A Culinary Journey Through Basilicata by Chefs Davide Ciavattella and Ernesto Iaccarino at Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890

On Monday, June 17th, 2024, I had the profound pleasure of indulging in a meticulously curated menu by Chefs Davide Ciavattella and Ernesto Iaccarino at Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890, Toronto.

The restaurant’s design and ambiance were nothing short of exquisite, setting the stage for an unforgettable culinary experience for the invitation-only guests. The evening featured an eight-course dinner paired with exceptional Basilicata wines, all orchestrated by the talented Executive Chef Davide Ciavattella.

The dishes and wines highlighted products from the Basilicata (Vulture-Alto Bradano) region, highlighting exceptional olive oils, wines, cheeses, and the famous peperone crusco all introduced to Canada for the first time by the Local Action Group LUCUS and Citta Del’ Olio. These two esteemed associations, founded in 1994, are dedicated to uniting local producers who uphold the historical, cultural, and environmental values and traditional production methods of the region. The harmonious blend of flavors and the carefully selected wine pairings elevated the dining experience to new heights, celebrating the rich heritage and gastronomic excellence of Basilicata.

For further details: Città dell’Olio (Trmtv.it) (Associazione Nazionale Città dell’Olio) (Associazione Nazionale Città dell’Olio).

Exploring Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Wines – Toronto

I spend this afternoon tasting and exploring Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at the historic Carlu, Toronto.

Participating wineries included:

Cirelli – Azienda Tilli – Tenuta Micoli – Ausonia – Caprera – Castorani– Colle Moro – Nicodemi – Cantina Tollo – San Lorenzo – Stefania Pepe – Valle Martello

Did you know?
That Abruzzo has been dubbed Europe’s greenest region. Approximately half of this area has been being designated a national parkland and habitat for endangered species as part of a massive “rewilding” project.

Despite its natural beauty and bounty, as well as a 2,500-year-long history of winemaking, this region in Southern Italy is still under-the-radar.

Assovini Sicilia Celebrates 25 Years

Assovini Sicilia celebrated a double anniversary this year: twenty-five years since its founding, and twenty years since the first edition of Sicilia en Primeur.

A special event was recently held in May during Sicilia en Primeur 2024, which included the preview of the latest vintage. This was a record edition with over one hundred journalists, including national and international press, ten enotours, five masterclasses, fifty-nine wineries and over three hundred labels for tasting.

Cultivating the Future, the claim chosen for this edition, takes stock of the first twenty-five years, emphasizing Assovini Sicilia’s role as a leading player and witness to the Sicilian wine renaissance.

Diego Planeta, Lucio Tasca d’Almerita and Giacomo Rallo signed the articles of association of Assovini Sicilia in 1998. Eight wineries were the first to join the association, endorsing that far-sighted, courageous, revolutionary vision, which saw associationism as a winning strategy to promote Sicily.

Twenty-five years later, the dream of the “founding fathers” to attribute cultural, promotional and storytelling value to Sicilian wine has been fully realized.

The strong wind of change and evolution continues to push the association forward, which, driven by the spirit of teamwork and system, has recently become a beacon in the wine scene, demonstrating not only that in Sicily, wine production is of quality, the managerial profile of the companies is competitive, and wine is a cultural ambassador to the world, but that the Sicily that knows how to team up is a winner.

“I am proud to represent an association that has always conveyed and promoted a contemporary image of Sicily, linked to traditions, dynamic, and elegant,” comments Mariangela Cambria, President of Assovini Sicilia. – Thanks to the courage of those who believed in associationism, defying all cultural resistance and, putting themselves on the line without protagonism, believing in teamwork, today, throughout the world, Sicily is a brand with a powerful and profound cultural value and international appeal. Assovini Sicilia was born from a vision and a plan that pushed the island towards new horizons, made it known throughout the world for its beauty and history. A story whose telling was entrusted to the narrative and symbolic power of wine. The great revolution of Assovini Sicilia was to believe in wine as a cultural product, with potential that is extraordinary and unique, before being economic.”

The story of these extraordinary twenty-five years, divided into multiple themes – the evolution of the vineyard, the cultural value of wine, perception in the American market, wine tourism and the Next Generation – was the heart of the “Cultivating the Future” conference, moderated by Gioacchino Bonsignore, a Mediaset journalist, inside the monumental complex of San Domenico in Cefalù.

Bonsignore retraced the history of Assovini Sicilia through those who have supported the vision and path of the association over the years.

«It’s a bit like what happened with the Italian language: It was born in Dante’s Florence, in the fourteenth century, but the precursor is the Sicilian School of the court of the “Stupor Mundi”, Frederick II of Swabia, in the thirteenth century.

Members of Assovini Sicilia speak about history, culture and values. They are all aiming for exports: Europe confirms itself as the main export market, for 95.7% of the companies, followed by North America. «I have witnessed the Sicilian wine renaissance firsthand over the past twenty years, and writing about the wines of Sicily has given me some of the most rewarding professional moments. I am deeply convinced that the bright future of Italian wine begins here, in Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean” – states Monica Lerner, an American journalist and wine critic for Robert Parker Wine Advocate.

Alessio Planeta, Antonio Rallo and Alberto Tasca, sons of the original founders, took up the torch and carried forward the initial plan of teamwork that laid the foundations of the winning “wine system” of Assovini Sicilia.

«I have always been convinced that collaborating and sharing long-term objectives is the right way to create value and promote our extraordinary wine-growing contexts.
Therefore, associationism for me has been and continues to be a successful path, which fully embodies the spirit of collaboration and commitment to excellence that characterizes Sicilian wine-growing,” comments Antonio Rallo, past president of Assovini and current President of the Consortium for the Protection of Sicily DOC wines.

Alessio Planeta defines the time span and history of the Sicilian vineyard in three emblematic eras: the enchantment of the past, the fervor of the 1980s and the vitality of the new millennium. «Each stage tells a story, interwoven with numbers, trends and varieties that reflect our commitment to the future. It is not just an exercise in meditation, but a bridge to tomorrow, shaped by family experience and innovation. In a world where we export to 75 markets, operating in five different Sicilian regions, we rely on the wisdom of our predecessors, like my uncle Diego Planeta, and our vision,’ adds Alessio Planeta, CEO and President of Planeta Winery.

Not only quality production and promotion abroad, Assovini Sicilia has won the bet on wine tourism as a tool for telling the story of the territory and its historical and wine-growing heritage.

Today, 84.8 % of the member companies have implemented a series of wine tourism services in their wineries that are true wine experiences, contributing to the evolution of wine tourism services from simple wine tastings to a part of experiential tourism.
In Sicily, the wine experience is a metaphor for a land that is changing and that has managed to enhance an asset, the wine industry, capable of representing our Sicily at its best,’ commented Marcello Mangia, president and CEO of Mangia’s – Aeroviaggi and host of the Sicilia en Primeur conference.

With its roots firmly anchored in tradition and the past, Assovini Sicilia is laying the foundations for the future by continuing to follow the winning trajectory and strategy that has led the association to celebrate these first twenty-five years successfully. The wineries are preparing for the generational transition: About 78% of the member wineries have already integrated a new generation into the company management. Within the association, the ‘Next Generation’ group has been created to represent the new generations of Assovini Sicilia, young people under 40 years of age who are already operational and family members within family businesses and who, guided by the example of Assovini, are committed to creating a team that looks to the future and to the enhancement of the Sicilian wine-growing territory. Among the new group’s main areas of intervention: communication, training and promotion of the territory.
«I believe that the NextGen of our entrepreneurial families have very clearly in mind what kind of ancestors they want to be: And this is how they will transform business models, here in Sicily and in the wine industry as in all sectors and geographical areas,’ Giovanna Gregori, executive director of AIDAF – Italian Family Business, commented during the conference.
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Sicilia en Primeur, the event conceived of and organized by Assovini Sicilia since 2004, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. An itinerant event that has based its success on a winning format: combining the preview of the latest vintage wines with visits to wineries and territories, telling the story of Sicily’s historical-archaeological and landscape beauties through the stories of wine.

“With Sicilia en Primeur, wine becomes an instrument of narration not only of the wine heritage but also of the human and historical heritage of Sicily. Wine is the leitmotif that unites the stories of the producers with those of the territories, weaves tales, joins pieces of a unique mosaic where Sicily is an extraordinary wine-growing continent” President Mariangela Cambria concludes.

Stefano Ricagno Appointed President of the Asti DOCG Consortium

Stefano Ricagno, a sixth-generation winegrower, graduate of University of Turin and of Alba’s school of Oenology, as well as Director of Piemontese sparkling wine producer Cuvage, which part of the Argea portfolio.

Beginning a three-year term as president, Ricagno said: “We will work in the interest of the denominations in a framework of unity of intent to consolidate the protection, valorisation and promotion of Asti Spumante and Moscato d’Asti in Italy and around the world.”

“In the current context of uncertainty, in fact,” he continued, “I am convinced that the synergy between the different associative souls that has always characterised our denomination will be able to give concrete answers to the challenges of the markets and new consumption.”

Ricagno’s predecessor as president, Lorenzo Barbero, was voted into the role of senior vice-president. Barbero wished Ricagno success in the role and commented: “I trust I can still make an important contribution to the consorzio in a path of continuity and maximum collaboration between all parties involved.”

Tuscany Celebrates 30 Years of Growth and Excellence

Considering the Tuscan town of Montepulciano has been preserved in time since the 16th century, thirty years may not seem like much, but a lot has happened since then for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. In 1994 the Anteprima event was established by the Consortium to present new vintages that were ready for release to the market. Depending on its label Vino Nobile di Montepulciano has been matured for 2 – 4 years in barrel and bottle before it can be sold. Each year the event is highly anticipated by journalists and wine experts. Since the first Anteprima edition was held in 1994 both bottle production and the number of estate members in the Consortium has doubled. The appellation has truly become a benchmark for Italian wine which is perhaps not a surprise since Montepulciano has been renowned for its wine since the ancient Etruscan civilization.

How Montepulciano moves forward

As it moves into the modern era, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG has upheld its values of tradition, territory and sustainability. The landscapes, architecture and way of life have been preserved in such a way as to honor past generations and their accomplishments. The deep knowledge of the territory that has been passed on to the current winemakers and estate owners is now documented and solidified in history with the creation of subzones called Pieve in Montepulciano. These twelve Additional Geographic Units (UGA) are now labeled on about 10% of Vino Nobile bottles with the name of their Pieve surrounding the town of Montepulciano. Named after the ancient parishes that divided the land since Roman and Lombard times, the Pieve Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG label was approved by the Consortium in 2023 and will be released on the market the following year. For a wine to be able to carry this label not only do the grapes have to come from that zone, the wine must be at least 85% Sangiovese and be made with grapes exclusively produced by the winery that bottles the vintage. Consumers will be able to delve into this historical connection between the physical place and its historic roots. The ability to compare the different zones and experience their specificity is also a way to better understand the Montepulciano territory as a whole.

Sustainability continues to be a strong theme at Anteprima since the Consortium started collaborating with the municipality of Montepulciano to record weather and soil data in the 1980’s and 1990’s. As of May 2022, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano was the first Italian denomination to receive the certification mark for sustainability according to the Equalitas standard. The protocol established by Equalitas for certification is extremely rigorous and includes numerous environmental requirements, such as measuring the carbon footprint, the water footprint, and socio-economic compliance with free trade unions and equal opportunities. The Consortium now has a network of 50 weather stations for data collection and in 2023 published its first sustainability report. It has been recognized as a professional operator for the SQNPI certification to support member companies.

The cultural and historic heritage of Montepulciano

A symbol of local culture, the village of Montepulciano is situated on a gentle sloping limestone hill that separates Val di Chiana from the Val del Orcia. Due to its rich history, Montepulciano represents a sort of open-air museum in the heart of one of the most popular and explored wine destinations in Tuscany. The old town is filled with Etruscan artifacts, Renaissance buildings, ornate churches decorated by illustrious artists, ancient theaters and local artisan shops. A stroll through the center will take visitors to the Piazza Grande with its 17th century Duomo. Just outside of town is the impressive San Biago sanctuary that leads to the picturesque valley of Val d’Orcia dotted with cypress trees, rolling hills, and vineyards.

Whether wandering through the ancient streets of Montepulciano, indulging in wine tastings, or exploring the captivating countryside, visitors will undoubtedly be entranced by the region’s timeless charm and unforgettable experiences. It is truly a perfect place for wine enthusiasts to immerse themselves in Tuscan beauty and history while enjoying plenty of excellent wines!

Filippo Magnani