Posts tagged ‘cos’
Thoughts on new releases I tasted during my recent visit to Sicily:
The Planeta family continues to impress with its excellent quality spread out over a dazzling array of wines, whether white, red or sweet, be they from indigenous or international varieties. A new release called Dorilli is a Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico (this is the 2008 vintage) that is a partner to the winery’s very succesful Cerasuolo normale bottling. The Dorilli has a slightly higher percentage of Nero d’Avola compared to the regular version (70% instead of 60%); medium-full, this is a lovely wine with beautiful varietal purity and a long, elegant finish.
Also noteworthy are the 2008 Syrah “Maroccoli” and the Merlot “Sito dell’Olmo”, two newly designated wines. The Syrah is medium-full with appealing mocha and marmalade flavors, while the Merlot is quite rich, with elegant tannins and very subtle oak. The 2008 “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola is another excellent bottling; this should peak in 10-12 years. The 2008 marks the first time the wine can be labeled as Noto DOC.
Baglio di Pianetto
The new releases are excellent as normal, but the truly exciting news at Baglio di Pianetto is the hiring of Marco Bernabei as winemaker. Marco is the son of famed Tuscan winemaker Franco Bernabei (Fontodi, Felsina, Selvapiana, et al); if Marco has inherited one-quarter of his father’s enological know-how, the wines at Pianetto could be routinely outstanding.
The new wines are impressive, including the 2010 Ficiligno and the 2009 Viognier “Ginolfo”. The former is a Viognier/Insolia blend that is absolutely delicious and a wonderful partner for lighter seafood, while the latter has a bit more depth on the palate and can stand up to poultry as well as richer seafood. The honeysuckle, pear and pineapple aromas are alluring.
I was also greatly impressed with the 2006 “Cembali” Nero d’Avola and the “Ramione”, also from 2006. The Cembali is 100% Nero d’Avola from estate vineyards near Noto in southeastern Sicily, while the Ramione is a Merlot/Nero d’Avola blend with the Merlot sourced from vineyards at the winery’s location not far from Palermo in northwestern Sicily. Both wines have impressive concentration, attractive spice and excellent varietal character.
I visited the Etna zone for the second time and was quite impressed with the quality of the wines, not only the reds, but also a few whites. The white grape here is Carricante and I throughly enjoyed several bottlings including the 2009 Cottanera, the 2010 Planeta and the 2007 Benanti “Pietramarina”. This last wine in particular shows what can be done with this grape; medium-full with fruit flavors of apricot and apple, this is quite rich on the palate with beautiful structure. This is a white that can age and improve for 7-10 years and in some vintages, even longer.
The Etna Rosso wines are the real star here; if you can find any bottlings from the 2008 vintage, grab those, as this was an exceptional vintage in this district. A great example is the “Musmeci” from Tenuta di Fessina. A blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, the wine has the texture and style of a Burgundy from the Cote d’Or, with sensual flavors of wild strawberry and bacon fat, backed my perfectly balanced tannins and pinpoint acidity. You will be hearing a lot about this estate as well as the wines of Etna in general over the coming years.
Finally, recommendations of a few other new releases from Sicily:
The 2009 Pupillo Moscato “Pollio” is a semi-dry version of Moscato from this estate that specializes in this variety. Beautiful peach and yellow flower aromas and a delicate finish- very appealing!
COS is famous for its beautifully structured bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico – the 2008 is another dazzling wine! Strawberry, red rose and carnation aromas and a lovely, subdued entry on the palate are highlights. This wine should drink well for another 7-10 years, despite the fact that the tannins are so delicate. Lovely winemaking as always from this great estate.
Arianna Occhipinti produced an outstanding 2008 Nero d’Avola “Siccagno”; with intriguing aromas of strawberry, red currant and nutmeg; this wine has excellent concentration and persistence. Truly outstanding complexity, this is a gorgeous expression of Nero d’Avola and will certainly be on my list of the Best Italian wines of the year.
The 2007 Cusumano “Noa” is a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that has appealing black fruit flavors and excellent ripeness. It is most assuredly in a modern style, but the oak is not overwhelming and the wine has beautiful complexity and balance. This is my favorite wine this year from the dependable producer.
Finally, the 2008 Abraxas Passito di Pantelleria is a superb example of this rare dessert wine from the small island of Pantelleria, south of Sicily. The aromas are heavenly – dried apricot, orange zest and caramel while the wine offers deeply concentrated fruit and outstanding persistence. While quite rich and lush, the wine is only lightly sweet, thanks to lively acidity. Along with the Donnafugata Ben Ryé from the same vintage, this is one of the finest bottlings of dessert wine from Italy I have tasted over the past several years.
In my last post, I wrote about the beautiful red wines of the Etna district in northeastern Sicily. For this post, I will deal with the rest of Sicily, a wine region that has been evolving into one of Italy’s most varied and highly respected over the past decade.
As the vintners there will tell you, Sicily is an island, but is it more like its own country, given its size. While some in other Italian regions believe that the entire island is one big temperate zone, the truth is that there are many different microclimates that work better for some varieties than others.
Take the Noto area in the far southeastern reaches of the island, for example. More and more producers have discovered this is a superior zone for Nero d’Avola, as the variety ripens much better than in the western part of the island. Planeta has been concentrating on Noto for its top bottling of this variety named Santa Cristina. Originally, the fruit for this wine was sourced from the family’s property near Menfi in western Sicily, but soon grapes from Noto were added to the blend. Winemaker Alessio Planeta noticed a difference in style between these two zones, with fruit from Menfi being more rustic with herbal notes, while the Noto fruit being brighter and more voluptuous. Planeta changed the blend a few years ago and today the Santa Cecilia bottling is Nero d’Avola entirely from Noto; in fact, the newly released 2008 bottling is labeled as DOC Noto. The wine offers lovely maraschino cherry fruit (prototypical for the variety) along with notes of toffee and licorice, has very good acidity and excellent complexity.
A unique wine that shows the difference in microclimates is a bottling called Shymer from Baglio di Pianetto. This is a blend of Merlot and Syrah from two opposite ends of the island; the Merlot is sourced from their vineyards at their winery about 12 miles south of Palermo in northwestern Sicily, while the Syrah is from their estate in Noto. The varieties need different conditions for optimum results; the cool reaches of Noto, where vineyards are planted at lower elevations, assure a long hang time as well as ideal acidity that are perfect for Syrah (and as we have seen, Nero d’Avola). Meanwhile the higher elevations at the Pianetto winery near Palermo (plantings at 650 meters – or 2130 feet – above sea level) combined with the clay soils there are excellent conditions for Merlot.
Then there is the area near Vittoria, located a bit west of Noto, where the famous Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the island’s only DOCG wine, is produced. A blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, the wine has soft tannins and very good acidity, as the Frappato provides softness and roundness along with red cherry flavors as opposed to the maraschino cherry notes of Nero d’Avola (the word Cerasuolo means “cherry.”) Here the soils are generally loose sand (which helps promote floral notes and lighter tannins), while there is often a strata of tufa stone deep blow the surface. The best examples of Cerasuolo di Vittoria from producers such as COS, Valle dell’Acate, Avide and Planeta are beautifully balanced wines with marvelous complexity as well as finesse. Meanwhile, Arianna Occhipinti, Valle dell’Acate and COS produce separate bottlings of Nero d’Avola and Frappato here and the results are striking.
These are only three examples that show how the producers of Sicily are making wines that reflect a sense of place- not that of Sicily as a whole, but as an island with a multitude of growing situations. The best red wines of Sicily have grown far beyond rich, ripe reds into multi-layered, beautifully structured offerings that can stand side by side with Italy’s finest.
Planeta Moscato di Noto (Photo ©Tom Hyland)
Here is part two of my list of the Best Italian producers of the first decade of the 21st century:
DUCA DI SALAPARUTA
The days when this winery was best known for Corvo white and red are long over. Today, this is one of Italy’s top producers, especially for its glorious red, “Duca Enrico”, which was the first great bottling of Nero d’Avola. The “Triskele” bottling, which is primarily Nero d’Avola with a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, is another excellent wine. Congratulations to winemaker Carlo Casavecchia for his excellent work!
Partners Giambatttista Cilia and Giusto Occhipinti continue to produce beautifully styled wines from indigenous varieties at their winery near Vittoria. Their bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria are so elegant and finesseful, while their offerings of Nero d’Avola and Frappato are so varietally pure. Then there’s the aging process in amphorae – why be a slave to modernity when you can make wines this good in the centuries-old way of tradition?
This is one of the finest producers from the exciting Etna district; this producer is adept with both whites and reds. The top white called “Pietramarina” is made from the Carricante variety – the word Carricante means “consistent”, an apt descriptor for this producer. Several noteworthy reds here as well, especially the “Rovitello” and “Serra della Contessa” Etna Rossos. Never anything less than excellence from Giuseppe Benanti and his sons!
Arguably Sicily’s best-known producer – also one of the best, period. While famous for a lush, tropical-tinged Chardonnay, for me their best white is the non-oak aged Fiano called Cometa, an exceptional wine. I also love the beautifully structured “Santa Cecilia” Nero d’Avola, produced from grapes grown near Noto. The Syrah and the eleganty styled Moscato di Noto dessert wine are also highly recommended. Wonderful work from the Planeta family – they do as much as anyone to spread the good word about the wines of Sicily.
This is the Antinori project in Puglia and one of their best. I love the fact that they are offering not only high-ticket wines, but value bottlings as well; the Neprica, a blended red that sells for about $12 is very good. At the other end, the Bocca di Lupo, a 100% Aglianico, is a first-rate rendition of this variety, bursting with fruit and combining all the components in harmony.
A vastly underrated estate that concntrates not on making the biggest wines, but the most honest. A very good Nero di Troia called “Le Cruste” an even better Falanghina (“Le Fossette”) that is a revelation for white wines from Puglia and best of all, a lovely version of the local DOC red, Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera, a charming blend of Nero di Troia, Montepulciano and Bombino Bianco. Longo almost singlehandedly kept this DOC from extinction – bravo!
CASTEL DI SALVE
From the far southern reaches of the region, rich, ripe and modern wines, but beautifully balanced, zesty and for the most part, handled without too much oak. My favorites are the “Priante”, a Negroamaro, Montepulciano blend (aged in used French and American oak) and the “Lama del Tenente”, a Primitivo/Montepulciano blend. Then there is a remarkable Aleatico Passito, one of the finest of its kind.
A long-time standout producer in this region; excellent white and reds. The Pinot Grigio is famous; the Friulano and Sauvignon should be – each is subtle with exceptional balance. The “Terre Alte” is one of Italy’s finest and most ageworthy whites. The “Sosso” is a beautifully crafted blend of Refosco, Merlot and Pignolo and is one of this region’s most consistent reds. Finally, the Picolit is a rare and exceptional dessert white.
MARCO FELLUGA/RUSSIZ SUPERIORE
I love the elegance and flavor of these wines and I also love the price, as most are quite reasonable. Best evidence of that is the “Molamatta”, a Pinot Bianco, Friulano, Ribolla Gialla blend that offers one of the best quality/price relationships for a Friulian white. The Russiz Superiore Sauvignon is assertive, flavorful and quite memorable.
This producer gets the award as much for the quality of its wines as for its efforts to popularize the lovely whites from this region. Joseph Bastianich, one of America’s most famous restaurateurs, is becoming as successful in the wine world as he is with Italian food. The regular Friulano is simply delicious, while the blended white “Vespa” (Chardonnay, Sauvignon and Picolit) is a stunning white that also ages well (try this wine at 5-7 years after the vintage – if you can find a bottle). The “Vespa” Rosso (Merlot, Refosco and Cabernet Sauvignon) is another fine bottling.
LE VIGNE DI ZAMO
An exceptional estate that consistently produces some of Friuli’s best whites and reds. My favorites include the “Cinquant’anni” Friulano, the “Ronco delle Acacie” blended white (Chardonnay, Friulano and Pinot Bianco) and the Schiopettino, a spicy specialty red of this region. Hard to go wrong with this producer!
Next post – Part Three of the decade’s Best Italian Wine Producers
As there are hundreds (or is it thousands) of grape varieties planted throughout Italy today, it is no surprise how many unique wines are produced in the twenty regions of the country.
For this post, I’d like to discuss one of Sicily’s most distinctive reds, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Produced from grapes grown in a district near the town of Vittoria in the southeastern province of Ragusa, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a blend of two grapes: Nero d’Avola and Frappato.
Nero d’Avola (see previous post) is Sicily’s most widely planted red variety and gives Cerasuolo its body and richness, while Frappato adds aromatics (usually fresh cherry – the word Cerasuolo means cherry) and acidity to the final blend.
For years while Cerasuolo was a DOC wine, the mix was almost always 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato. As of the 2005 vintage, the wine was recognized with DOCG status and with this classification, there is more blending freedom for winemakers. Some blends are now 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato, while others are just the opposite, while there are also 50/50 blends. Producers may bottle a DOCG version or a DOC version or both.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a medium-bodied wine that can be aged in various ways. Some producers use large oak casks, while others prefer small oak barrels (barriques). Then there is Giusto Occhipinti and his partner Giambattista Cilia at COS, who ferment and age their bottlings in amphorae, the ancient vessels made from terra cotta that are modeled after the same pots used by the Greeks more than 2000 years ago.
Generally, most bottlings of Cerasuolo di Vittoria express ripe cherry fruit, medium weight on the palate and a finish with moderate tannins and lively acidity. Most versions are meant for consumption within 5-7 years of the vintage, although a few exceptional bottlings, such as the “Pithos” from Cos can drink well for 20 plus years.
Here is a short list of the best producers of Cerasuolo di Vittoria:
- Valle dell’Acate
- Terre di Giurfo
- Santa Tresa
As Cerasuolo di Vittora has excellent levels of natural acidity, it is a wonderful food wine. Pair the wines with a variety of dishes, from couscous with vegetables, risotto with a Cerasuolo sauce, grilled mackerel, chicken with herbs or simple arancini (rice balls).