Cooking to the Wine: Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso with Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles

Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso with Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles


It’s women’s history month and I can’t think of a better winemaker to kick off the month’s celebrations than with Arianna Occhipinti.


Arianna is a bit of wunderkind. She’s only in her early 30’s and has been involved in winemaking she was in her teens, basically having grown up in the world of organic wine. She started out working in for uncle Giusto Occhipinti, who is the “O” in COS one of Sicily’s most famous wineries. It also happened to be a bit of an anomaly in the region, practicing organic agriculture, hand harvesting, and working with native-yeast fermentations. 

She fell in love with winemaking and decided to go to oenology school. From there she dove right into making her own wines at the age of 21, starting out working with a single hectare plot of abandoned grape vines on the property of a family vacation house. She now has 25 hectares in Vittoria, which are certified organically farmed and practicing biodynamic, and are all dedicated to native Sicilian varieties. She gained notoriety pretty quickly and has remained a star of the natural wine movement ever since, although she says her main focus now is to make good wines of terroir, expressive of her home in Sicily. 




Additional interview videos with Arianna Occhipinti are available on LouisDressner.com.


I’m planning on getting into Sicily more later on this year, so not going delve too deeply there right now; however, Vittoria is in the southeastern part of Sicily. It’s less well-known than the more famous areas around Mount Etna, it’s flatter, and overall it’s a poorer region. Nonetheless, a few wineries like Occhipinti and COS have been making a name for the area.

I first recall being introduced to her wines at around the time I first really started studying wine (2012ish) and being struck by what I was tasting. Not only was I getting fruit and earth, but I also felt like I was walking through a garden. I’m not diehard when it comes to natural wines and I can even be somewhat critical of wines that are super “natty.” Arianna Occhipinti’s wines, however, are among those that tend to make a strong case for the category, typically tasting really alive and vibrant to me. 


THE WINE & PAIRING


Occhipinti makes many lovely wines, but my favorite is usually the flagship SP68 red, named for the state road that runs by the property. It also happens to be less expensive than her varietal wines. It’s charming (once it opens up), but also shows complexity.

The wine is a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola, both typical grapes of Sicily. They’re traditional blending partners in the region, coming together in Sicily’s only DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. While this isn’t technically a Cerasuolo, this is essentially her take on the style. (My guess is that it doesn’t qualify because the percentage of Frappato used is too high.) 

The two grapes make a lot of sense together as they complement each other in kind of yin yang fashion. Frappato is light in body and tannins and tends to be fruity, floral, fresh, and fun. On the other hand, Nero d’Avola (“black from Avola”) is more serious and structured. It has more body and tannins, as well as lots of acidity. It’s not 100% certain where Nero comes from–it could potentially have originated in Calabria–but it is Sicily’s most widely planted red grape. 




After a good decanting (see pro tip below) on the day we opened the Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Terre Siciliane Rosso 2017, Greg and I picked up notes on the nose of smoked red cherries, red plums, brambly dark red fruits, warm earth, and a hint of anise. On the palate, per Greg, it was like maraschino cherries that had been rolling around in tobacco and dried herbs.  The wine had hints of herbal chapparal with whiffs of floral notes mixed in, which show up more with air. It was medium in body with medium tannins and medium+ acidity. 

This is a lighthearted wine that also has substance, very much reflecting both of the grapes in the blend. We wanted something to eat with this that felt comforting, yet light, combining the earthy, fresh, smoky, and herbal notes. Greg thought this would be a could scenario for zoodles, since that would keep things light and add a hint of green. I had eggplant on the brain and thought that roasting it would bring some caramelization that might work with the smoky, earthy qualities. Tomatoes would bring tangy brightness. I used this Aglio Olio blend from Stonehouse Olive Oil to bring add herbal notes and spicy zip. Feel free to use a favorite Italian seasoning blend.

I still thought it might need some creamy texture. A while back I read a great article in Saveur about Sicily’s Arab/African roots. Also, I recalled a friend’s telling me a while back that she liked using tahini as a base for a creamy pasta sauce without using cheese. Both of these things came to mind and I thought that toasty quality of sesame paste would also work with the smoky notes.

Finally, we couldn’t resist adding a little meat, so pieces of dried soppressata went into the mix. It added to the flavor, however, if you leave out that out and don’t add Parmesan at the end, this dish can easily be vegan, dairy-free, low-carb, gluten-free, and all the rest, and it was still very tasty! Better still, it all happens in one pan.


The pairing worked really well. The wine actually became brighter and more lifted with the food. However, while it would totally work without the soppressata, we both liked the bites with the salami the best. This dish is really satisfying and yet healthy enough that you can go back for seconds and thirds without a worry.


Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso with Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles.
Photo Credit on all the SP68 & Zoodle Pictures: Greg Hudson


PRO TIPS


I have a good amount of experience with this wine, both drinking it and selling it, and I can tell you this one really needs decanting. It tends to be a little funky when you first open it up, but trust, this will blow off. It becomes a completely different wine with air. Most of the funk goes away, leaving pleasantly earthy traces in its place, and giving way to bright fresh fruit, flowers, and herbs.


No need to be gentle in decanting this wine provided it’s a young bottle. Just get some air up in there and let it sit for a while.


OTHER POSSIBILITIES


Salumi, pasta, pizza all would make wonderful pairings. I also think this wine would be great with Middle Eastern food. I also think this pasta dish mentioned in that Saveur article would be great.

As for alternate wines, a Barbera would be a nice alternative as it tends to have similarly moderate tannins and lots of freshness. I think Grenache could be very nice as well.


As another option, check out this 8 & 20 recipe for Chicken and Spinach Lasagna Rolls, which was also paired with a Nero d’Avola from Sicily.




LEFTOVER MAKEOVER


I love a leftover makeover! (Over at Nibbling Gypsy, I do these often. This is just a quickie.) Taking one dish and making something new out of whatever is left is like a game to me. In this case, I had quite a few zoodles left. I mixed in a can of diced tomatoes and spread it all out in a lasagna pan. I topped it all with a mix of mozzarella and Parmesan, then baked it all in the oven at 350°F for about 25 minutes. The result was a kind of zoodle noodle casserole. I enjoyed this with a glass of Rento Ratti Ochiette Langhe Nebbiolo 2013. A very tasty encore!


Zoodle Noodle Casserole.


Rento Ratti Ochiette Langhe Nebbiolo 2013.


THE GEEKY DETAILS


From the tech sheet.

CLASSIFICATION: Terre Siciliane IGT
VARIETY: Frappato 70%, Nero d’Avola 30%
ALTITUDE: 280 meters above sea level.
SOIL: Red sands and chalk over limestone rocks.
AVG AGE OF VINES: 15 Years
PLANT DENSITY: 6,000 plants/hectare
FERMENTATION: Indigenous yeasts only. 15 days of maceration on the skins.

AGEING: 6 months in concrete vats, 1 month in bottle, unfiltered.


MONEY TALK


I bought this wine for $29. It’s delicious IMHO, but perhaps not a weeknight wine. However, it’s a completely worthy Attainable Indulgence.
zoodles, low-carb, paleo, gluten-free, vegetarian option, vegan option, one pan dinner, dairy-free, eggplant, tomatoes
dinner
Italian
Yield: 4 to 6Pin it
Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles. Photo by Greg Hudson.

Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles

prep time: 15 to 20 mins, plus 30 to 45 mins to salt eggplant  cook time: 35 to 40 minstotal time: 60 mins, plus salting time
These zoodles get their creaminess from tahini sauce, so cheese is completely optional. I like it with bit of soppressata, but if you leave that out this recipe can easily be vegan, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free, dairy free, and still very satisfying!

ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cubed into approximately 1-inch pieces
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 oz sweet soppressata (or other dry salami), diced (optional)
  • ½ cup roasted peppers (raw bell peppers cut into strips will work as well)
  • 16 oz cherry tomatoes
  • 6 to 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 Tbsp tahini
  • Italian seasoning (I used this Aglio Olio blend)
  • 2 to 3 zucchini, spiralized into zoodles.
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Parmesan, for serving (optional)

instructions:

  1. Sprinkle the eggplant cubes liberally with salt and toss to evenly coat the pieces. Allow the eggplant to sit for 30 to 45 minutes. Afterward, rinse the salt off and pat dry.
  2. Note: Salting the eggplant in advance helps to reduce bitterness. If you’re using small/young eggplants, you may not need to salt it at all, saving yourself some time.
  3. While the eggplant sits, preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease a roasting pan and add in the eggplant pieces and the onions. Toss with olive oil to lightly coat and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the soppressata and place the pan in the oven. (If using raw peppers, add them in now as well.) Roast for 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Once the vegetables have begun to soften, add the roasted peppers, cherry tomatoes, the garlic, the tahini, and the Italian seasoning. Lightly toss to combine, then return the pan to oven to continue cooking for another 15 minutes, or until the eggplant is completely cooked through. Add the zucchini noodles and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, just until the zoodles are lightly warmed. Remove for the oven, lightly toss to coat the zoodles. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve topped with Parmesan, if desired.

Created using The Recipes Generator

Arianna Occhipinti SP68 Sicilia Rosso with Creamy Eggplant and Tomato Zoodles.



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Speaking of lady winemakers and women in wine in general, Bâtonnage Forum is coming back for version 2.0 on May 4th in Napa! Tickets are on sale now here. We've also got totes full of 6-bottles of lady-made wine for sale in support of the event. It's the perfect way to celebrate Women's History Month  Come join the conversation!

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This Saturday, the Italian Food Wine Travel group of influential bloggers are investigating Italian Viticulture with a particular look at biodynamic wines when possible; we will post our blogs by 8am, and from 8-9am we'll be discussing what we learned on twitter using the hashtag #ItalianFWT. Read the invitation post here.



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16 comments

  1. Great post, Nicole. We love Sicilian wines and Arianna's stand with the best. Novel idea to use tahini. Will give it a go!

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    1. Her wine's are so lovely! Thanks for stopping by and let me know if you give it a try.

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  2. I love the Frappato/Nero d'Avola combo and bet it was outstanding with this dish. What a great idea to add roasted eggplant and some tahini to punch up the flavors. Delicious!

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  3. I like Arianna's wines a lot. She makes a lovely Frappato, too. What a great makeover for night #2. I'm a big believer in leftovers, but I don't usually go for a makeover. Need to work on that!

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    1. She does indeed––By total coincidence happen to have had the Frappato yesterday as we were pouring it at the store/bar. Thanks for your comment Jeff!

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  4. Thanks for the intro to Arianna Occhipinti! I think I've had one or two of her wines but hadn't ever done any research on them. As you know from my article I like COS. Now I'm super excited to find some Arianna wines. A few Qs for you- "natty"? Using tahini instead of cheese... is it just for the added creamy aspect? Would you do it again? I think they're similar on the fat scale.

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    1. Thanks for your comment Lynn! There is definitely a nice dialogue between the wines from the two wineries. As to the tahini, I actually wasn't specifically using it in place of cheese. I was more thinking of if it more as a way to extend/create a sauciness to coat the zoodles, and I thought the flavor would be complementary (and it was). The happy side result, however, is that as you say, it does kind of create a "cheese-like" factor. I would totally do it again.

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  5. I'll have to keep this wine in mind when we virtually visit Sicily. I, too, love planned makeovers. Both recipes sound wonderful

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  6. I needed more zoodle ideas. This is great Nicole!

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  7. sounds like a very interesting and a delicious pairing!

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  8. Hi Nicole, Your zoodles sound wonderful. I am a big fan of them!

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    1. Thanks so much Susan! Let me know if you try them out.

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Thanks so much for leaving your comments and questions. I always love to hear from you!