“Discover Wines with a Story” Event at Carluccio’s London

Did you know that Antonio Carluccio started out as a wine merchant before starting his much-loved Carluccio’s restaurants? Now I know, it doesn’t surprise me. One of the best value meals on the high street, I’ve spent many times after tastings having a plate of pasta and a glass of quality wine, because wines, such as Planeta or Caruso & Minini, are reliably delicious and very well priced. Always promoting the regions of Italian food and wines, with 80-plus restaurants, they have found that difficult balance between price and quality.

To celebrate the launch of Carluccio’s Wine Explorers collection, we tasted four wines with four typical Carluccio’s courses, as well as starting with an excellent Trentino DOC sparkling from Ferrari made in the Champagne style.

Perhaps these wines are less well known on the UK high street, but what struck me is how “alternative varieties” are now breaking through. Carluccio’s has played a big role in introducing Italian food and wine to the UK, and with these Italian wines, this is another exciting step in the right direction for high street eating.


Lambrusco Vecchia Modena, Cleto Chiarli, Emilia Romagna with a Grandioso charcuterie board (Gran Sasso, salami centricina Abruzzese, soppressa al finocchio, prodciutoo cotto, salami Aquila, chicken liver pâté bruschetta, caponata bruschetta, Parmigiano Reggiano, poponcini peppers with pesto, artichokes, mint and garlic marinated green beans, balsamic onions, mixed Italian olives and caper berries.

Pecorino, Villa dei Fiori, Abruzzo with Beetroot and Goat’s Cheese Saled

La Segreta, Planeta, Sicily with Penne Giardiniera (Giant Pugliese penne with courgette, chilli and garlic, served with fried spinach balls and cheese).

Frappato, Caruso & Minini, Sicily with Lamb alla Griglia (Marinated tender lamb chops chargrilled and drizzled with mint pesto. Served with couscous salad and mixed leaves).

Wine Explorers Offer

Carluccio’s have very kindly offered Vinissima readers a £10 voucher to discover their Wine Explorer range for yourself. Until 1 October, download this voucher and when you eat at Carluccio’s you can try one of these wines for the special price of just £10.*

*See terms and conditions of voucher.


2014 Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé at The Modern Pantry, London


A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to have lunch with José Rallo, owner of the Sicilian winery, Donnafugata at The Modern Pantry in Clerkenwell.

We finished with one of the “grandi vini” of Italy: their sweet Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryé and a dessert of popcorn pannacotta with brown bread ice cream and a miso and orange caramel.

Wonderfully done, I loved the touch of wild fennel in the flower arrangement – this is a herb found by the sides of the road in Sicily, so very happy to see it in London (having just been in Marsala a few weeks ago). Also, the impromptu singing of Brazilian tunes by José. There is no better way to describe the wines than through song.

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Dress Code Black

The skills for making handmade lace are nearly all replaced by the factory. Except in Sicily. Donnafugata Mille e una Notte is a red wine from Contessa Entellina DOC that has a tight grip on its joyous Nero d’Avola fruit like a short, sharp slap from a woman in mourning. Unashamed Italian austerity, with deep balsamic herbs and black-lace tannins with round Nero d’Avola berries saved from complete voluptuousness by cool harvesting the grapes in the middle of the night. If your idea of black is easy-wearing, wash n’ go then you may not be ready for the young widow with eyes of coal dressed in black lace; this is a deeply unmodern wine, yet made in a highly technological way, that seethes tension and speaks the vocabulary of the volcano. Brava.

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New Italian wines at The Wine Society: bella figura!

The concept of ‘bella figura’ or good image is important to Italians. Bella figura is more than dressing well. It extends to the aura you project too – i.e. confidence, style, demeanour, etc. (From Italy – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette)

The Wine Society UK has found its Members wines that not only speak of the place but also have an extra flourish of bella figura. You’ll find nearly all of The Wine Society’s Italian wines for Spring have personality and speak of its place and history; in particular, the white wines. At these prices, and in these quantities, that is quite an achievement. Here is the line up for Spring:  Read More »

Spectacular Mount Etna DOC

This is what gives Mount Etna DOC wines their character.

Last night, Mount Etna erupted for 2 hours. Mount Etna is Europe’s most active volcano, replenishing the region’s soil every few years with hot lava music.

The black volcanic soil filters the strong flavours of grapes ripened under the Sicilian sun. This makes the wines from Mount Etna powerful, yet distinctly soft with a mineral taste.

Technical information: Mount Etna DOC

Red Grape Varieties: Nerello mascalese, Nerello mantallato

White Grape Varieties: Carricante, Catarratto bianco

Recommended wines:

Red: Etna Rosso DOC 2007, Cantine Nicosia, Sicilia (80% Nerello Mascalese, 20% Nerello Mantallato)

White: 2009 Planeta Carricante, Mount Etna, IGT Sicilia

Image and Link: “Red Sky at Night… Mount Etna erupts in spectacular fashion” (Daily Mail, 13 Jan 2011)

Sicilian, Sartorial, Sensual: Planeta Dinner, W1

Sitting at dinner with Francesca Planeta, it did not surprise me when she told me her wine had run out at Milan Fashion Week. I know from experience, these wines are seriously loved by my friends in the fashion industry. But what does come as a surprise is to learn Planeta has only been making wines in Sicily since 1985.

Think Italy and wine: what comes to mind is old estates with centuries of history. Then there’s Sicily… dormant for the past 4000 years, it has recently become a hotbed of wine innovation.

The world’s love affair with Planeta started with their Chardonnay. We tasted the 2000 vintage and I was instantly back in the 1990s: poured from a double magnum, it’s a full-bodied Chardonnay with prominent oak, a style which has now fallen out of fashion somewhat. But that was then: this is now. Contrast the latest 2009 Cometa Fiano. It’s a cutting-edge style of fabulous pure fruit expression from this grape from Campania which, had a consultant exclaim on first tasting, “When a wine comes out like this, it’s indigenous in itself.”

This is a statement you’re more likely to hear in the New World than the Old World. In many respects, Planeta is NEW Old World. Constantly evolving and moving, Planeta has had the freedom to experiment in Sicily, experimenting with international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. However, for me, it is Planeta’s experiments with local Sicilian varieties where things become exciting. The Carricante from the Mount Etna region, released in small, experimental-level quantities, is delicate and mineral enough to be an aperitif, a taste unlike any other wine.

The flagship wine, Santa Cecilia, is truly a thrilling wine made from the native Nero d’Avola. Francesca admits this wine had a few false starts; it wasn’t until 2005 after a few bad vintages that the Planeta family felt happy about releasing it. There’s A LOT to be happy about it now: this is the best Nero d’Avola I have ever tasted, a languid glass of dark-liquid jewels in dark fruits and licorice.

As I walked out of the gold room of Hush Restaurant into New Bond Street in the gloomy rain, I walked past the glossy windows of Dolce & Gabbana (their 2010 season of lace dresses inspiring my original post). Planeta did not hit on a winning formula and become complacent with their success: it is a winery constantly evolving and moving, much like fashion, reinventing new rules every vintage. It could equally be said about Planeta wines, as Stefano Gabbana said about fashion, “It’s about redesigning a point of view… molto sexy.

Thank you to the team at Enotria UK for making this possible and the wonderful hopitality of the staff at Hush Restaurant, W1.

Image: Editor-at-Large of Japanese Vogue, Anna Dello Russo’s own photo from Balmain show in the rain at last week’s Milan Fashion week.

Title of post: Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce describing the inspiration for their 2010 Menswear collection.

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song

dark sunglasses required: sexy Sicilian wine

There’s a stuffy image to the wine industry. It’s where middle-aged men with cigars who imagine themselves out every night patting strippers on the bum between glugs of Bordeaux as they discuss wine like stock prices.

Sicilian wines are not for them.

There’s also the people who go to the supermarket on the way home from work, get home and perfunctorily open a bottle to watch television for a few hours before going to sleep to do it all again the next day.

Sicilian wines are not for them, either.

Sicilian wines are


For the first time in ages, I had the Planeta Cometa Fiano and I felt about it exactly as I always did: affable, over-the-top glamorous, completely unpretentious and overall just delicious. If Dolce & Gabbana had a wine then it would be close to this.

This is effortless Sicilian style. On a grey London day, I wanted to reach for my dark sunglasses to pour it. The colour is golden straw like mid-afternoon sunshine by the beach. It had a glamourous wave of wild honey, Sicilian oranges, tropical fruit with a mouth-wateringly dry, cleansing freshness of minerality in its core. It’s a wine of grand gestures over a tablecloth of fine Sicilian lace.

Looking at the latest collection from Dolce & Gabbana with all their Sicilian lace, white wines from Sicily are the perfect wine for summer style. Or, if you simply don’t have the sun this Summer BRING IT.

Image: Anna dello Russo wearing Dolce & Gabbana

Original post on my blog Wine Woman & Song