The Nerello Mascalese is a thick-skinned red grape that thrives in the volcanic soils of Mt. Etna's vineyard slopes in Sicily. Sunny exposures and the warm Mediterranean sea breezes allow it to ripen fully, yet winemakers are always on the lookout to make sure the grape retains its wonderful acidity.

In southern Italy, Nerello Mascalese is crafted as a 100 percent varietal and in red blends. It is often lighter in color than most thick-skinned grapes and slightly delicate in structure. Its noteworthy trait is a dry, dusty sensation, and it is similar to Sangiovese, the workhorse grape of Tuscany.

So I was pleasantly surprised when a three-pack of Zonin Rosé, made from 100 percent Nerello Mascalese, arrived on the wind from Vicenza, in the Veneto province, where the Zonin estate and production plant are located.

Each elegant, 187-milliliter bottle in the three-pack, which costs $10.99, is equivalent to one glass of rosé. What a beautiful idea for a picnic, a day at the beach or a deck party!

I found one glass to be a perfect way to end a long day: I sat down in a favorite old chair, placed my feet up on the ottoman, watched Bella the cat jump on board, and slowly sipped this lively, energetic and crisp strawberry-blond sparkler. Ah, yes, strawberry-blond (achieved by limiting skin contact with the crushed grape juice during fermentation). Just think of the thoughts that were going through my head (lunch with Amy Adams, Nicole Kidman, etc.) Ah, but one look at the Wine Goddess, whose reddish-brown locks still intrigue me after 25 years of marriage, and there was no comparison as to whom I wanted to give the second bottle to and, maybe, share the third.


Zonin is a quality wine producer, and their sparkling wines, especially Prosecco, are made to be consumed fresh and lively.

I don't know if the Nerello Mascalese grapes used in the rosé were grown in Sicily or not, but it really didn't matter. The wine, chilled to 48 degrees, was delicious and the perlage -- a steady stream of tiny bubbles -- was spectacular. I couldn't believe how the bubbles kept exploding from the bottom of the glass to the top. It was like a non-stop light show. I detected citrus and apple on the nose, followed by nougat paste and dried fruit flavors on the palate. The texture was pleasantly smooth with a dry finish.

According to Zonin, this rosé won a silver medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition -- a splendid showing against a crowded field. It's my pick of the week.

Another sparkling wine to consider for any occasion is Zonin Prosecco DOC Cuvee 1821 ($12.99). Made from 100 percent Glera gapes from vineyards in the Veneto region, this Prosecco captures attention right out of the bottle with its fragrant bouquet and golden yellow color in the glass. I like a Prosecco that gives off energy in the mouth, with crisp, balanced acidity, and coats the palate with a creamy mousse and passion-fruit flavors. Zonin Prosecco delivers the sensation. You could serve this at an opulent gala and win over guests, or simply pour it at home with friends as an aperitif. The reaction would be the same. It's in a class of its own while a great value. This sparkling wine has won numerous awards in recent competitions, but its credibility for quality is best expressed by Vinous Media, a paid subscriber service run by Antonio Galloni, which awarded it 90 points and called it "a remarkable good, easy-to-like Prosecco DOC."

Big Cab blowout coming Saturday: Napa Valley's Cabernet Sauvignons boast big, powerful luscious tastes and this Saturday, Feb. 24, at The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover, you'll be able to sample some of the little known gems of recent vintages.

Sam Messina has brought in 10 fruit bombs for your tasting pleasure. The free event, open to the public, runs from 1-5 p.m.

If you like Cabernets that express rich California black fruit character, toasted brioche, spices and much more, you won't want to miss this special tasting. Here's a short list of the featured Cabernet Sauvignons.

Resolute 'Red Hills' 2014: Winemaker Aaron Pott gets his grapes from vineyards located 2,400 feet high in the Red Hills of Lake County. Figs, cocoa, vanilla, cherry, plum and blackberry fill the senses.

Band of Vintners Consortium 2014: Subtle, exotic spices make this silky textured Cab stand out from the crowd.

John Anthony "Farm" 2015: It's supple and impeccably crafted for elegance.

Herb Lamb "Two Old Hands" 2013: The second tier bottling of this unique, limited production winery is plush on the palate, and finishes with a chocolate cherry pop.

Darioush Caravan 2013: It offers saturated flavors of dark cherry and blueberry as well as chocolate and white truffle. It's ready now!

Ehret Family Knights Valley 2011: Opulent but structured, it'll make your eyes roll with its dark chocolate and roasted coffee notes.