Posts tagged ‘merlot’
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.
Located in the province of Livorno along Tuscany’s western border, the Bolgheri wine zone is one of the region’s most important and distinctive. While the other famous wine districts of Tuscany such as Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Brunello di Montalcino are based on wines made from Sangiovese, Bolgheri is focused on other varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, as Sangiovese is a supporting player.
GEOGRAPHY / CLIMATE
Bolgheri is physically quite different from central Tuscany, where vineyards are planted inland amidst rolling hills. Bolgheri is situated near the sea, as many vineyards are located less than three miles from the Tyrrhenian. While a few of the vineyards are planted at elevations of 500-600 feet above sea level, most are planted no higher than the 300-foot elevation.
This is a warm climate, although the hot temperatures during the summer are moderated by the sea. During the critical period of flowering in the spring as well as during autumn when harvest is approaching, the reflection of the sunshine off the sea helps warm temperatures as well.
The favored grape varieties in Bolgheri are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot along with Sangiovese and Syrah to a lesser degree. The DOC regulations for a Bolgheri Rosso are quite unique, with a minimum requirement of 10% Cabernet Sauvignon; there can be as much as 80%. The amount of Merlot and Sangiovese is up to 70%, while other red varieties can be as much as 30% of the blend. Needless to say with regulations such as these, the red wines of Bolgheri differ as to the style and blend preferred by each producer.
Note that a Bolgheri Rosso has until now always been required to be a blend. The DOC regulations are now changing so that a monovarietal wine made from grapes grown in the Bolgheri DOC zone can be labeled as such. This means that wines such as Scrio, a 100% Syrah or Paleo, a 100% Cabernet Franc, both produced by Le Macchiole in the heart of the district, will now be able to be labeled as Bolgheri DOC instead of Toscana IGT. (Several of the best estates of Bolgheri also produce a white wine, often made from Vermentino and/or Sauvignon.)
Leading estates of Bolgheri include the following:
- Tenuta San Guido (Sassicaia)
- Tenuta dell’Ornellaia
- Le Macchiole
- Guado al Tasso
- Guado al Melo
- Campo alla Sughera
- Tenuta dei Piniali (Tenuta di Biserno/Coronato)
- Poggio al Tesoro
- Enrico Santini
- Campo al Mare
The most famous wines of Bolgheri are the Bolgheri Superiore such as Grattamacco, Ornellaia and Sassicaia. These wines have shown the ability to age for 20-25 years and as vine age increses in this area, the wines will only improve.
While these wines have become world renowned and thus costly (more than $150 per bottle), there are many fine examples of Bolgheri Rosso in the $18-$25 range; these include wines from estates such as Guado al Melo and Campo Alla Sughera.
The quality of the red wines from Bolgheri is unquestioned. The debate continues on whether these wines are Tuscan in nature or not. Some believe they are not, as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, two historically non-Tuscan varieties, are the focus. This has lead to a comparison between Bolgheri and Bordeaux. “The wines have similiarities,” says Lodovico Antinori, former owner of Tenuta dell’Ornellaia and currently owner of Tenuta di Biserno, located in Bibbona, only a few miles from Bolgheri. “But they have different personalities. The terroir here is not found in Bordeaux.”
The wines of Bolgheri have only been DOC-designated since 1994; the first commercial vintage of Sassicaia was the 1968. In just a few decades, the wines of Bolgheri have joined the ranks of Italy’s finest. They will only improve in the coming years.
BUYING GUIDE TO TUSCAN WINES
I have just put together a collection of my reviews of the latest wines from Tuscany. These reviews can be found in a special Tuscan issue of my newsletter, Guide to Italian Wines; this is a 30-page pdf document. This issue contains reviews of 50 different Brunellos from the 2004 vintage, as well as reviews of wines from six different estates in Bolgheri (including three vintages of Sassicaia), as well as 40 new bottlings of Chianti Classico, a dozen examples of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and even a couple newly released bottlings of Vin Santo.
The price for this special issue is only $10 US. I will email the issue to you upon payment (either check or Paypal), so if you are interested, please email me and I will reply with payment instructions. This is a must for a Tuscan wine lover!