Monday, February 12, 2018

#NationalPizzaDay at Il Canale with Cusumano Winery Nero d’Avola

"Sicily is a continent. It has diverse climates, terrior, and food", Diego Cusumano
Just by happenstance, Terlata Wines had organized a trade tasting at Georgetown's Il Canale to showcase the pairing of pizza and wines from Cusumano Winery. That's where our small group met Diego Cusumano - the gregarious co-owner who returned to the family winery after studying Economics at the University in Palermo. The estate was founded 65 years ago by his father Francesco who sold fruit throughout Italy. After Diego's older brother Alberto received an Oenology degree, the family invested more resourced into the vineyard and released their first vintage in 2000. Today the Sicilian winery releases a dozen wines under the Cusumano brand featuring mostly indigenous grapes grown their 1,000 acres of vineyards located throughout the "continent" of Sicily. They are recently introduced the new Alta Mora winery featuring wines from grapes grown on the slopes of the largest active volcano in Europe: Sicily's Mt. Etna.

Returning to the pizza lunch, owner Joe Farruggio served four delicious pies each paired to a Cusumano Nero d’Avola and the Alta Mora Etna Bianco. The Nero d’Avola grape is particularly suited for pizza as its inherent acidity easily cuts through the tomatoes acids. This was apparent during our first selection as the 2016 Cusumano Nero d’Avola ($12) was paired with a simply satisfying Margherita pizza ($12 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, basil). This wine was made from grapes harvested in the calcareous vineyards of San Giacomo and besides the acidity provides a combination of jammy dark fruit and rustic tannins.

The next pairing featured a spicy Diavola ($13 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, spicy salami, basil) which was served with the 2015 Cusumano Benuara ($23). This wine is a 70-30 blend of Nero d’Avola and Syrah from grapes grown on the clay soils and rolling hills of Presti e Pegni. The addition of Syrah mutes the acidity slightly but adds enough spice to merge with the salami and allow the rich fruit to shine.

Next up, the rich and delicious 2012 Cusumano Sagana ($49) - 100% Nero d’Avola - and the house specialty Il Canale ($14 - tomato sauce, imported buffalo mozzarella, ricotta cheese, prosciutto di Parma, eggplant, cherry tomatoes). Lights out fantastic. The grapes were grown on 30 year old vines also from the calcareous vineyards of San Giacomo. The wine's texture was enhanced by 18 months in barrique casks and an additional seven months in bottle before release. A rich wine for a rich pizza.

And finally, before plates of traditional Italian desserts and espresso we were served the suburb Del Pizzailo ($21 imported Buffalo mozzarella, Burrata, arugola, bresaola, and grape tomatoes) and the Alta Mora Etna Bianco ($25). The wine is 100% Carricante grown in the black soil on the northern slopes of Mt. Etna. Needless to say, this is a rich white wine with intense aromas followed by rich flavors that transitions to an earthy and acidic finish.  Excellent.

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