By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Local criminal defense lawyer Tommy Spina got into the wine importing business by happenstance. While traveling to Sicily to research his family history, his cousin Marco Spina suggested Spina bring the Sicilian wines to America. Afterwards the two men along with other family members and friends formed Sam Spina Importing Company, with locations in Birmingham and Palermo. The company is the namesake of Spina’s grandfather, Sam Spina who came to America in 1902. “He was small, but he was a tough cookie. It took a lot of courage to jump on a boat and head for the United States with only $8 in his pocket,” Spina says.
A few years later Sam opened the original Sam Spina Importing Company on Morris Avenue. “He sold foods including olive oils and dry goods to small, local grocers,” Spina describes. He died in 1950, one year before Tommy was born. Sam’s sons Paul (Tommy’s father) and Dominic continued the family business until the 1960s. Today Tommy and his wife, Johnnie, nicknamed, “The Cup Bearer” for her passion for Sicilian wines, continue to travel to Sicily—tasting, discovering, and adding more wines to the company’s successful portfolio.
Sicilian wines also have a storied history. According to Greek mythology, wine grapes have grown in Sicily since Dionysus, the god of wine, planted them there. They actually date to the 17th century B.C. when ancient civilizations were making wine on the island. Today Sicily is the third–largest wine producer in Italy. Its best–known varietal is Nero d’Avola, an indigenous black grape, named for the town of Avola.
Tasari Nero D’Avola 2014 is a luscious, fruit–forward, medium–body red. It is dark and shiny with violet hues and sweet tannins, and expresses notes of cherry and plum, and hints of pepper. Inzolia is a lovely white Italian wine grape planted primarily in western Sicily, where it can be blended to produce Marsala wine. Parva Res 2014 is light yellow in color with nice acidity, and offers crisp notes of orange, pear, pineapple, stone fruit, and almond. Grillo is a white Italian wine grape that was planted in the Province of Trapani by 1897. Today it is grown throughout Sicily and in the Aeolian Islands and is used in making Marsala. Tasari Grillo 2014 is an exotic white that is golden in color, full in body, creamy, and balanced in acidity. It boasts notes of lemon, apple, peach, wildflower, cashew, and herbs. These are a good value for good wines, ranging in price from $10 to $15. They are widely available locally in wine shops, grocery stores, and restaurants, especially Italian restaurants.
Tags: July 2016