Posts tagged ‘duca di salaparuta’
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
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.