Posts tagged ‘attilio scienza’
Last week at VINO 2010 in New York City, I attended several seminars, ranging from the wines of Calabria to one feauturing wines from Sardegna made from the Cannonau grape. For this post, I’d like to focus on the seminar about the wines of Tuscany’s western coast.
Led by Piero Selvaggio, the gracious owner of Valentino Restaurant in Santa Monica, CA (as well as Las Vegas), this tasting and seminar dealt with the wines of two separate zones in western Tuscany; Morellino di Scansano to the south and further north, the famous territory of Bolgheri.
The wines from these areas are quite different in nature. Morellino di Scansano is made primarily from Sangiovese, while Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc are the main types used in Bolgheri. Professor Attilio Scienza, arguably Italy’s most knowedgable authority on indigenous Italian varieties (his last name in Italian fittingly translates as “science”) spoke about the soils of these lands and why particular varieties were well suited to specific zones. He also asked all of us to note the youth of the producers who were present to speak about their wines. These young vintners, armed with the knowledge of their parents and grandparents, are forging new paths in Tuscan viticulture.
The wines of Morellino di Scansano (Morellino, or “little cherry” is the synonym for Sangiovese here) can be quite traditional, made with 100% Sangiovese and aged in large oak casks or they can be quite modern in their approach, often blended with small percentages of Cabernet Sauvigon, Merlot or Alicante, a variety that adds very deep purple, almost black color to the wine. The wines selected for this seminar were primarily traditional in style; my favorites were the 2005 Villa Patrizia “Le Valentane” and the 2008 Celestina Fé. The former offers black cherry and tar notes with a lightly spicy finish and should drink well for another 3-5 years. The latter is a wine meant for earlier consumption (2-3 years), but one that shows remarkable subtlety, finesse and elegance. There are lovely strawberry and red currant flavors with silky tannins, subtle wood notes and lively acidity. I love wines like this, which display not only beautiful varietal character, but also a gentle hand of the winemaker.
I’ve written previously about Bolgheri; this seminar showcased some of the area’s lesser-known producers. These estates, such as Guado al Melo, Batzella and Poggio alle Querce may never be as famous as Ornellaia or Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia), but they are first-rate and display the excellent to outstanding quality of this zone. My favorite wine of this seminar was the 2006 Guado al Melo Bolgheri Superiore, which is produced from 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc and 10% Merlot. Medium-full with flavors of marascino cherry and black currant, this is impeccably balanced and has the structure to age for 10-12 years and perhaps even longer. It is an excellent, almost textbook example of what a top notch Bolgheri red is all about. This estate, incidentally, is run by Michele Scienza, the son of Attilio.
Selvaggio made an important point; that despite the use of Bordeaux varieties, these wines had a Tuscan character. I agree and I believe a major reason for this is the fact that the vineyards are so close to the sea – usually 3-7 miles – which moderates temperatures and preserves acidity.
This was an excellent look at one of Tuscany’s newest viticultural chapters and I want to thank the Italian Trade Commission, BuonItalia and the producers for making this event so memorable!
Sicily, the lovely, rugged island at the southern tip of Sicily, has a wine discipline that is not hampered by the strict regulations found in other Italian wine regions. Given that, you might expect a wide variety of wines to emerge from this land, but in truth the climate – it can be torridly hot during the summer – means that certain cool climate varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Noir are not suited for this area.
Thus only a few varieties here have emerged as critical and clearly the most important red variety is an idigenous one, Nero d’Avola. This variety has much in common with Syrah, as it is deeply colored (often bright purple) with only moderate tannins. The fruit aromas and flavors are primarily of marascino cherry, a opinion shared by many, including Attilio Scienza, one of Italy’s most renowned authorities on viticulture (I heard Scienza give his thoughts in a typically compelling speech in Sicily a few years ago). There are also notes of tobacco in some versions as well as spice notes, though some of this emerges from aging in small oak barrels. As for tannins, while most bottlings have only moderate levels, there are some premium offerings that have enough tannin to ensure aging for as long as 7-10 years.
Throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, Nero d’Avola was usually blended with other varieties throughout Sicily, including Nerello Mascalese and Pignatello. In 1984, history was made when the producer Duca di Salaparuta (best-known at that time for its well-made, moderately priced wines Corvo Bianco and Rosso) produced the first premium 100% Nero d’Avola; the wine was named Duca Enrico and was crafted by Carlo Casavecchia. He decided for Nero d’Avola as he believed this variety showed the most promise of the winery’s selections planted near the town of Gela, near Noto in the southeastern zone of the island; those other varieties included Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Casavecchia continues to make this wine and today, it is rightfully celebrated as one of the country’s most glorious reds.
For years, growers planted Nero d’Avola in several areas throughout Sicily; some of the best plantings were located near the western reaches of the island, near Menfi or Palermo. Today, though more and more producers are looking to the southeastern areas of Sicily for the finest plantings of this variety; indeed the grape is named for the town of Avola, not far from Noto.
There are several producers today who make excellent signature bottlings of Nero d’Avola; among the best is a bottling from Planeta called Santa Cecilia. During a recent visit to their estate near Noto, I was treated – along with a few dozen other journalists – to a vertical tasting of this wine. Winemaker Alessio Planeta told us how the early bottlings (such as 1997) were from Menfi, while the 1999 was a blend of grapes from both Menfi and Noto. The early bottlings, while quite good, were more rustic in nature as compared to the newer releases, which are blessed with abundant black fruit and lovely structure. Today, Santa Cecilia is always 100% Nero d’Avola from Noto and it has become one of Sicily’s finest wines (interestingly, the 1997 Santa Cecilia not only originated from Menfi, it also contained 15% Syrah in the blend).
Below is a list of several of the finest bottlings of Nero d’Avola:
- Duca di Salaparuta “Duca Enrico”
- Planeta “Santa Cecilia”
- Donnafugata “Mille e una Notte”
- Cusumano “Sagana”
- Morgante “Don Antonio”
- Tasca d’Almerita “Rosso del Conte”
- Baglio di Pianetto “Cembali”
Note that the Baglio di Pianetto bottling is produced from grapes grown at their estate a little south of Palermo, in the western part of Sicily. This particular wine is quite rich, but subdued with wonderful finesse. It is proof that not all great bottlings of Nero d’Avola come from the areas near Noto and Gela.
Finally, it is important to note that Nero d’Avola works well as a blending grape and just as it was blended with other varieties some 30 years ago, the same is true today, as some excellent wines that are primarily Nero d’Avola will often contain as much as 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah. However, the real character of Nero d’Avola emerges in wines that are almost always exclusively made from this variety alone; these are the bottlings that I believe are among the finest from Sicily.