FEBRUARY THIRST-CENTO CAVALLI SICILIA NERO D'AVOLA
This real Sicilian gem comes to us from a rather unexpected source, which is to say from a conscientious wine project run by three non Sicilians. A sommelier and two winemakers banded together here not to make seriously expensive, top-shelf Sicilian wines, but rather to make extremely pure, regionally correct value wines. Their Cento Cavalli (named for what is thought to be the oldest tree in Sicily) Nero d’Avola represents just how good simple Nero d’Avola can be in the right conditions. Often, in the warm Sicilian climate, the sun-loving Nero vines over ripen, producing black wines with obtrusive tannins and excessive alcohol levels. Cento Cavalli’s epitomizes Sicilian freshness, highlighting entrancing notes of red fruit, specifically fresh wild raspberry to highlight its spicier elements.
Did I mention raspberries? Perhaps fruit-focused tasting notes are overdone. Ok, definitely. But, when we first tasted this pretty Nero, all we could think about were fresh raspberries. From the nose to the mid-palate, to the finish, that drives our experience of this wine. And what a pretty, fresh wine it is. Medium bodied, moderate tannins frame the experience, with ample freshness throughout. A wine that will shine when served cool and with Sicilian fare, like Eggplant Caponata. Or, for something a bit different, try it with our recipe for Vegetable Pajeon.
Known in some locales not as Nero d’Avola but as Calabrese, perhaps as a nod to its contested origins in Calabria, Nero was widely used across the island as a blender grape to beef up red wines in terms of alcohol, body, and tannin back when those characteristics were what the market demanded. Things have changed, and Nero is now the most widely planted red grape across Sicily, with most of the production going into 100% single-variety wines rather than blends. Although there are some excellent examples of blended wines, such as Cerasuolo di Vittoria–which by law must be a blend of Nero and Frappato. Some producers with especially good parcels opt to age their expressions in wood, but most are done in either stainless steel tanks or cement cuves to preserve fruit and freshness.
Vegetable Pajeon (Korean Scallion Pancakes With Vegetables)
* The bright and fruity Nero d’Avola makes an interesting match with this veggie-packed dish. Recipe adapted from NY Times Cooking.
FOR THE PANCAKES:
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup potato starch (or 1/4 cup each white rice flour and cornstarch)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup ice water
1 large egg
¼ cup finely chopped kimchi
4 cups finely chopped or grated mixed vegetables (cabbage, carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, whatever you’ve got)
4 scallions, cut into 2-inch-long sections and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 tablespoons grapeseed or peanut oil, plus more as needed
FOR THE DIPPING SAUCE:
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger or garlic (optional)
½ teaspoon sesame oil, plus more to taste
Pinch of granulated sugar
- Prepare the pancakes: In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, potato starch, salt and baking powder.
- In a medium bowl, combine water, egg and kimchi. Whisk kimchi mixture into flour mixture, and whisk until smooth. Fold in vegetables and about three-quarters of the scallions. (Save the rest for garnish.)
- In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil. Scoop 1/4 cup portions of batter into the skillet, as many as will fit while not touching, flatten, and fry until dark golden on the bottom, about 2 to 3 minutes. Flip and continue to fry until other side is browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with a little more salt. Continue with remaining batter.
- Before serving, make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, vinegar, ginger or garlic (if using), sesame oil and sugar. Sprinkle sliced scallion over pancakes, and serve with dipping sauce on the side.