As my most of my readers, friends and colleagues know, I wallowed in my trip to Northern Italy last October. There’s no doubt I’ll go back to Italy. I must explore the central and southern regions at some point in this life. So, why would I choose now to write about the wines of Campania, a region in southern Italy? The answer lies right here in the valley and it’s called the Sodano family and Casa Mia. As a wine columnist, I feel compelled to discover individualistic wine lists and/or intimate places to dine where the wine is special.
Owner and Chef, Danilo Sodano has been in the restaurant business for over 35 years but in 1993 decided to move from his home in Sorrento, of the Campania region in Italy, and come to the United States. When asked why he decided to come to Arizona, Danilo said “I knew there was opportunity here for my Italian products and ideas”. He had a powerful premonition to market his homemade Limoncello and truly believed an authentic Italian Restaurant would thrive here. By 1997 they opened a Pizzeria in Fountain Hills and by 2000 Casa Mia was born. They outgrew their original location and moved into a neighborhood in North Scottsdale which, to them, felt like ‘Cheers’. They keep a mellow vibe with a high-end aura.
The Sodano’s have four children, three of which were Eleven, Eight and Five at the time of the move from Italy. He and his wife, Rosa had one more child born in the states. His oldest daughter Hera, now 34, runs ‘Casa Mia’ and his second oldest son Nantas, now 31, runs their newest adventure right next door called ‘CM2 Bake Shop and Pizzeria’ which only opened in August of 2016. Let us first dine at Casa Mia and then we will pop over to CM2.
Hera not only wanted to stay close to her Italian roots, but she has a passion for educating people on the wines from Italy. She very confidently chose to stick with a full Italian wine menu at Casa Mia. She enjoys helping people decide what will pair best with the various authentic dishes on the menu. “I want to introduce new food to people. One way we do this is through our ‘Big Event’ nights. Once a month from May through October, we pick a region, do a four-course meal and pair each course with wines from that specific region. People learn about the culture in a fun way” said Hera. Italian cuisine has developed through centuries of social and political changes and has taken on heavy influences from other countries and ethnicities. Significant changes have occurred with the discovery in the New World as well. Italian cuisine is noted for its regional diversity, abundance of difference in taste, and is known to be one of the most popular in the world, with influences abroad.
The dinner menu at Casa Mia doesn’t comprise of your typical Lasagna and Chicken Parmigiano style dishes. The Sodano family’s goal was to introduce classic Italian dishes that people might have never tried. However, when I asked Danilo what his favorite dish on the menu was, he said “The Spaghetti with simple cherry tomato sauce. It’s traditional and made right.” Hera’s favorite dish was ‘Sardinian dryed mullet roe, garlic, crushed pepper and e.v.o.o with Spaghetti. That’s a new to me! Danilo also designs dishes for the menu and will offer ‘off the menu’ specials.
In Italy, they say ‘Food is Wine’. Well, being that my experience is really on the wine side, let’s eat some wine. Hera will not put a wine on the menu without having tasted it and stamping it with her seal of approval. There are wines from all over Italy on Casa Mia’s menu including producers from the 3 B’s, which in Italy are Barolo, Barbaresco, and Brunello di Montalcino. These are some of the most prestigious wine regions in Italy. She also offers Amarones from the North and one just happens to be from Sartori, a historic vineyard in Verona visited by yours truly. Sartori wines are imported into the U.S. by Banfi Vinters who were great educators on my trip to Italy. But I digress. The list also includes wines of the Chianti and central regions, and Nero d’Avola’s from the far South. A few Super Tuscans are on the menu for those Bordeaux blend lovers, including a Sassicaia. If you get the chance to try a Sassicaia, Casa Mia would be the place to drink it, the restaurant gives the wine the respect it deserves.
The Sodano’s are from Sorrento, a coastal town and gateway to every tourist’s dream, the Amalfi coast. Campania is a southwest region just north of the toe of the boot. Casa Mia invites you to try their very own regional wines that are not as well known or easily found. Some of these include the white varietals of Falanghina and Greco di Tufo, both are crisp light wines with citrus fruit and subtle mineral notes. I would personally pair either of these wines with Casa Mia’s Saffron Cream Scallops or Mussels and Clams as an aperitif, or with the fish of the day. Some of the infamous Campania red varietals on the list include an Aglianico and a Piedirosso. The Aglianico, a rich full bodied red with robust tannins and high acidity would be divine with Casa Mia’s Carpaccio, Pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and parmigiano, or the Lamb Chops. Piedirosso, is also a full bodied high acid red, yet has softer tannins, brambly fruit and a touch of saltiness. It usually shows its best expression in blends. A great Casa Mia food pairing would be the Tagliatelle with beef and pork, or the Pizzaiola Veal Cutlets.
The Piedirosso varietal on Casa Mia’s menu is in a blend with Sciascinoso and Aglianico and it is called Lacryma Cristi, Feudi San Gregorio. Lacryma Cristi means ‘The tears of Christ’ and is the name of a celebrated Neapolitan type of wine produced on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius in Campania, Italy. There are several legends attached to this wine, one being that Jesus looked down on the beauty of Naples and wept tears of joy that landed on Mount Vesuvius. Consequently, vines miraculously sprouted on the slopes of the volcano. You can choose to believe it or not, but I bet the next time you see it you grab a bottle, or better yet, order it at Casa Mia while sharing the story. Ah, marketing at its best.
Needless to say, I recommend a visit to Casa Mia for a delectable dinner with family and friends for fine Italian wine and food. If you are dining with people who are not exactly wine lovers, Casa Mia has a great selection of beers, blended whiskies, bourbons & ryes, craft cocktails, and not to mention a cabinet of single malt scotch. “People like to go over to the scotch cabinet and pick out their favorite as if they were picking out a book at a library” said Hera. I, for one have not seen anything like it. It is a uniquely exquisite concept. My father is a scotch lover and I know he would be in heaven just gazing at the selection.
However, if this just doesn’t sound like your style, and you are looking for something more casual, like pizza and sandwiches with the same freshness, and local, organic ingredients with some gluten free options, head next door to CM2 Bake Shop & Pizzeria run by son of Danilo, Nantas. “I studied medicine and it made me understand the importance of sourcing local, organic flour and ingredients for the food in my restaurant. People think pizza is bad for them. I stand behind the organic philosophy as a preventative approach” said Nantas. The wines are all new world including the United States, New Zealand and Argentina. If you don’t live particularly close to these restaurants, I suggest taking a Sunday drive to CM2 Bake Shop & Pizzeria for brunch. They serve brunch every Sunday from 10am-2pm.
Both restaurants are located at Saddle Mountain Plaza, 11485 N. 136th Street, Scottsdale, Arizona 85259. Check out their website for hours and directions at www.casamiascottsdale.com It’s a wonderful place for the regulars in the neighborhood, but also a great spot for people from all over the valley to step out from the comfort of their own neighborhoods and try something different. Tourists should certainly put Casa Mia on their dinner itinerary as it is in close proximity to the Inn at Eagle Mountain, Copperwynd Resort and Club, Troon Country Club and Desert Mountain. It’s true, Casa Mia already has the ‘everybody knows your name’ reputation, but the family with their typical outstanding Italian hospitality, wants everybody to be aware of their little creation. So, if I may speak for the Sodano family, I think they would say ‘benvenuti nella nostra casa’ to just about anyone.
East Valley resident Darla Hoffmann is a Certified Specialist of Wine and Sommelier. She is the owner of About Wine, a wine education company, where she does classes at My Wine Cellar & Bistro in Ahwatukee. She is also available to do classes at various restaurants, home parties and corporate events. She also works part time in one of Arizona’s award-winning tasting rooms, LDV Wine Gallery in Scottsdale. A member of The Wine Century Club, she has tasted over 100 grape varietals. Her goal is to share her knowledge and passion for wine, while educating our readers on where to find great wine spots in the state of Arizona. If you are a wine collector looking for tastings and storage in the Valley, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Read past articles and learn more at: http://www.aboutwineinaz.com.