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An Italian Wine Tasting From the Source

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One of the many nice offerings given to passengers on the MSC Cruise Ship "Splendida" is a wine tasting with sommelier Massimo Migliorino in the ship's L'Enoteca, or wine bar. We took it last week while on the Mediterranean cruise which stopped at Barcelona, Genoa, Naples, Messina and Tunisia.

Migliorino, who is from Sorrento near Naples, taught us as much about Italian food as wine as he discussed each of the six wines, along with a sampling of olives, cheeses, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and an egg custard. Each of the wines was from a different region of Italy, and when we asked which was his favorite wine, his wise answer was "I have no favorite; it depends on the occasion, and on the food you are having." Each of the wines we tasted was from a different region of Italy, and as Migliorino explained, the weather and the soil of each region makes a different style and taste of wine, just as there is no general "Italian" cuisine, but regional cuisine. "Spaghetti and meatballs is not Italian food," he smiled. "We never eat meatballs with spaghetti."

Sicilian chardonnay, for example, is very different from northern Italian chardonnay. "There is no spumante in Sicily, because it is too hot there," he explained as we tasted a spumante from the northern border of Italy. The prosecco we tasted from the north has a touch of peach and a delicate green essence. A bottle of this wine costs about $32. and the sommelier suggested it is particularly good when paired with sashimi. It is also the classic aperitif of the Venetian people, near Treviso.

"Venetians are the 'first drinkers of Italy,' '' said Migliorino, and by that he meant that they drink prosecco at 11 in the morning.

The second wine, a Campi Flegrei, was from the south of Italy, near Pompeii in the region of Campania. "It is crisp, simple, no fruit in it but a white flower scent. It also has sulfer in it, the gas of the volcano, and is very good with spaghetti with clams." A winemaker does not need a university degree to make this wine, which is created by a 2000-year-old uncomplicated method the secret of which is in the pruning of the vines; too much pruning and you get a different taste.

The third white was from the north, where the Dolomites are and where there is no sulfer. It is a golden color and has an intense flavor of the apricot. "The second sense, after apricot, is the white rose," noted Migliorino, noting that Italian winemakers do not use the oak barrel method of fermenting which is commonly done in France. "An oak barrel would hurt this wine, which has an intense imp[act on the tongue," said the sommelier. "The palate is full of flavor. We use steel tanks to ferment our wines, and this one would be wonderful with risotto and asparagus."

When we tasted a Tuscan red called San Giovese, Migliorino noted that this wine is beloved by Americans, who call it "Super Tuscan." It is not an expensive wine; costing about $7 per glass, and has the flavor of a cabernet which the Medici family imported from France many years ago. "Now we can speak about a 'bouquet,' Migliorino said, "and this bouquet is of violets, blackberries, black pepper, and orange pekoe tea. It would be good with Ribollita, the traditional Tuscan bean soup, or grilled steak Florentine."

"We (Italians) do NOT need ketchup," the sommelier said. "It's filled with sugar and is an invasion of the palate. Mr. Heinz should be ashamed." As he spoke he poured some Sicilian red wine from the Palermo area which he said tasted like black, wild fruit and peppery spice. "Wine is connected to the soil," he said, and winemakers follow the rules of the familly. Australia and Sicily have volcanic soil and optimal conditions for growing grapes, but forget long life for wines of Sicily; it's too hot."

Migliorino also had strong opinions on the Monsanto company, which fertilizer producer "controls the world; it kills both bees and fruits," he said.

Along with ketchup, Heinz and Monsanto, the sommelier is not a fan of "margerina (margerine)." "It's a killer," said the sommelier, who is slender and fit looking. "Use butter; it's better for your health."

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