pre-Led Zeppelin), a young poet and war-hero (David Niven) who really should have perished along with his plane, finds himself very literally on trial for his life and his love of a American radio operator (Kim Hunter) while undergoing post WWII-era neurosurgery. It all happens in Ward No. 5 and I thought that would be a fine name for a drink that revives the mind and the soul and won’t be too horrific for the body, either.

Ward No. 5

1 1/2 ounces Bombay Dry Gin
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 ounce ginger liqueur (Dekuyper Mixologist Collection Ginger)
1 teaspoon grenadine (Master of Mixes)
1 pitted cherry (garnish)

Combine the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, shake vigorously, and strain into a good size cocktail glass. Toast life, but also death — without one, you can’t really have the other.

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Cocktail enthusiasts may suss out that this drink is a slight variation on the very coincidentally named Ward 8, a lesser known classic-era cocktail — a mite tart for my taste — that I covered back in ’11. I’ve replaced the North American whiskey of the original for supremely English gin but kept the life-giving fresh citrus juices. Shaving off half an ounce of hard booze, I’ve also added the healthy properties of ginger…okay, ginger liqueur, but the alcohol is needed to salve the mind, right?

It’s a refreshing concoction but fairly sensitive and delicate. I tried changing out the Bombay Dry Gin for a very good but more elaborately flavorful gin and it throw the balance off in a way I wasn’t sure about. I also tried the drink with only 1/2 an ounce each of the orange and lemon juices and that result let a bit more of the gin’s perfume through.

I went with a more refreshing and accessible take on Ward No. 5. I don’t know what effect using a different brand of ginger liqueur would have on this drink because I only had one around, but the brand I’m using is very tasty. I’m not saying that only because I got it free, though freebies always do taste that much sweeter.

All in all, in rather proud of Ward No. 5, but I’m humbled by the beautiful, funny and tragically delightful movie that inspired it. I’m also rather happy to present the scene that gave me the idea for this final TCM-esque beverage.

  

Drink of the Week: The Quiet Man (TCM Fest Salute #3)

This is part three of our salute to the TCM Classic Film Fest (see parts one and two here and here). This week, a quandary was solved by my realization that the annual double-act of drinking related arguable holidays, Derby Day and Cinco de Mayo, are just about upon us, though I’m afraid the Mexican-American holiday is going to get short shrift este año.

I was struggling with another drink when it occurred to me suddenly that the film I’d planned to cover the final week of my salute, John Ford’s ultimate two-fisted romantic comedy, “The Quiet Man,” was also perfect for the annual running of the Kentucky Derby. That’s because, like nearly all John Ford films, strong drink features prominently and there’s an exciting horse race scene, though it tends to overshadowed by the film’s legendary fistfight between leading man John Wayne and comic antagonist Victor McGlaglen.

Directed by America’s cinematic Shakespeare, John Ford, and written by his frequent undersung collaborator, the great Frank S. Nugent, “The Quiet Man” is a tale of a guilt-ridden Irish-American boxer (Wayne, of course) who escapes to the old sod after accidentally killing a man in the ring. He finds true love of a very feisty and sexy sort with a very feisty and sexy young clan matriarch (O’Hara, naturally). The twist is that, thanks to the selfishness of her thuggish older brother (McLaglen), he also finds that the only thing that will save his new marriage is practicing the not-at-all-so-sweet science of fisticuffs. It’s also a comedy, made back when you didn’t have to label a film a “dramedy” just because it has a few serious moments and a decent story.

Since the film is the ultimate celebration of the rather intimate connection between Ireland and the U.S., as well as between man and woman and fightin’ man and fightin’ man, a drink that unites the sweet whiskies of Ireland and the U.S.A. while packing a slow punch seems appropriate. It’s also appropriate to admit that absent or two very minor variations, it’s a total rip-off of the Derby Day classic, the Mint Julep. Still, I think it’s a maybe a nice change of pace.

The Quiet Man

1 1/2 ounces Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (Bottled in Bond)
1 1/2 ounces Bushmills
1 teaspoon super fine sugar
5-8 fresh mint leaves
1 teaspoon (or maybe 1/2?) Campari or Aperol

Start with the sugar and mint leaves and, if you’re feeling quirky, the Campari or Aperol bittersweet liqueur. Muddle the mint leaves with the lightest of touches in the bottom of a rocks glass. Next, add your twin whiskeys, many smallish ice cubes and stir enough to really get things nice and icey.

As for our toast…let’s see, we’ve got John Wayne, horse racing, Maureen O’Hara, John Ford, the Marquis of Queensbury, Frank S. Nugent…Yeah, that’s it. Frank S. Nugent. It could be the first time a screenwriter who never became a director was toasted by the public, though it sure wouldn’t be the the first time a screenwriter got toasted.

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I have to admit I don’t feel like I quite finished the job on this drink as far as the Campari or Aperol are concerned, which I added for a bittersweet edge. I was tempted to write that you could leave them out entirely, but I wasn’t too happy with that version, either. Try one, or the other, or maybe experiment with another liqueur choice of your own. I like this drink, but it’s a work in progress.

I feel a bit more satisfied with my choice of brands, which this week I’m making a part of the official recipe. Old Fitzgerald Bourbon definitely has the right Irish ring to it, and it’s also a wonderful, underrated product that you can actually afford. Moreover, the fact that it’s 100 proof ensures that a Quiet Man really will pack just a bit more punch than a standard julep.

As for Bushmills, I’m sure Jamesons or another Irish whiskey would do and I won’t even get into the silly “Bushmills is protestant whiskey” argument. In any case, “The Quiet Man” depicts an ecumenical mid-century Ireland where Roman Catholics and a tiny minority of  Church of Ireland believers get along quite famously.

Really, though, the surest way to ensure that you have a really good time with this drink is to actually enjoy it while watching the brilliant 2012 4k restoration of “The Quiet Man,” which you can do via Amazon or, right here below. I think springing for the HD version makes sense here. You’ll see.

  

Drink of the Week: The Nutty Professor (TCM Fest Salute #2)

The Nutty Professor.And so we continue from last week, making drinks inspired by some of the most interesting films I saw at this year’s TCM Classic Film Festival.

Today’s drink is inspired by the best regarded film starring, cowritten, and directed by Mr. Jerry Lewis, a man whose legacy and contribution to the movies and show business is so complicated I don’t dare to try and contain it in my little cocktail blog. Remade in 1996 with Eddy Murphy, the 1963 version of “The Nutty Professor” is a fairly boozy film, stylistically influenced by director Frank Tashlin, with whom Lewis worked on a number of earlier movies and whose output includes two candy-colored and alcohol-soaked 1950s must sees, “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” (The latter, a spoof of the advertising business staring Tony Randall and Jayne Mansfield, is especially recommended for “Mad Men” fans.)

For those of you who’ve never seen it, Lewis’s film is a silly yet oddly bittersweet twist on “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” He plays Julius Kelp, an ultra-nerdy, ultra-lonely college professor with horrendous teeth and a worse haircut who is smitten with young Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens). In pursuit of Purdy, and some kind of a life, he concocts a potion and transforms himself into Buddy Love, a handsome, ultra-hep playboy blessed with massive confidence and a complete lack of kindness or humility.

Now, as I was looking for a cocktail inspired by “The Nutty Professor,” I could have gone with the Alaskan Polar Bear Heater, a cocktail Mr. Love orders during the film in James Bond-style detail. However, people have actually dared to make the drink not once but twice and, well, comparisons to the hindquarters of the late Ernest Borgnine were made. Like the obnoxious Mr. Love, that drink was clearly not intended to be endured by any actual, living human being.

I, however, have come up with a beverage that I think Julius Kelp, but not so much Buddy Love, would have approved of. It’s a bit literal on the matter of being “nutty” but it’s both kind of wholesome and professorial, while it’s also boozy enough to make you feel like a more charming version of yourself. Perfect for sharing with the delightful Miss Purdy. It’s also got enough ingredients to qualify as a chemistry experiment.

The Nutty Professor

2 ounces French brandy
1 ounce almond milk
1/2 ounce orgeat (almond syrup)
1 large egg white
1/4 ounce falernum
1 teaspoon absinthe
1 chopped or sliced almond (garnish)

First, combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker without ice and shake. This is to properly emulsify the egg white; I’m sure Prof. Kelp would agree it’s the best way. Next, add ice. Shake very vigorously and strain into a good size cocktail glass. (You’ll have leftovers if you use the glasses of the sized pictured above). Sprinkle your almonds on top. Then, toast…yourself, I suppose. As Prof. Kelp says, “You might as well like yourself. Just think about all the time you’re going to have to spend with you.”

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Let’s start with the brands. I didn’t specify them above because I wasn’t really using anything too special and I suspect other brands would work just fine, though it’s hard to be sure.

I didn’t have my usual brandy fall back, Reynal, on hand and instead used St. Remy, but I suspect any reasonably decent but understated brandy or cognac will be fine here. John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum is pretty much the only brand of that very sweet tiki standby you’re likely to find without breaking a serious sweat. (Some people actually make their own.)

My absinthe is one that absinthe fanciers look down upon, the possibly accurately named Absinthe Ordinare. (I bought because it’s also Abinsthe Reasonably Priced.) The orgeat is Torani, but I’m sure Monin’s syrup would probably be fine, too.

I’d tell you the brand of almond milk I was using if I thought that was important in any way, shape, or form. The egg whites, however, were brown, on sale, and cage free. Julius Kelp would want us to be kind to chickens.

Speaking of Prof. Kelp’s alter-ego, I was fortunate enough to see the 88 year-old Lewis, looking better than I’ve seen him look in a very long time , at Disney’s historic El Capitan theater before the screening of a beautifully restored “The Nutty Professor,” which I understand will be out in a deluxe Blu-Ray package this June. (Excerpts are on You Tube.) To be perfectly honest, I’ve had mixed feeling about Lewis for a long time and I have mixed feelings about the film, “The Nutty Professor,” which only becomes truly a film you actually need to see with the arrival of its Mr. Hyde, the vile but utterly gripping Buddy Love.

It was, therefore, definitely nice to see the man clearly enjoying himself and not really exhibiting any of the traits that have made him one of show business’s most openly prickly characters for as long as I can remember. (Was he acting at all during “The King of Comedy”?)

This Jerry Lewis, I would like to make a Nutty Professor for. It’s kind of tasty. I know it’s more drinkable than, say, an Alaskan Polar Bear Heater.

  

Summer party season around the corner

The summer party season is around the corner, so it’s time to start planning your road trips. There are so many great events out there to choose from, it’s really just a matter of picking one or two and then lining things up to enjoy it as much as possible, whether you’re going with friends and looking to hook up with women or taking your gal.

The Kentucky Derby is always a classic party and it kicks things off in early May. The key here is deciding what kind of experience you want. If you’re going to the infield, then you’re looking at a truly wild time with plenty of drinking. If you’re looking for a classier experience where you can enjoy all the lovely Southern hotties in their elegant hats, then that’s a whole different affair where you’ll be dressing in classy clothes and enjoying Mint Juleps in the grandstand. Remember, the hats are a great way to meet women at this event, as it’s the perfect conversation starter. You’ll meet tons of women if you make the effort.

Of course if you’re heading to that race you’ll have betting on your mind as well. With the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby set to take place soon on Saturday, May 3rd, 2014 we trust the guys at www.Kentucky-Derby-Online-Betting.com to give us their latest Kentucky Derby online betting predictions with live odds updates to get us ready for the first leg of the Triple Crown.

It’s been so long since we had a Triple Crown winner that everyone gets really excited when a horse wins the first two legs. With that in mind think about the Belmont Stakes as well in June if a horse has a chance to win the Triple Crown. That will suddenly elevate that event to one of the bigger parties of the summer.

Of course there are tons of music festivals as well, and the lineup at this year’s Lollapalooza with Eminem and the Kings of Leon leading the way. You won’t be drinking fancy drinks or looking at elegant hats at this event. It will be much more like the infield experience at the Derby. With the event in Chicago there will be plenty of opportunities to plan an awesome trip around the concert, with the bars on Rush Street and around Wrigley Field being great options.

So unless you’re the type to go with last-minute road trips, now is the time to start planning.

  

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