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Dionysus and his Donkey

Legend has it that Dionysus, who became the Greek god of the grape harvest, winemaking, and wine, was once wandering around when he came across a strange plant. To preserve it as he voyaged, he planted it inside a bird, and as it grew, inside a lion, and finally inside a donkey. He eventually arrived at the island of Sicily and was able to plant the growing grapevine in the ground, hence establishing the very first vineyard. From this a proverb emerged: "A good glass of wine makes you as light as a bird, another and you are as courageous as a lion, but when you exaggerate with wine, you end up an ass!” This timeless wisdom is why we always pull out the spittoon when we are tasting through our lineup of samples each week.

* Dionysus on a Donkey, 2nd Century Roman Sculpture. Credit: Minneapolis Museum of Art.

This week we alighted on some spectacular sparkling wines from Sicily, the land of Dionysus' first vineyard. The Scammacca del Murgo family has deep roots on this island, having farmed there since 1860. Their vineyards are on the slopes of Mt Etna, and they have taken the local Nerello Mascalese grape and started producing wonderful sparkling wines, which we fell in love with.

Murgo Brut Rosé Metodo Classico 2019 ($33) An extraordinary sparkling wine that sits in your glass with the palest pink hue like the first hint of sunset. It has an utterly beautiful fruit quality with pomegranate and brioche flavors that linger after each sip like a conversation that touches you deeply. It is aged for five years after disgorgement and at $33, it simply blows away any other rosé bubbles for double the price.

Murgo Brut Metodo Classico ($29) The sister to the rosé, this white sparkling is produced from the same red grape and is therefore the equivalent of a French ‘Blanc de Noir’. It is even fresher than the rosé, with delectable notes of white pear flesh and raw almond. Both these wines really exemplify how with care and attention, there is huge potential outside of the traditional Champagne varietals. They are both perfect for toasting the sunset, or sipping with some simple prosciutto and melon.

Staying in Italy, but back on the mainland in Tuscany, we found a beautiful wine from Tenuta Valgiano, a wonderful biodynamic estate in the hills above Lucca that also has olive trees, chickens and bees. Tenuta di Valgiano Rosso 'Palistorti di Valgiano' 2019 ($43) This wonderful blend of 70% Sangiovese, 20% Syrah & Merlot, 10% Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo and Colorino, is named after the crooked posts at the end of each row of vines. The vineyards are on marl over sandstone which gives the wine a beautiful balanced quality with a clean, long finish. We tasted their "Estate" wine recently, which is a competitor for one of the best wines in Tuscany, and this wine, its little brother, is not far behind. It has a seductive nose of light leather and cherries, and is so good to drink it makes your mouth water. Steak, steak, steak is all we can say. Dry aged and beautifully marbled with some grilled mushrooms and tagliatelle with butter and truffle oil. Grab a bottle or two for sharing with friends and family. This is one to put aside for the upcoming holidays.

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