Here’s the thing I like about Stefano Moccagatta’s wines: They’re eclectic, ranging from fresh young whites from Piedmont in Italy’s north to surprisingly refined reds from Sicily way down in the south. My introduction to the wines was over the summer at a dinner with the winemaker at a New York restaurant. Moccagatta reminded me of a younger Luciano Pavarotti, a commanding presence with long black hair and a beard, if a bit more reserved.
He is the owner of Villa Sparina and the Monterotondo Resort in the famous Gavi area of Piedmont, where he produces whites from the native cortese grape. We started with a very dry brut sparkler ($27), made from 90 percent cortese and 10 percent chardonnay. It was light and crisp with yeasty notes and was simply delightful. “We make this wine out of passion,” Moccagatta said in Italian, a translator sitting beside him.
I also liked the 2006 Gavi di Gavi ($20), which reminded me of an unoaked Chablis — mineral rich with notes of pear, green apple and a touch of pineapple. Bright acidity gives it a freshness that makes it perfect for simply broiled fish. The flavors emerged as the wine warmed up slightly, a reminder that whites shouldn’t be served too cold.
Villa Sparina makes a number of reds, and the one that stood out for me was the 2004 “Maiolo,” a Dolcetto di Ovado ($18). Dolcetto is the “other” red grape in Piedmont, a kind of poor cousin, in the view of some, to nebbiolo and barbera. This one had attractive notes of black cherry, plum, cedar and spice.
More from TODAY.com
TODAY's Takeaway: Adam Lanza's father breaks his silence, Jason Bateman can't spell
The father of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza told The New Yorker he wished his son had never been born.
- 'Prom is just prom': Students donate dance money to teacher with cancer
- #Whaling out! Don't break your back trying this new trend
- Tough love! Watch these lion cubs meet their not-so-thrilled dad
- Husky dog wake-up call is a hilarious viral hit
- TODAY's Takeaway: Adam Lanza's father breaks his silence, Jason Bateman can't spell
We moved on to the Sicilian wines, which I began to taste that night and continued at a more leisurely pace over subsequent weeks. They are produced under the Mirabile label, of which Moccagatta is one of several partners. While the nero d’avola grape is king in Sicily among reds, it was two other wines from Mirabile that got me excited.
The 2004 Tannat ($26) was one of the best red wines I’ve tasted this year. I hadn’t seen the tannat grape in Sicily — it’s grown mainly in southwest France, where it is blended under the Madiran appellation, and in Uruguay, where it is the principle red. With its dark berries and aggressive tannins it can be a bit of a brute in a glass, but that’s not the case here.
Mirabile’s Tannat is nothing less than elegant and refined, full of dark berry fruit — blackberry, blueberry and boysenberry — along with notes of coffee, tobacco, smoke and spice. It’s bright with ample acidity, and ripe but not overly alcoholic, an altogether complex and delicious wine. It’s too bad there are just 100 cases of it.
Tannat also figures in another first-rate Mirabile wine called Menfri ($40), a blend that combines that grape with nero d’avola and cabernet sauvignon, but which actually reminded me of a ripe pinot noir with a touch of cedar. These wines are emblematic of a new sophistication that is emerging in Sicily, which is becoming one of Italy’s most exciting wine regions.
All of the wines are imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.
© 2013 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints