By Celia Strong
Finally, finally, finally. As many times as any one of us has needed a wine for a dessert course, now is the first time in years that we have one for all desserts. I know that’s a big claim to make but it’s true. And imagine this — it isn’t expensive, it’s in a really pretty bottle, and some of us may even like it for other than dessert. Sounds pretty close to perfect to me. So, lucky us, here we go to learn about our newly discovered wine.
It’s Italian this week. (I know, again. But let’s face it, wines that work in Italy work pretty well here too. Hot weather, lots of seafood, enthusiastic wine drinkers. Makes sense to me.) So, we’re back to Emilia-Romagna. You might remember the Lambrusco red wine from several months ago? Same region, same winery actually, but new grape variety, different style and color. And this time our wine is from a small part of the region, Modena. Modena is the name of a city and of a province. The city is located on the south side of the Po Valley. Centuries ago, when it was just a town, it was the seat of an archbishop. Now, it is best known as “the capital of engines,” automobile to be precise, because the factories of Ferrari, De Tomaso, Lamborghini, Pagani and Maserati were at some point all in this city. Today, all their headquarters except Lamborghini are in Modena, and Lamborghini’s is still close by. Ferrari at one point made a “360 Modena” model and one of their special colors was “Modena yellow.”
In addition, Modena’s claims to fame include the University of Modena, which was founded in 1175, one of the first in Italy, and today has strong economic, medicine and law programs. The Baroque Ducal Palace, which was started in 1634, is now a military academy, museum and library For us foodies, Modena is the home of Balsamic vinegar. (Don’t forget, too, the region is Emilia-Romagna, source for Romano cheese.) And let’s not miss all the salamis, hams and meats from a very diversified Modena cuisine. One well known salami, Cotechino, dates back to about 1511 when part of Modena was under siege and its residents learned to use and preserve less than best cuts of meat. Tortellini, a little square pasta, stuffed with meat or cheese, and folded over on itself also comes from Modena. Famous people from Modena include Mary of Modena, the Queen consort of England and Scotland and operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
Now that we’re all good and hungry, and well versed on Modena, let’s look, quickly, at our grape. Malvasia. This variety is thought to have ancient origins, And, if you remember, just last week it was the second grape in our Est! Est!! Est!!! wine. It came from around the Mediterranean and spread to most of Italy, usually as a blending grape. It is mostly a white variety, although there are small bits of a red version still. It makes still wines, sweet and dry and fortified wines. Its biggest claims to fame include Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine enjoyed for biscotti dipping, and Malmsey Madeira. (Madeira is one of the Mediterranean islands the grape came from originally.) Usually, the grape grows best in dry climates on slopes that encourage good soil drainage. The vines can produce very high yields so judicious pruning is important for better grapes and wines. The white Malvasia grapes, which is what we’re doing this week, have deep color and good aromatics.
So, on to our winery. Cavicchioli. The Cavicchioli family has been growing grapes in the San Prospero province of Modena for over a century. In 1928, Umberto Cavicchioli started bottling wines under his own name. Today, his two grandsons, brothers Sandro and Claudio, still work in the family business — Sandro works in the commercial operations and Claudia is the winemaker. The family is one of the largest landowners in the Modena DO with almost 200 acres. By owning this much land, the Cavicchiolis can concentrate on and control the way the grapes they use are grown — specific pruning systems, low yields, degree of ripeness at harvest — all planned to make high quality wines. They are best known for their wonderful Lambruscos, sweet, dry, sparkling, frizzante, red and white. (You may remember our past visit to Cavicchioli Lambrusco, a semi-sweet frizzante red wine that went so well will spicy foods?)
The Modena region is the center of Lambrusco production, but we’re moving on a step for this week’s wine. Otherwise, why all the news about Malvasia grapes, right? Cavicchili 1928 Sparkling White is made from 100% Malvasia grapes grown on the Emilian hills. The “1928” part of the name commemorates the first year that the family name was used on its wine labels.
This wine is light straw colored with a consistent creamy froth (the foam at the top of the glass when the wine is poured) and small bubbles. It is aromatic and perfumy, like Malvasia wines should be with apricot and peach flavors. And, yes, it is a sweeter style sparkling wine. But, let’s not get all worked up about the sweet thing. As I started out, this wine is finally the answer for anyone who needs a good, not expensive, dessert style wine. The rule is, when matching a dessert course with a wine, that the wine has to always be sweeter than the dessert. But, there is also the added problem of a specific dessert with a specific wine. It’s just as complicated as any other course, and, yet, we’ve usually had to settle for some third, fourth or fifth choice. Or go without. No fun when you’re planning a good dinner. Cavicchioli 1928 Sparkling White is our answer. It’s sweet enough for any dessert but not so sweet that we can’t enjoy a second glass at the end of the evening. The bubbles keep it refreshing beyond words. Even with just some fresh fruit, this wine can be perfect. And fun! And the bottle is beautiful.
So, even if you’re not having that dinner party tonight, keep this wine’s name handy. It will be the perfect answer for all of us one day, and, finally, finally, finally, we have our perfect, perfect, perfect dessert wine. And it’s just $9.99. Sounds perfect to me! Enjoy.
By Celia Strong