Please enjoy this guest post written by Noreen Kompanik and make sure to check her site for more posts and articles.

Match Made in Heaven: Italian Wines and Foodie Finds

When a group of writers and photographers get together on a quarterly basis in Southern California, it’s food and wine that’s at the heart of the gathering. The Southern California Wine Council members convened in March to sample and compare wine varietals from New Mexico and Italy. Wines are sent by the wineries themselves. Council members each select a wine, and come up with creative dishes that will likely pair best.

Lightest to the heaviest and white to red is the process experts suggest when winetasting. And it’s exactly the procedure we use.

We began with a 2017 Luna Rossa Winery Pinot Grigio ($13) produced from grapes grown in Paolo and Sylvia D’Andrea’s vineyards in Mimbres Valley, New Mexico. The medium-bodied, mildly fragrant wine with a floral yet earthy nose leaves hints of apple and citrus on the palate. It paired perfectly with Fish Ceviche. This Double Gold winner at the San Francisco International Wine Competition also paired exceptionally well with a Sweet Cornbread with Jalapeño Peppers.

Vigna Petrussa Fruiliano ($20) is a fascinating wine varietal grown in Northern Italy near the Austrian and Slovenian borders. Rarely found outside of Italy, the indigenous sauvignonasse grape produced a wine with golden hues like a Chardonnay, but was instead tart with citrus notes. While a Salmon and Cheese Canape was the selected pairing, the salmon was somewhat overwhelming for the wine, and instead a Fish Ceviche was deemed a perfect match.  A second varietal, a 2018 Vigna Petrussa Ribolla Giala demonstated light yellow-light greenish hues. The dry wine with hints of stone fruit and herbs not only paired well with a Shrimp Ceviche but held up beautifully with a Honey-Walnut Baked Brie with Apple.

By consensus, the favorite wine of the day was La Fortezza Falanghina (surprisingly only $16 per bottle). This ancient grape varietal, once found only in Italy was famous for producing Falarian wine, the most prestigious wine of Roman times.  It’s now being grown in the U.S., especially Southern California. La Forteza is located in the Campania region of Southern Italy just outside of Naples. Winery founder Enzo Rillo says that strength of the estate lies in the volcanic soil, sun exposure, altitude and exceptional care of the vineyards. The deep straw-hued apple and pear flavored white was incredible with the baked brie.

Next came the reds, and the winner was Dixon, New Mexico’s 2017 Vivac Nebbiolo ($32). Vivac is Spanish for “high altitude refuge” and that’s exactly where the grapes are grown– at 6,000 feet. The winery was founded by brothers Jesse and Chris Padberg, along with their spouses. The Nebbiolo aged in French oak barrels is phenomenal, especially paired with Grilled Mediterranean Turkey Kabobs and accompanying Tzatziki and Naan bread. The wine’s light red color appears similar to a Pinot Noir with ripe berry attributes and hints of caramel and citrus peel. Bottom line, this is one great red so it’s of no wonder that Wine Enthusiast Magazine named Vivac the “Highest Rated Wine Producer in New Mexico.”

Luna Rossa’s 2015 Nini ($23) was next on the agenda. This seven-Italian grape varietal blend spent 58 months aging in oak barrels. A counterpart to a Barbera, the bold, juicy, and spicy deep red paired perfectly with Orzo with Beef, Mushrooms and Cheese. It also partnered well with Barbequed Pork Ribs. Italian for “Red Moon,” Luna Rossa’s winery name couldn’t be more apropos.

Vivac provided yet another lovely wine for our tasting– their 2017 Refosco ($24). Once an ancient only- Northern Italian grape varietal, this deep red wine with dark red berry flavor and hints of sweet baking spices couldn’t have been a better choice for the Open-Faced Mediterranean Sliders made with beef, boar, and bacon.

Noisy Water Winery is a family of 5th generation New Mexico farmers. So, it’s of no surprise when president and winemaker Jasper Riddle opened his small-town winery 10 years ago. Jasper’s 2017 Montepulciano ($40) appears paler in color and lighter bodied than most Montepulciano’s we’re familiar with. Nonetheless, this wine with ripe berries on the nose and hints of melon took a Gold Medal in the 2019 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition. It paired beautifully with the Barbeque Ribs and much to our surprise, the Mediterranean Turkey Kabobs.

Last but not least, we finished the day with a Gruet Sparkling Pinot Meunier Brut ($42). This is the winery New Mexico knows well and loves. Produced in the Method Champenoise (where the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in the bottle), the pink bubbly sparkling jewel couldn’t have been a better choice to close the evening accompanied with with Chez Panisse Almond Tart. The delectable dessert’s recipe hails from its renowned restaurant in Berkeley.

American author Clifton Fadiman once said “If food is the body of good living, wine is its soul.”

Though life as we know it has drastically changed these days due to the Coronavirus, two things we can still do safely at home these days is drink good wines and enjoy great food. Cheers and bon appetit!