Category Archives: Wineries

Guado al Tasso

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The vast, 100-hectare Guado al Tasso estate, part of Antinori’s Tuscan empire, stretches from the Strada Bolgherese to the coast road, which bisects all the major estates in the area, taking in a variety of soil types and a range of varieties including Vermentino, the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, as well as Syrah. Around 320 hectares are planted with vines, while they have 200 hectares of cereal, used to feed their pigs, which incidentally produce excellent salami and ham, as well as 1,000 olive trees.

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On arrival, we are immediately taken on a tour of the vineyards by winemaker and estate manager Marco Farrarese and his wife, Luisa. We pass some newly planted Vermentino, a particular favourite of Antinori, and Luisa explains that this now brings the total of Vermentino up to 65 hectares. We also learn that they pick their Vermentino in two separate harvests between 5 and 10 September and at the end of September. The Vermentino is planted here on sandy soils, while other new plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon are on clay and rocky soils. The soils change very frequently here on the estate.

Cabernet Franc had been harvested that morning (26 September) following a three-day stop due to rain. We see this being processed later in their futuristic winery, whose walls, floor and individual rooms are insulated to control temperature and humidity. Marco calls them ‘sandwich walls’, which result in the shape of the winery designed by Fiorenzo Valbonesi. This reflects the heat, while holes in it let in air and light. The grapes pass over two sorting tables – one for bunches and then a second one for berry selection. The vast overground cellar is full of French oak barrels, the front barrel of each row marked with exactly what is in that row. They use French oak as they believe this gives the best results, but they do use a small percentage of US oak for Merlot. Interestingly, they also use Hungarian oak for Sangiovese and the estate wine.

On the way to the modern winery, destined primarily for Il Bruciato, Vermentino and rosé, we also pass the old Guado al Tasso cellar, which Luisa tells us will become a ’ghost cellar’ after this vintage as it will be closed, fully renovated and moved underground.

Their biggest block of land is the 200-hectare Guado al Tasso, which gives the estate its name, as well as several plots in the south of the denomination around Torre di Donoratico and a further block of 30 hectares in the north near Bolgheri. The soils are alluvial, rich in sandy clay or silty clay, with one fine gravelly area rich in iron – agglomerato bolgherese. The range of soils in a small area enables them to match varieties with the appropriate soils.

The estate is not only blessed with a variety of soils, as is the whole DOC, but also benefits from being encircled by the ’Bolgheri Amphitheatre’. It also boasts a mild climate with constant sea breezes and cooler air flowing down from the hills that temper the summer heat and ensure good diurnal range, clear skies and plentiful sunshine.  

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The rows in the vineyards are planted in such a way as to enable the fresh air to blow through the vineyards and dry humidity in the vines, ensuring that as few treatments as possible are needed in the vineyards. The estate is organic where possible, especially where spraying after flowering is concerned; they use organic fertilisers, plant legumes as cover crops and do their best to improve the presence of grass in the soil.

Some vines are trained lower to the soil, resulting in higher tannins and lower acidity, while others are trained higher to improve acidity in the grapes. This enables them to play with balance in the finished wines.

It was quite a late harvest this year, but there was good concentration of sugar in the grapes, which were picked at 25-26 brix. 2017 was a particularly dry vintage, but Marco believes they achieved a good result. The soils – much of which were formerly swampy land – are deep, fresh and rich in minerals; moreover, they can irrigate when necessary, important in dry vintages.

Finally, we head to the estate centre to taste four of the wines and enjoy some prosciutto and salami made from a special breed of pig that is a cross between a normal pig and a wild boar.

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The wines

Vermentino 2018

2019-09-26 10.55.43The Vermentino is harvested mid-September after the Merlot. It is quite a protracted harvest, as mentioned above – harvested at different levels of ripeness and for different styles. It is fermented with cultured yeasts in stainless steel and never undergoes malolactic fermentation. The wines are maintained separately on their lees for two months post fermentation. They aim for a wine that is rich in flavour but easy to drink and try to maintain the style every year.

A lovely textured, creamy wine with bright citrus acidity, crunchy green apple and a refreshing, tangy saline finish.

Il Bruciato 2017

2019-09-26 11.00.48The wines are always named after something with a local connection. So, Il Bruciato is named after a local wood that was set fire to by the local peasants in defiance of a cruel estate owner. The wood still exists but is now only 50 hectares instead of its original 150.

This was a hot, dry vintage, so irrigation was important in some vineyards. It’s a blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Syrah. All are vinified separately and blended after the malolactic fermentation is complete. No new oak, but aged for one year in 2nd, 3rd and 4th passage barrique.

Dark fruit, toasty oak and luxurious chocolate on the concentrated, spicy nose. Medium alcohol, smooth, fine-grained tannins and elegant fresh acidity. A beautifully layered wine with bags of crunchy dark cassis, bramble, cherry and raspberry pepped up with a touch of liquorice spice. Lingers after tasting.

Cont’Ugo 2017

2019-09-26 11.06.44The first vintage of this 100% Merlot was 2011, when DOC Bolgheri changed its rules to permit wines made 100% with one variety; at the same time, also requiring producers to bottle within the appellations. Fermentation takes place at low temperatures to aid extraction. They are also obsessed with sweet tannins, they say, so they work gently with the skins, with very short pumping over for ten days and then no pumping over. They taste every day to determine when the wine is ready. Normally, they aim to preserve red fruitiness and freshness, but due to the dryness of this vintage, there is more black fruit than normal in the wine.

A complex wine with plenty of ripe plum, dark cherry and raspberry with a toasty, oaky character, balanced by fresh acidity. It’s juicy and ripe with sweet tannins but has slightly warming alcohol.

Guado al Tasso 2016

2019-09-26 11.10.10Fermentation takes place in stainless steel at low temperatures (20-25°C) to preserve freshness. This is then increased to 30°C at the end of the alcoholic fermentation. The wine then goes into French barrique for malolactic fermentation; after it is complete, the best parcels are selected and blended in February.  The wine is aged for 18 months in 30% new oak and 70% 2nd passage. Marco considers the 2016 one of the best expressions of the last ten years. It’s a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc, although they also sometimes add a little Petit Verdot depending on the vintage.

A complex, elegant wine packed with dark cherry and blackberry fruit, complemented with balsamic notes, cedar and well-integrated oak. Smooth and supple on the palate with fine-grained tannins and remarkable freshness. Incredible length.

Italian flair and German efficiency

We’re here to visit Cantina Tramin, the region’s third oldest winemakers’ cooperative, based in the professed home of the Traminer variety, Tramin – or Termeno in Italian. We’re met by Wolfgang Klotz at their futuristic winery at the entrance to the village. This stunning green-veined building, a mixture of metal, cement and glass, based on the vine’s shape, morphology and the role it plays in the local landscape, morphs into a giant sculpture as you approach and has become a major landmark in Tramin.

Building on a long tradition of viticulture
En route to the vineyards, we call into the café in the centre of the village, as we all profess the need for a caffeine injection. In the tiny space, Wolfgang gives a bit of background on the area as we sip our espressi. There’s no viticulture on the valley floor here, unlike around Verona, this is given over to apple orchards. Apple production is big business here – Alto Adige is one of the biggest growers of apples in Europe. Munching on a Pink Lady? There’s a good chance it came from Alto Adige. Everyone around is speaking a form of German, but it’s not the German you’ll learn at school; it’s the kind of Alpine German you’ll found spoken in Tyrol and even Bavaria. Yet unlike their more northerly counterparts, the South Tyrolese don’t learn Hoch Deutsch (High German) and have no connection with it – they speak their local dialect and also learn Italian at school.

Despite today’s vast swathes of apples, they’ve only been here for two hundred years or so, previously corn was planted here on the swampy valley floor. Wolfgang tells us that it was very difficult to cross the valley, so dialects vary greatly from village to village. Viticulture, however, dates back 3000 years here. Monks later invested in viticulture too as it represented the warmest, mildest part of the German-speaking world. Viticulture is still a key industry in the valley nowadays with a myriad of varieties grown along its slopes. Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grown on this side of the valley with Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir on the other.

We head off along narrow roads with fabulous views over the valley, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, to take a look at some of the vineyards and Wolfgang points out where which varieties are typically grown. In the seventies, they merged with another coop from the other side of the valley in Mazon, which is the grand cru for Pinot Noir in Italy. The Pinot Noir from here has great concentration and body. Gewürztraminer (or Traminer Aromatico in Italian), the winery’s flagship variety, prefers higher altitude with heavy soils which retain humidity, whereas Lagrein, another key local variety, is planted low on sandy soils.

The vineyards belonging to the coop’s members run 10km north to south. There are around 350 growers representing about 260 hectares, meaning that most work less than one hectare. The coop, founded 100 years ago, helps to keep such family businesses alive. The income is divided based on quality, meaning that there is only a small difference between grape price and bottle price in Alto Adige, enabling families to make a good income and maintain their traditional way of life. They will probably have some orchards too.

We take a look at some Gewürztraminer vines where botrytis has already set in – it usually appears between November and January. These berries represent the liquid gold that will become luscious late-harvest, naturally sweet wine, Terminium, which the cantina has produced since 1998.Alto Adige, aka Südtirol, is a strange, but delightful place. This most northerly region of Italy used to be part of the Austro-Hungarian empire and is thus a combination of Italian style and Austrian gemütlichkeit, one of those German words it’s simply impossible to translate effectively. Although Italian is widely spoken, you often have the feeling you are in Austria – the signs are in both Italian and German and the people are more likely to converse in German than Italian.

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The Gewürztraminer winery
Our next port of call is high up above Bolzano (aka Bozen) to taste the winery’s flagship variety, Gewürztraminer. The cantina, which has played a key role in raising the bar for Alto Adige wine, has based its profile on the aromatic variety and has become synonymous with high-quality, still Gewürztraminer. Its single-vineyard Nussbaumer Gewürztraminer has won Gambero Rosso’s highest accolade, Tre Bicchieri, 18 years on the trot and its newly released Epokale, a spätlese aged for seven years in a silver mine at 2000m scooped up an amazing 100 Parker points last year. However, the proof will be in the pudding or, in this case, in the wineglass.

We take the Renon cable car up the mountainside and across verdant mountaintop meadows to the atmospheric Parkhotel-Holzner, built in 1908. Before getting stuck into the real work of Gewürztraminer tasting, we enjoy the spectacular views across to the snow-covered peaks of the dolomites from the beautiful turn-of-the-century’s sunny terrace. Glass of their Chardonnay blend, Stoan (a play on the dialect word for stone) in hand, Willi Stürz, the cantina’s winemaker gets us up to speed with the variety, one of the oldest in viticulture, dating back at least a thousand years, although nobody knows exactly where it came from.

Traminer gets its name from the village of Tramin where its village museum has a bottle of wine from 1883 where the name Traminer is still used, Gewürztraminer being a spicy mutation of the same variety. Famous names such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling are descendants of the variety and Pinot Noir also shares genetic similarities. The variety still has one of its strongholds in Alto Adige, the other being Alsace. Gewürztraminer from here is generally drier, usually with around 3-7g of residual sugar and spicy notes of cinnamon, whereas Alsatian version may well contain up to 20g and tends to be more floral, with its familiar aromas of rose petals.  Twenty-two percent of the coop’s members’ vineyards are planted with Gewürztraminer.

We taste their range, from the dry Selida 2017, which offers the accustomed rose and lychee character, through to the luscious Terminium 2015, which is labelled as late harvest but is more like a Trockenbeerenauslese. Harvested between the end of November through to mid-January with 60-70% botrytis, the luscious golden-amber liquid proffered orange, marmalade, honey, ripe peach and umami and weighed in at a whopping 320g of residual sugar. Long lingering finish.

Of course, the main course comprised the Nussbaumer and Epokale. The 2016 Nussbaumer, where they had made 25 separate vinifications to try to understand the variations comes from the Nussbaumer vineyard with porphyry base rock. Well-deserving of its tre bicchieri – a rich, creamy, full-bodied wine filling the nose and palate with aromatic rose, lychee and bags of cinnamon spice. The 2009 had already begun to lose varietal expression but had developed greater harmony and elegance on the palate. Still retaining freshness, it had become smoother, creamier, more buttery with vanilla, spice and mineral notes. Willi pointed out that they now release their Gewürztraminer a year later than in the past.

And on to the Parker 100-pointer, the Epokale 2011. This was produced in the old medieval style (hence its name) of the variety, semi-dry with 40g of residual sugar and harvested at the end of October. The first vintage, Willi tells us, boasted 107g. Beautifully balanced and creamy, elegant yet honeyed and rich.

A cooperative recognised for high quality
Back at base camp in Tramin, we also taste some of their other wines, demonstrating that they not only excel with their flagship variety but also turn out very high-quality wines from the wide range of varieties grown in the area, such as Pinot Grigio, Pinot Bianco, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Although a cooperative, here there are none of the negative connotations associated with the concept, these wines have earned them recognition as one of Italy’s top white wine producers. Willi Stürz, the driving force behind helping growers and introducing cutting edge technology in the cellar, was named Italian Winemaker of the Year by Gambero Rosso in 2004. In their search for high quality, they also decided to age their top whites longer, releasing them six months later. This entailed a drop in sales in 2015, but the quality-motivated coop members chose to bear this.

Naturally, we don’t pass up the chance to taste the Maglen Pinot Nero or the Urban Lagrein, the cellar’s top reds.

Cantina Tramin is an excellent example of how the cooperative system helps turn mountain viticulture into an economically sustainable activity for local wine-growing families, whilst pursuing the highest quality in their wines. It is an example that could be followed, despite the distaste for the word ‘cooperative’, in many regions where individual vineyard holdings are relatively small. Not only could it increase the income of grape growers, but it would also enable greater investment in modern technology, thus facilitating an increase in quality.

Many thanks to Irene Graziotto of Studio Cru for organising the trip and to Wolfgang and Willi of Cantina Tramin for hosting us.

Photos by Cantina Tramin, Parkhotel Holzner and Sue Tolson.

Article originally published in two parts on WineSofa. 

Passionate, sustainable winemaking on Vulture

Vinitaly, the annual wine show devoted principally to Italian wines held in Verona, is always a great opportunity to uncover, discover and explore a bewildering range of regions, varieties and producers. The huge pavilions dedicated to the country’s regions are graced with both the magnificent stands of large, prestigious wineries and smaller, less ostentatious producers with small booths. It’s easy to walk kilometres every day and to lose yourself amongst the overwhelming scale of it all. However, a great place to discover some of the latter, smaller, independent producers is in the FIVI (Federazione Italiana Vignaioli Independenti – Italian Federation of Independent Winegrowers) zone.

Vigne Mastrodomenico

One such producer was Emanuela Mastrodomenico of Basilicata’s Vigne Mastrodomenico, who took the time to show me her family’s wines and to tell me something of their activities on the ancient, extinct volcano of Vulture.

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Emanuela initial calling led her, like so many from wine-making families, to study something completely different – in her case, law – before being entranced by wine and ending up in the family business after all. Once she’d caught the bug, Emanuela told me she read everything about winemaking she could get her hands on and is now firmly and passionately ensconced in the wine world. Her enthusiasm and passion glow around her, despite it being the last day of an exhausting Vinitaly, as she talks about Vulture and the wines they make there.

Vigna

Five generations of the Mastrodomenico family have been growing grapes and making wine on the slopes of Vulture, but it was her father who really boosted everything 15 years ago with the first bottling of Likos, their Aglianico del Vulture DOC wine. Previously, they had really only produced wine for themselves, selling the excess grapes.
Nowadays, they farm eight hectares on a small hill overlooking the slopes of Mount Vulture. Their west-facing vineyards have plenty of exposure to the sun and are well ventilated by winds coming from the nearby sea, ensuring the grapes ripen well and remain healthy as well as aiding their ability to work organically. They do everything the traditional way, by hand, and with as little intervention as possible. The area, I learn, had been under the sea millennia ago and the volcano created very hard strata, thus conserving its marine deposits and layers of water amongst the rock, which they discovered when they broke through the rocks. Therefore, the vines also have access to a unique richness of nutrients as well as water throughout the hot summers.

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Naturally, as they are on the Vulture, they produce Aglianico, the south’s answer to Nebbiolo, and only Aglianico, Emanuela informs me. The vines on the lower slopes had already been planted by her grandparents, whilst those higher up were planted by her father – this area had previously been given over to cereal.

A tribute to the past yet looking forward to the future

We begin with their unfiltered, cherry-hued IGT Rosato Fonte del Ceraso 2017, a lovely fresh wine bursting with cherry, redcurrants, raspberry and a floral note. Refreshing acidity, a touch of tannins, a good dose of stoniness and a spicy saline finish make this more than just your average summer quaffer. It’s a real wine, reflecting the power of Vulture Aglianico and also harkening back to the past, when it was actually more typical to make rosato on Vulture than rosso, and it was often spumante.

Emanuela dubs the Mòs Rosso Basilicata IGT 2016 the spirit of the volcano and says they decided to make this wine to show the purity of the Aglianico fruit produced on the Vulture’s unique terroir. Fermented in stainless steel and then aged in second use French oak for six months, Mòs is a fresh red-berry-dominated wine with plenty of minerals and spice. Lively acidity, well-managed tannins and beautiful, pure fruit on the palate. Intense and long, it would be the perfect match for the Caciocavallo di montagna cheese typical to Lucania – the ancient name for Basilicata.

Their Likos Agliancio del Vulture DOC is now only produced in the best years, from a special selection of old vines. We taste the 2015, which is rich and dense with chewy yet fine tannins. The intense nose of blackberry, blackcurrant and cherry underlain with plentiful herbs and spices and a touch of dark chocolate is reflected on the palate with bright acidity providing balance to this elegant wine with great ageing potential. I could imagine this with some Easter lamb or perhaps even a dark chocolate dessert.

Our final treat would be an even better pair for dark chocolate or perhaps some blue cheese. Shekàr Passito del Vulture 2012 is a meditation wine produced in limited quantities. The grapes are left to shrivel on the vine, having been selected and had their stems cut during the harvest, concentrating the sugars and further intensifying Aglianico’s already intense stature. The grapes are then macerated on their skins for 15 days, fermented in stainless steel and left to age in French oak for three years in their winery cut into the rock, whose constant temperature and humidity provides the perfect environment for the ageing of this majestic, innovative Aglianico. Beautifully fruity with an attractive tannic structure, plenty of spice and flowers as well as a burst of fresh acidity to balance the residual sugar. Truly a wine with which to contemplate the past, present and future of the magnificent Vulture and those who make wine there, with passion, respect and in harmony with nature, just like the Mastrodomenicos.

Thanks to Emanuela for the first three photos!

Tenuta Cocci Grifoni

Cocci Grifoni sign

Pecorino’s saviour

As soon as we arrive, Marilena leads us off to view the so-called two-hectare mother vineyard, Vigneto Madre, where the first Pecorino vines were planted. We’re in the Offida DOCG in the south of Le Marche to visit the historic producer Tenuta Cocci Grifoni. We gaze out over the rows of Montepulciano lining the steep slope of the historic vineyard of Vigna Messieri to the small hillock of the Vigneto Madre and the Apennine mountains beyond, Gran Sasso, Monte Sibille and Maiella, which is in neighbouring Abruzzo, the other hotspot for Pecorino. The hills are steep, which makes viticulture in the Piceno area difficult. In fact, there is only about 3% of flat land in Le Marche.

 

The clay soils, which Montepulciano loves, are covered with long grass blowing in the winds. Biodiversity, Marilena explains, is important for them.  They want to be able to pass on a respectful relationship with nature to generations to come. The area is well ventilated as cold winds blow over from the Balkans and there is little protection here, they always have sea breezes from the south and the east, so their wines are healthy and rich in salt – the sea is only five kilometres away. The perfect location, only an hour’s drive to the mountains and 15 minutes to the sea.

Marilena in the vineyard

The Montepulciano vineyard was planted in vertical rows by her father 30 years ago, so-called counter polling, girapoggio. So, if it rains, the hillside will easily erode; the grass and borders they’ve retained help to prevent this. The stream we walk past on the way back to the winery and the glass-walled tasting room with magnificent views of the patchwork of vineyards and other crops flows along to their San Basso estate. The property comprises 95 hectares, 50 of which is devoted to vines, 7% to olive groves and 12% to cereals. They also allow a lot of land to lie fallow to conserve the natural habitat and allow the repopulation of flora. So, from the tasting room’s terrace, we can view the Badlands, as Marilena calls them, with patches of pine trees and broom amongst the vines, olive groves and grain fields.  Moreover, they are studying how birds reproduce in different areas in conjunction with wineries in Monferrato and the Prosecco area. We’ll also realise how important the environment is to them later when we see their labels.

Pecorino – a cheese or a grape variety?

Marilena is one of the daughters of Guido Cocci Grifoni, Le Marche’s saviour of the Pecorino variety, thus named by the shepherds because the sheep eat the grapes – Pecorino is a mountain dweller. The variety is now becoming trendy and can be found on many hip somms’ wine lists as well as increasingly on even some supermarket shelves. However, a couple of decades ago, it was almost unheard of. Her father, who unfortunately passed away eight years ago, was curious as to why Pecorino was a permitted variety for the Offida DOC, but was not actually planted, so he went in search of it. Finally, in Ascoli Piceno, he met the owner of a small, pre-phylloxera vineyard, Pescaro di Tronto. Copious research later, he discovered that the best exposure for Pecorino was north and in 1987 he planted the ‘Pecorino Vigna Madre’, and they’ve been producing Pecorino from here since 1990. He was considered crazy at the time for planting this obscure variety.

A bit of history

Her great-grandfather, returning from the States in the 1930s, built the house across the courtyard and began establishing vineyards. Her father was born there. This was still the era of the mezzadria, sharecropping, system in Italy, so when her grandfather passed away in the 1950s, his sons had to leave school in order to support the family. They gradually expanded with time, buying the San Bassano estate in the 1950s, followed by the Tara estate and then the Le Ginestre estate in 2015, where they now have an organic project with six hectares of white grapes. They produced 350,000 bottles of wine the previous year but have the capacity to make around 400,000 bottles per annum. Thirty percent of production is exported.

The Rosso Piceno Superiore DOC was established in 1968, but they were too late to register their wine for it that year, so 1969 was their first bottling of Rosso Piceno wine. 1975 saw the establishment of the Falerio di Collio Ascolani DOC, which permitted Trebbiano, Malvasia and Pecorino, unknown at that time.

Cru wines

First of all, Marilena has us taste three cru wines. The labels for the cru wines all use native animals. Animals that have a positive influence on grapes, so like kinds of steward, were chosen. A toad is depicted on the Colle Vecchio 2016, an Offida DOCG Pecorino whose grapes originate from a historic vineyard close to the Vigneto Madre. The toad was selected as both Pecorino and toads like cold environments. There is also a small lake nearby where toads love to hop around. They are positive for the vineyards as they eat insects that could damage the grapes. It’s a lovely wine, fresh and zesty, yet also chewy and creamy with lively acidity and plenty of nuts and stone fruit. Pecorino is another Italian white with great capacity to age, with Marilena telling us that wines from the best vintages can easily age for twelve years or so. Her sister Paola, by the way, is the winemaker and selected the yeasts for the Pecorino. They are natural yeasts, which are now being studied together with the University of Ancona.

Marilena very reluctantly allows us to try a Passerina. I say reluctantly as she only wanted us to try cru wines, so some discussion ensued before we were permitted to try this less noble local variety. A high yielder which is believed to be related to Trebbiano Toscano and can achieve yields of up to 120-130hl/ha. The Passerina San Basso 2017, a mere IGT, comes from an old autochthonous vineyard area and was a zingy, fresh, lemony wine with plenty of yellow fruit. The estate wines like these are represented by the wild flowers surrounding the vineyards to try to express their strong connections with the land. The Passerina label bears broom flowers, which speckle part of the hillsides near the estate.

Passerina

We’re back to Pecorino with the next wine, made from a small crop from the Vigneto Madre as a homage to her father after he passed away. Winning the ultimate Italian accolade, the Tre Bicchieri, the Guido Cocci Grifoni 2013 (Offida DOCG Pecorino), the first vintage of this wine, comes in a rather environmentally unfriendly heavy bottle. It’s an elegant but chewy, balanced wine with plenty of zesty acidity and flavours of honey, butter, nut, grapefruit and yellow flowers.

Guido homage wine

The final white is another Pecorino, this time with a bit of age, Collio Vecchio Pecorino 2010, aged in stainless steel and refined in bottle. They’ve only used stainless steel and glass since 2010 and made no changes when the DOCG was established in 2011. Now eight years old, Pecorino can clearly age well – a golden, buttery, rich and textured wine with flavours of honey and grapefruit and a long salty finish. Its 13.5% of alcohol, however, seemed much higher.

Collio Vecchio

We then tasted a red estate wine, Rosso Piceno Superiore San Basso 2014, represented by the borage flower. A bright, fresh, easy-drinking wine with crunchy cherry and plum fruit and a slightly saline finish made from 55% Montepulciano and 45% Sangiovese.

Marilena with bottle

The final red was a Vigna Messieri 2013 Rosso Piceno DPC Superiore, a blend of 70% Montepulciano and 30% Sangiovese, from the historic vineyard we had visited earlier. Matured in stainless steel for 30 months followed by 18 months in 40-45 Slavonian oak, it was a balanced wine with great acidity, smoky black fruit, fresh white pepper and notes of liquorice but rather grippy tannins. I love the way that the Sangiovese freshens up the Montepulciano in the reds of Piceno.

Cocci Grifoni fizz

Although we were now running somewhat late thanks to Marilena’s fascinating stories and insight into Pecorino and the organisers were looking stressed and tapping their watches, Marilena insisted we taste their homemade pizza and sip some Passerina fizz on the magnificent terrace.

CG tasting room

*Part of a trip organised by the Circle of Wine Writers and the Marche Chamber of Commerce (Marchet)

 

 

 

 

Visiting the tower of the wind while in the grip of Lucifer

Torrevento

Wines of another Puglia

I have unashamedly stolen my sub-title from large Puglian winery Torrevento, which dubs itself ‘vini di un alt(r)a Puglia’ – ‘wines of another Puglia’; by removing the ‘r’, you then get ‘wines of an ancient Puglia’. I paid a visit to the winery in the Castel del Monte DOC on the invitation of its Technical Director, Leonardo Palumbo, fellow judge at the 2017 VinAgora International Wine Competition held in Budapest in July. Upon discovering we would be spending this year’s family holiday in Puglia, Leonardo promptly invited me to visit the winery.

The name Puglia conjures up oceans of easy-drinking Primitivo and perhaps two of its more well-known DOCs – Primitivo di Manduria and Salice Salentino (a blend of Negroamaro (the region’s most planted black variety) and Malvasia Nera) – will be familar to many. However, as Torrevento’s sub-title suggests, there is more to Puglia than meets the eye of the majority of wine drinkers. There are plenty of native and local grapes to be discovered in Puglia, and in the apparently endless sea of red wine, white and rosato is also produced in small pockets from grapes that few will have heard of, or indeed tasted.

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

Torrevento is located in the Castel del Monte DOC, in the wildest and most rugged part of Puglia, in the middle of the Alta Murgia National Park, at the foot of the thirteenth-century castle of the same name, which commands fantastic views of the local countryside. The castle has served as a prison, a plague shelter and a source of building materials for those pilfering the castle and its contents over the years. It sits at the centre of the DOC, which also had three wines styles raised to DOCG status in 2011, all based on local varieties, now constituting three of Puglia’s four DOCGs.

The two reds – Caste del Monte Nero di Troia Riserva DOCG and Castel del Monte Rosso Riserva DOCG – both take Nero di Troia (officially named Uva di Troia) as their backbone, minimum 90% for the former and 65% for the latter, with the rest made up of Aglianico and Montepulciano. Nero di Troia is the third of Puglia’s key varieties, producing well-structured, ageworthy reds with aromas of red fruits, undergrowth, roses, tobacco, black pepper and herbs. The third DOCG is, unusually, a DOCG solely devoted to rosato, the only one in Italy, so Leonardo tells me – Castel del Monte Bombino Nero DOCG. Bombino Nero, grown mostly in Puglia is a variety containing plenty of anthocyanins, so perfect for making rosato as the colour bleeds very quickly before any bitter tannins, giving a soft, well-coloured rosato with flavours of red berries. Although many people will not have heard of the Caste del Monte region, it is actually one of Puglia’s largest production zones.

Torrevento

The Torrevento winery is actually an eighteenth century Benedictine monastery, situated in the ’Torre del Vento’, or Tower of the Wind district, giving rise to its name. It has been the heart of the company since the estate was acquired by the Liantonio brothers in 1948, with wines being aged in large cellars carved into the rock of the monastery. However, its roots go back much earlier, when founder Francesco Liantonio set sail for New York to seek his fortune. Having amassed enough money working in an ice factory, he returned to his beloved Puglia to realise his dream of producing and trading in wine and olive oil, one of the other staples of Puglia. Indeed, wherever you go in Puglia, ancient olive grows dot the region’s characteristic rusty-looking terra rossa soils.

The family cultivates mainly indigenous varieties in this wild, stony landscape of the limestone Murgia plateau. Alongside the DOC(G)’s flagship varieties of Uva di Troia and Bombino Nero, Torrevento cultivate Bombino Bianco, Pampanuto, Aglianico, Fiano, and the ubiquitous Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are only used in blends. Naturally, as a large Puglian winery, they also have other lines with local grapes sourced from elsewhere in Puglia and bearing different DOC or IGT names, including the rare sweet Moscato di Trani DOC.

Torrevento botti

We arrived at Torrevento on a scorching hot day, in the middle of the heatwave that the Italians had nicknamed ‘Lucifer’, with temperatures soaring well above 40°C. Leonardo, despite seeming to be holding the fort practically single-handedly whilst many of his colleagues were on holiday, gave us a comprehensive tour of the winery, saw us off on our way to visit Frederic II’s Castel del Monte, reserved us a table at an innovative Puglian restaurant in the shadow of the castle, Montegusto, and generously packed up a dozen wines representative of Castel de Monte to pick up on our way back, for us to taste at our leisure. A couple of hours in the car with Lucifer’s sun beating down would have quickly turned them into mulled wine otherwise. Into the boot with two cases of ‘another Puglia’, including varieties such as Pampanuto, Uva di Troia, Bombino Nero and Bombino Bianco (no relation), which thus far I had only learnt about during my Vinitaly Academy Italia Wine Ambassador course with chief Italian grape guru Ian d’Agata. Leonardo then dispatched us off to visit picturesque port town Trani, centre of the Moscato di Trani DOC. Beware, if you wish to park your car in Trani, there are no parking meters – you need to purchase a kind of ‘scratch card’ from a tobacconist beforehand!

Locorotondo 2

Sipping a light Torrevento white and rosato whilst gazing at our holiday home’s picture-postcard view of hilltop town Locorotondo was the perfect way to while away our last few nights in Puglia and ensured that the remaining wines, mostly reds unsuited to the baking heat, caused our cases to weigh in at just 500g under our luggage allowance. All are now safely waiting for cooler, more appropriate temperatures before tasting.

Locorotondo vines

*This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine.

Le Marche holds a white treasure

Bucci vines

Verdicchio – an Italian white that can age

Fine wine drinkers know Italy for its great reds. Names like Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello and Amarone grace the wine cellars of many a wine connoisseur. Whereas Italy has never enjoyed great acclaim for its whites. In the past, oxidised and flat, now often considered a cheap quaffing wine, good as an aperitif or for pairing with seafood along the country’s vast coastline. This cheap and cheerful image is perpetuated by the floods of basic Prosecco, insipid Pinot Grigio and characterless Frascati and Soave that make it onto the shelves outside the country. Very few people realise that Italy boasts some white varieties that show great potential for ageing, one or two of which can be found in the Marche.

Unexplored territory in Central Italy

A recent trip to the Marche allowed me to explore this relatively undiscovered region, both from a tourist and wine perspective. The gently rolling green landscape punctuated with picturesque hilltop towns lodged between the Apennines and the Adriatic has kept itself relatively hidden from curious tourists who rather visit the green heart of Umbria to its west or the culinary powerhouse of Emilia-Romagna with its sweeping sandy beaches to the north. Wine lovers will be more familiar with its southern neighbour, Abruzzo, known for its full-bodied Montepulciano or the region it touches to the west, Tuscany, with its famous string of Sangiovese DOC(G)s. Yet, Marche also cultivates both these red varieties and produces delicious blends of the two in its key red DOC(G)s of Cònero DOCG and Piceno DOC. To my mind, the Montepulciano is far fresher and more elegant than that of its southern neighbour. However, the real treasure of Marche is two of its white varieties – Verdicchio and Pecorino, among Italy’s best. Here, we’ll take a look at Verdicchio, which some say can be reminiscent of Riesling as it ages, developing a flintiness and a hint of petrol.

marche vineyard

Gone with the cheesy amphora bottle

Many of you may remember the curious amphora-shaped bottle representing Verdicchio on the supermarket shelves in the past. However, you probably didn’t find the wine all that memorable, yet Italian wine experts believe it to be one of the Italian whites with the greatest potential. Its name belies one characteristic of its grapes: coming from verde (green), the grapes remain green even when ripe and retain the high acidity so important for ageing. Thanks to this acidity, it can age for ten years or more and is one of the few Italian whites that responds well to oaking. The variety is used to produce all styles, from dry to sweet as well as sparkling, so is not only capable of ageing but is also versatile.

The amphora bottle is associated with the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOCG, which produces light, generally somewhat floral wines. However, Marche also boasts a further DOCG for the cultivar, Verdicchio di Matelica DOCG, which is further inland, although higher, and cut off from the cooling sea breezes that Castelli di Jesi enjoys, thus its wines generally have higher acidity, but also more body and alcohol.

We visited numerous Verdicchio producers in Castelli di Jesi including Garofoli and Villa Bucci, both historic and revered producers of the variety, to see what the variety was capable of.

Modern Verdicchio pioneers

Carlo Garofoli, the winemaker and owner at Garofoli, now in his seventies, still makes all the wines at the winery and tells us about the winery’s philosophy, which is to make all wines 100% varietal to retain the character of the cultivar and to be able to taste the interaction between the terroir and the variety. He believes that typicity and terroir are some of the most important tools and tries to make different Verdicchio wines. Their Podium Verdicchio is the most awarded Verdicchio ever.

Carlo Garofoli

Garofoli were one of the first to eschew the amphora bottle for their Verdicchio. This bottle had become associated with mass-produced poor-quality wines exported in great quantities in the eighties. So, from 1981, they launched Macrina, their Verdicchio di Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico Superiore, one of the first not in the amphora bottle, in an attempt to change the perception of Verdicchio; the message was clear – it’s the wine inside the bottle that counts, not the packaging. It was seen as revolutionary. They then started to experiment with different versions and found similarities between Verdicchio and Chablis, so decided to make Verdicchio in the Chablis style. This gave rise to Serra Fiorese in 1990 which became Podium, a single-vineyard wine with 18 months ageing and now one of the most iconic Verdicchios in Castelli di Jesi. We tasted the current vintage, 2015, which showed beautiful rich, ripe fruit with spice and bitter almond along with steely acidity, mineral notes and a refreshing herbal streak. We then compared this to the 2008 vintage, according to Carlo, a very good year in the region, discovering a wine that still retained its green hues, but now gold with deeper green flecks with flavours of honey, dried fruit, apple, spice, salted almond, straw and dried tobacco leaf, along with still amazingly fresh acidity.

Carlo is also a lover of bubbles, so has also produced a Verdicchio-based traditional method sparkler since 1974, although his father had been producing charmat-method fizz since the fifties. In the beginning, he reveals, we had no way to freeze the neck when disgorging, so had to buy ice from the local fishmonger. We tasted the 2010 Brut Riserva, which had spent 78 months on the lees. A stunning wine with refreshing acidity, a fine mousse and structure along with flavours of yellow apple, brioche, honey and almond, still very fresh and fruity with lovely autolytic notes.

Remarkable liveliness even after nearly 30 years

Another opportunity to experience the remarkable ageworthiness of Verdicchio and its ability to reflect terroir was our visit to Villa Bucci, another of the classic Marche wineries. Five of their six vineyards are dedicated to Verdicchio and they boast numerous old vines, with many between 45 and 55 years old. They produce eight to ten different Verdicchios each year with each vineyard being vinified separately and then blended before bottling. We tasted four barrel samples and saw how each vineyard influenced the styles of wine produced by each. La Bora, the highest vineyard is cooled by sea breezes and gives fresh, salty wines with lemony notes, whereas the lower Montefiore’s wines are less salty. Like Garofoli, they also began taking Verdicchio seriously in the eighties when Verdicchio had no real style and was not easily recognisable, except by its kitsch bottle. Their flagship Villa Bucci is a regular recipient of awards and, needless to say, no amphora bottle in sight!

Bucci agronomist

Claudia Porta, niece of Ampelio Bucci, treated us to a mini vertical tasting of Villa Bucci Riserva from the 2015 (just hours before its official release) back to a 1992 magnum! The older vintages remained incredibly fresh and crisp thanks to their steely acidity and salinity, but also picked up beautiful honey, dried fruit, savoury and waxy notes while gaining in intensity and complexity. All the wines were characterised by a bitter almond note, which became increasingly like marzipan with age.

Bucci vertical

Mountain Verdicchio

Castelli di Jesi’s older yet smaller sibling, Matelica, pipping Jesi to the DOC post in 1967 (Castelli di Jesi 1968) and a mere tenth of its size, is also producing some stunning Verdicchios in its north-south valley inland from Jesi with a range of mountains blocking the cooling effects of the Adriatic. Teatro Piermarini in Matelica is now home to Verdicchio with the foyer and bar providing a tasting area for the region’s producers. Tasting through 22 wines from 12 producers with vintages ranging from 2017 to 2007, we also discovered lively, yet creamy, almond-scented fresh wines with hawthorn aromas that developed real character and complexity with age, sweet honey, spice, marzipan and notes of kerosene, while still maintaining incredible freshness and salinity. La Monacesca hosted our evening meal in their beautifully restored winery buildings, sacrificing a 1997 magnum of their Verdicchio for our pleasure, enabling us yet again to testify to Verdicchio’s great capacity for ageing.

Old Verdicchio bottles

So, anyone who believes Italian whites should only be consumed young should seek out some older Bucci or Garofoli vintages, or try one of the less well-known wines, equally deserving of praise, from Matelica.

However, while you’re in the Marche, make sure you save time to stroll the streets of picturesque hilltop towns such as Torre di Palme, Petritoli, Matelica or Staffolo, peek into one of their unique municipal theatres and try one of the local specialities such as olive ascolani. Don’t forget to sip other hidden vinous curiosities such as aromatic red Lacrima di Morro d’Alba or sparkling red Vernaccia di Serrapetrona and explore other local whites like Passerina, Bianchello or the increasingly trendy Pecorino. Discover the Marche and its wines before everyone else does!

*This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine. The trip was organised by the Circle of Wine Writers and the Marche Chamber of Commerce (Marchet).

Masseria del Feudo

Masseria del feudo

From wheat to organic Nero d’Avola

The Masseria, along with its picturesque chapel, was born as a farm a century ago, when the great-grandfather of the current, fourth generation of the Cucurullo family, Francesco and Carolina, bought a large part of a prince’s estate. Originally extensive agriculture, mostly wheat, on which Sicily grew rich in the Middle Ages, the estate near Caltanisetta has now been transformed into one of fruit and vines, along with some sixty cows.

Their father, Salvatore, swam against the stream in the sixties when many were fleeing the land and fields for the economic boom in the industrial north of Italy. However, Salvatore’s love for land and agriculture, and his determination led him to plant new vineyards and peach orchards. The estate now comprises twelve hectares of vines, three hectares of olives and twenty hectares of fruit, including peaches, apricots, plums and ripe pomegranates, bursting with juice, which we saw close up. The family previously sold their grape production to the giant labels of Corvo and Sette Sole; however, they have now built their own winery and bottle and sell their wines globally. The first label of the winery, Haermosa, their Chardonnay, was created in 2001 as a result of Francesco’s belief in the potential of this region, in the centre of hot sun-drenched Sicily. Carolina clearly believes in it too, as she told me she commuted here every day from Palermo – quite some commute!

Masseria vines

They grow Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Inzolia and two international varieties – Syrah and Chardonnay. The white varieties are planted on the white, limestone soils, the black varieties on brown clay. Their location 480m above sea level and the extreme dryness enable them to produce organically. The diurnal range of up to 15°C means their grapes can ripen fully while retaining essential acidity in such hot climes. Everything is done by hand, Francesco proudly tells us, only using machines to work the land itself. They also produce their own electricity using solar panels, selling on half of the energy produced. We could see some of them glinting on the hillside in the distance, at least that’s what I thought they were! In Sicilia DOC, irrigation is allowed in an emergency; they have a lake and two underground tanks for this purpose.

They pick some of their white grapes two days before vinification, to allow the indigenous yeasts to do their work, this is then used as a starter, pied de couvre, to ensure identity and typicity. They clarify the reds, but not the whites, and only do a little filtration. The whole thing is quite scary, admits Francesco, as they did everything differently until about four years ago. They have embarked on a serious project of innovation and diversification, in the middle of this beautiful landscape, surrounded by green hills. They have renovated the old rural building and installed a micro winemaking line, allowing them to make an experimental production using new grapes and wine-making techniques, which they hope will increase the value of their terroir.

Address: Contrada Grottarossa, Caltanisetta, Sicily, Italy
Phone: +39 0934 569 719
Email: info@masseriadelfeudo.it
Web: www.masseriadelfeudo.it

*This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine.

Feudo di Principi di Butera

Principi di Butera

The vinous heritage of the first prince of Sicily

You can see the sixteenth century feudo with its tower atop the hill from afar, seemingly a small castle, glowing golden in the afternoon Sicilian sun. Outside a fountain which was originally a granary in Roman times. Inside antique furniture and decorated tiles. The intense golden walls are surrounded by green rolling hills, set against the clear blue of the Sicilian sky. The view from the terrace is stunning. It’s in fact only 8 km from the sea, although it sits at 350 m above sea level with cool evening breezes to counter the baking hot Sicilian sun, which can reach 40°C in the summer. This, along with the protection afforded by nearby Mount Dessueri, provides a fantastic microclimate for quality wine production.

The northern Italian Zonin family recognised this and bought the estate in 1997, so it now forms part of their ten estate ‘empire’.  Thanks to them, the winery is a blend of modernism, efficiency and tradition.

Principi di Butera vineyards

Nero d’Avola, symbol of a renewed Sicilian oenological tradition, is the star here in the Gela region. The house and cellar are encircled with vines, pretty much as far as the eye can see – mostly Nero d’Avola, but also Inzolia, Grillo, Carricante, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot. The entire property is fenced in to keep out the sheep. Claudio Galosi, the winemaker since 2009 and now director of the estate, stressed the importance of this, as some sheep once got in and within three minutes they had chomped their way through the grapes of three whole rows of vines.

Much of the terroir here is high in shell-rich limestone, thus also rich in calcium, which lends the grapes good acidity, preserving the elegance and fruitiness of the wines as they age. And in Sicily, you can do with this acidity! Claudio reckons their wines can easily age for eight to fifteen years. Of course, they use an appropriate rootstock to avoid chlorosis. Claudio points out, however, that the terroir changes pretty rapidly in Sicily, so there are many plots of land with quite different terroir over the 350 hectares of vines.

Down in the cellar, there are no barriques to be seen, they work only with large botti of either 300 or 600 litres or tonni of 350 litres. You can also see the emblem of Branciforte, the first prince of Sicily, emblazoned on the wall. This depicts a lion with his hand cut off, which was to protect the king. This feudo was the summer residence of Ambroglio Branciforte, Principe di Butera. The Branciforte family was one of the most powerful dynasties in Sicily, owning 10% of the entire island’s income by the beginning of the eighteenth century. Claudio explained the difference between a baglio and a feudo – the former is a fortified manor house close to the sea, whereas the other is further inland. The name Butera apparently comes from Re Bute, the first king of the Siculi, so land, and wines, with a truly noble heritage.

Address: Contrada Deliella, 93011 Butera (CL), Sicily, Italy
Phone: +39 0934 347 726
Email: info@feudobutera.it
Web: www.feudobutera.it

*This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine.

 

Vinicola Benanti

Vinicola Benanti
Vinicola Benanti

Giuseppe Benanti – one of Italy’s pioneering winemakers

When Giuseppe Benanti revived his old passion and started to bottle and sell his wine internationally in 1988, there were only four producers on Etna, now there are approximately 125, 98% of which come from outside the area. However, they see each other as colleagues, not competitors, as they are all producing wine from different terroirs.

The Benanti family moved from Bologna to the Catania area in the eighteenth century, and Giuseppe’s namesake began production of wines on the slopes of Mount Etna at the end of the 1800s. However, in the nineteen-sixties most of Etna’s vineyards were abandoned, perhaps a blessing in disguise, as many escaped replanting, thus preserving genetic diversity. In the eighties, Giuseppe Benanti and other pioneering winemakers started to produce wine again, but according to different rules. At this time, the wine often achieved alcohol levels of 16-18% and people were generally growers, whereas now they are producers of quality wines.

Vinicola Benanti

Giuseppe invited experts from Asti and Bonn to advise him and they decided to produce wines strictly linked to each terroir. His philosophy is follow your heart, and respect the soil, the place, the terroir and the seasons; they are a traditional winery, as evidenced by their beautiful buildings, including an old ‘palmento’, but also modern and dynamic. Giuseppe has made extensive studies of Etnean soils devoted to viticulture and investigated old indigenous clones and new vinification techniques to combine the ancient flavours with modern oenological practices. Indeed, the winery has already patented four indigenous yeasts.

He was joined three years ago by his twin sons Antonio and Salvino.

They focus on the traditional Etnean varieties of Nerello mascalese, Nerello cappuccio and Carricante, of which they also make a sparkling version. However, they do not make rosé, because, as Giuseppe says, they don’t want to be followers. They used to have a bigger range of wines, but make just eight now, usually varietals. If they do make a DOC Etna blend, then they add at least 10% Nerello cappuccio, so it is at least meaningful.

One threat they see to the Etna ‘brand’ is that many producers release their wines too early, which they feel doesn’t do justice to Etna. They are trying to resist this trend and release their wines after a minimum of 47 months and would like to see an obligatory minimum of say 18 months.

In addition to their vines on Etna, including some pre-phylloxera Nerello Mascelese up on Monte Serra, they have invested in vineyards close to Syracuse, home of Nero d’Avola – before it spread to the rest of the island – and Moscato di Noto, and also on Pantelleria, where they produce Passito di Pantelleria.

The grandiose room where we had lunch is lined with paintings, which form the basis of their wines’ labels. Antonio jokingly informed us that Bacchus had his head cut off as they ran out of paper!

Address: Via Garibaldi 361, 95029 Viagrande, Sicily, Italy
Phone: +39 095 789 3399
Email: info@vinicolabenanti.it
Web: www.vinicolabenanti.it

This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine.

Donnafugata – a woman fleeing her past

Donnafugata

A tribute to Sicilian history and literature

Antonio and José, are the fifth generation of the Rallo family, making wine in Sicily since 1851, when their Marsala cellars were built, although the brand name Donnafugata itself only dates from 1983. José explained that this name, logo of a woman’s head with windblown hair and mission personified her mother, escaping her past as a schoolteacher, when she inherited the vineyard. Although their website paints a different picture, as a tribute to Sicilian history. In this case, the ‘donna fugata’, the woman in flight, is Queen Maria Carolina, wife of Ferdinand IV of Bourbon who fled Napoleon’s troops when they took Naples, seeking refuge in Sicily. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of ‘Il Gattopardo’, The Leopard, gave this name to the country estate of the Prince of Salina, where the queen stayed and which now holds some of the family’s vineyards.  The literary theme is also continued in ‘Tancredi’, their Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon blend. Tancredi was the revolutionary hero of the above novel, obligatory reading for those who want to learn something about Sicilian history.

In the past in Sicily, the philosophy was to grub up vines that don’t produce lots of grapes. This led to a decline in quality and the near loss of traditional varieties. Donnafugata’s philosophy is quite the opposite, to select vines producing less and grub up the others, to focus on the cluster, climate, terroir and vintage. When the neighbours observed what they were doing, the Rallos were asked accusingly, ‘Does your grandfather know what you’re doing?’

The cellars in Marsala, still retaining their original ‘baglio’ (fortified manor house) layout with citrus and olive trees, are their strategic base. However, they also have vineyards in Contessa Entellina and on Pantelleria, where the vines are more than 100 years old. Here the vines are dug into holes to protect them from the fierce Sirocco wind. This is where their luscious passito Bem ryè originates. Made from Zibibbo grapes (aka Muscat of Alessandria), the grapes are cut as for a green harvest and dried on nets or in greenhouses for 20 days. Before fermentation, the grapes are then added to fresh grape must, which enables them to maintain a balance between fresh acidity and the sweet, concentrated passito grapes.

They are also participating in a regional project, planting 19 different autochthonous varieties, including some almost extinct varieties, such as Alzano, Nocera and Vitrarolo, along with clones of more familiar varieties such as Nero d’Avola and Catarratto. They hope it will be possible to try the wines from some of these in ten years or so.

In addition to their literary connections, there is also a musical element – the Donnafugata Music&Wine Live project, pairing wine and jazz in a multi-sensorial experience, with the proceeds going to help the Palermo City Hospital. The singer is none other than José, who also broke into song with a rendition of a Sicilian folk song during our tasting!

Address: Via S. Lipari 18, 91025 Marsala, Sicily, Italy
Phone: +39 0923 724 200
Email: info@donnafugata.it
Web: www.donnafugata.it

*This article first appeared on WineSofa, the first and only comprehensive website in English focussing on Central and Eastern European wine.

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