Category Archives: Italian wine

Wine of the week: Cusumano Insolia 2012


Cusumano InsoliaThe Wine Curmudgeon, for all the chips on his shoulder, is always wiling to admit when he’s wrong. Hence another mea culpa for Cusumano, the Sicilian producer whose qualities I have doubted, and this time for its Inosolia white wine.

The Cusumano Insolia ($11, purchased, 12.5%) is made with the insolia grape, native to Sicily and mostly used to make marsala until the Sicilian wine revolution of the past decade. This is an unusual white grape, even for Sicily, and I’m not sure there’s a white quite like it anywhere else in the world — almost tannic, but also softer than chardonnay and crisper than viognier.

This vintage, which is apparently current despite its age, isn’t as long in the finish as when it was younger, but it still shows why Cusumano is one of the best producers on the island. Look for the qualities that make me so excited about Sicilian white wine — melon fruit, white pepper, an herbal aroma, and all in balance for a very fair price.

Drink this chilled, and pair it with grilled fish or chicken finished with olive oil and herbs. In this, one more reason why we don’t need to drink badly made chardonnay.

Wine of the week: Li Veli Fiano 2013


 Li Veli Fiano The American fascination with chardonnay has always intrigued the Wine Curmudgeon. Given the hundreds of other white wines in the world, why do we insist on only drinking chardonnay? This is not a knock on the wine, which I love, but if all I drank was one kind of anything, I’d give up drinking.

Which brings us to the Li Veli Fiano ($12, purchased, 12.5%), an Italian white wine from the Puglia region in the country’s boot heel and produced by a company that usually offers value and quality. Best yet, it’s made with the fiano grape, which is not chardonnay but should appeal to those who don’t like to venture too far from it.

Look for white pepper, a hint of nuttiness, and some pear fruit, backed up by lots of freshness and zing — zesty, even. This is not an elegant wine, but it is well structured and offers much more than $12 of value. In this, it’s a  versatile wine, tasty on its own or pairing with almost every white wine dish you can think of — and yes, even a light cream sauce.

Highly recommended, and especially for anyone who wants to throw caution to the wind and drink something other than chardonnay.

Wine of the week: Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012


Cusumano Nero d'Avola Two years ago, I wrote: “One day, perhaps, Sicily will take its place as one of the world’s great wine regions…” and then listed all the horrible things that would happen when it did. Which is mostly what has happened, and the Cusumano Nero d’Avola 2012 ($10, purchased, 14%) demonstrates just that.

Six years ago, when I first tasted Cusumano, few people who weren’t the Italian Wine Guy knew about Sicilian wine. Today, it’s all over the wine magazines, the best Sicilian wines from the Mt. Etna region cost as much as $100, and there is even Sicilian wine made to taste like grocery store merlot.

The Cusumano Nero d’Avola, a red wine made with the nero d’avola grape, has gone down a similar path, from a wine rarely tasted in the U.S. to one imported by one of the most successful American wine marketers. Along the way, the price went up, the wine lost something that made it what it was, and I took it out of the $10 Hall of Fame. I’m not the Wine Curmudgeon for nothing.

But I’ve made my peace with these changes, and two recent tastings, this red and the white Insolia, have restored my faith in the brand. This version of the Cusumano Nero d’Avola isn’t as dark and plummy as previous vintages, but it isn’t as fruity as it was when I tasted it a year ago, either. Bottle age helped restore the balance between the red fruit and its Sicilian earthiness, and I enjoyed the wine. It’s red sauce, pizza with cheese and sausage, and maybe even chicken cacciatore.

It probably won’t return to the Hall of Fame when the 2013 vintage arrives this year, given the price increase, but I’ll buy it and no doubt enjoy it. And that will be enough.

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