When a chef like Mark McDonald gets this excited about a wine, you know it’s bound to be good.  Chefs, like most people in the trenches of the food & wine business, have a lower tolerance for imperfectly made, imbalanced, or generally boring wines.  Mark McDonald also happens to have one of the best palates in the industry.  His food and wine pairings are some of the best I have ever tasted, and his wine knowledge, especially in reference to Italian wines, is second to none.

That being said, when Mark told me he had found a new Calabrian winery he liked and wanted to share, I got myself down to Old Vine Cafe as fast as I could.  Chef Mark does not disappoint!

‘A Vita is a tiny operation, a team of two people, really: Francesco, a native Calabrese, and Laura, originally from Friuli.  They claim to be united by their passion for nature and art, a passion which clearly also translates well into making spectacular wine.  Mark poured me a taste of their Cirò Rosso Classico F36p27, 2008.  At first sniff it was clear this was quite happily different from anything else I have experienced from Calabria.

Most Calabrese wine that makes its way to the US is hot with alcohol, fruity and extracted, and usually also reminiscent of creme de casis.  ‘A Vita is pretty much the opposite of all of this nonsense.  On the nose the wine is bright and herbaceous, redolent with wild fennel and tart cherries.  The color is a beautiful purple-red, light around the edges and elegant in weight.  This is not your mama’s Gaglioppo.

When I think about all the amazing dishes I have enjoyed at Old Vine Cafe over the years, a few interesting combinations come to mind.  (Trust me, I have hundreds of photos of Mark’s food on my computer- that’s not creepy is it?)  First thought- Mark McDonald’s smoked duck and goat cheese ravioli- these have the savory addition of brown butter and sage, plus a heightened acidity form the cheese that would be amazing with this wine.

I also thought something more exotic- even Mexican-inspired might work.  This spin on chorizo and eggs would be a great match for the dried-fruit and slightly smokey notes that began to develop as the wine continued to breathe in the glass.  We noted some complex baking spices as well- cardamom, clove and cinnamon.

It takes passionate ambassadors like Chef Mark McDonald to introduce grape varietals like Gaglioppo to the American Wine Drinker.  Trust me- I’ve travelled to many places in the US where these wines simply don’t exist.

The best part is, Mark McDonaldis also bringing a tour of culinary enthusiasts from the US directly to Sicily and Calabria next year for some hands-on experiences  This year they are all set to visit the wine making duo at ‘A Vita.  What more could you ask for than a personal tour with two of Calabria’s up-and-coming wine making stars, alongside the culinary guidance of Chef Mark McDonald?  Sign me up!

There are still a few spaces open on the “Splendors of South Italy” trip.  The tour takes place March 14-23, 2013, and focuses on exploring the real Italy, off the beaten path and away from the tourist traps.  Eat, drink and live like an Italian.

For more information, please contact Chef Mark McDonald directly:

714-655-6142 or chefmarkmcdonald@yahoo.com