Thursday Vinopolpick – Jan 16th

January 16, 2014
Wines of Sicily
The island of Sicily boasts exciting winemaking based on 2,500 year old traditions.  Its warm, Mediterranean climate combined with rich, volcanic soils host a multitude of grape varieties both native and newly imported.  In recent decades, Sicily has cast off its reputation for cheap wine produced from high yielding vines.  Since the 1980s, numerous local producers have made strides in refocusing the region on native varietals and high-quality international varietals that take advantage of the long ripening season and mineral-rich soils.Sicily is known for several varieties grown almost exclusively on the island including Nero d’Avola, Grecanico and Frappato.  For centuries, native Nero d’Avola has been Sicily’s most important and widely planted red grape.  Its name means Black of Avola and is named after a coastal town that was a center of trade in the Middle Ages.  Until the 21st century it was grown as a blending grape for wines made on the mainland of Italy.  Only recently has it been produced into single varietal wines or Sicilian blends.  Expect either a dark and rich oak-aged wine with chocolate notes or a juicy and fresh style with ripe red berry flavors.  It pairs well with flavorful foods such as tomato based pasta dishes, barbecued meats and grilled lamb. Grecanico was identified recently to be genetically identical to Garganega, a grape grown in the Veneto region for the Soave DOC and DOCG.  It was imported by the ancient Greeks to Sicily and produces highly aromatic white wines.  It is often blended with Catarratto and Inzolia to add aromas.  Frappato is a native light red wine grape often blended with Nero d’Avola to add contrasting aromatics.  It is low in tannins and highly aromatic.

Sicily has almost twenty DOC areas and one DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  One of the notable DOCs is Enta DOC which wraps around Mount Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe.  Its dark and mineral-rich volcanic soil encourages dark and dramatic aromatics and the upper slopes provide cooling winds to help retain acidity.  Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG has an ancient history of wine-making stretching back to the third century BCE.  The city of Vittoria, after which it is named ,was established in 1607.  Its founder encouraged grape growers to settle by offering free land to those who would grow vines.  DOC status was granted in 1974 and elevated to DOCG in 2005, making it the only such zone in Sicily.  The driving force behind its elevation to DOCG were the partners of the Azienda Agricola COS: our focal point today.

Azienda Agricola COS

In 1980, three partners, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti (the uncle of Arianna Occhipinti, owner and winemaker of Occhipinti) and Cirino Strano, founded the Azienda Agricola COS.  They began with vineyard land purchased from the Cilia’s family winery in the town of Bastonaca in the wine region of Cerasuolo di Vittoria.  Strano sold his shares to his sister in 1985 who sold her shares to the other two founding members in 1995.

In Vittoria, nero d’Avola is more elegant than in other areas, and gets its marked mineral notes from the denomination’s red, sandy and calcareous soils… The soil also gives frappato its floral notes and freshness.” — Giusto Occhipinti

They are biodynamic in an effort to capture to purest essence of their vineyards.  They incorporate ancient and often intriguing wine-making techniques to produce some of Sicily’s highest quality wines.  Grapes are hand-harvested in two passes to ensure proper ripeness.  The pressing of the grapes is done by foot, often referred to by the French term pigeage.  Fermentation is temperature controlled and uses only naturally present yeasts.  They produce two wines under the name Pithos, in honor of the ancient Greek methods of winemaking.  The Pithos Bianco is 100% Grecanico and the Rosso is a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola.  The two wines are fermented and aged in amphoras, clay jars used by the ancient Greeks to make and transport wine.

Azienda Agricola COS Wines Here Now:

COS Rami Insolia Grecanico 2010 ($27.95) $24.00 special, 17 bottles available
Wine Advocate
: “The COS Rami is an attractive blend of Insolia and Grecanico aged in concrete. Layers of sweet perfumed apricots, dried flowers and orange peel come together beautifully in this textured, elegant white. This is a lovely, polished effort. The Rami was fermented in cement. Anticipated maturity: 2011-2014. This is quite possibly the finest set of wines I have ever tasted from COS. Readers owe it to themselves to check out these ambitious wines, many of which also deliver phenomenal value.”

COS Pithos Bianco 2010 ($34.95) $29.00 special, 24 bottles available
Wine Advocate 94 points
 “The 2010 Pithos Bianco, a 100% Grecanico, is quite soft and understated. Soft, floral notes meld into white, yellow stone fruits, peaches and savory herbs in this soft beautifully delineated wine. Textural finesse and elegance are the hallmarks. Saline notes frame the exceptionally polished finish. I imagine the Pithos Bianco would be dynamite with raw fish. This is another highlight in the range. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2018.”

COS Pithos Red 2010 ($37.95) $31.90 special, 11 bottles available
Wine & Spirits 93 points
 “The team at COS makes Pithos from Frappato and Nero d’Avola, the frappato (40 percent) showing clearly in the blend, its character emphasized, perhaps, by the hands-off fermentation in clay amphorae. The wine is youthful, floral and berry-scented, shading from the oregano notes of stems toward red fruit purity. It’s complex and layered, shifting through aromas and flavors of animals, minerals, flowers and fruits while sustaining a tension in its structure that suggests cellaring it a few years if you prefer mellower pleasures. Or pour it now with grilled baby lamb.”

COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2009 ($31.95) $26.00 special, 3+ cases available
Wine Advocate 92 points
 “All of the best elements of the house style come together in the 2009 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico. An initial blast of sweet dark cherries leads to leather, spices, tobacco, and dried flowers as this beautifully textured, voluminous wine opens up in the glass. Gracious and refined, the 2009 impresses for its balance and overall sense of harmony. A juicy, floral and spice-infused finish makes it impossible to resist a second taste. Anticipated maturity 2013-2017.”

COS Frapatto Sicilia 2011($29.95) $24.00 special, 3+ cases available
Wine & Spirts 90 points The Terroir Top 100 
“Based in Vittoria, in southeastern Sicily, the team at COS farms their vines under biodynamics. This frappato grows at 820 feet in sands derived from limestone and silica, layered over clay and tufa. The vineyard yields a vibrant, strawberry-scented wine with an undertone of fennel-like flavor. Go deeper and you’ll find something meaty and provocative, or just stay on the surface where the wine is fresh and lively.”

A Selection Other Sicilian Wines here now:

Feudo di Santa Tresa Frappato 2011 ($14.95) $11.90 special, 15 bottles available
Importer notes
: “Color: Vivid red color with gentle purple tones. Bouquet: Fresh with lots of red berries and delicate sweet spices. Flavor: Smooth, lively acidity, well balanced with a spicy, long-lasting after taste.”

Gulfi Nerobaronj 2008 ($49.95) $31.90 special, 3+ cases available
Wine Advocate 95 points
 “The highlight among these new releases is the 2008 Nerobaronj. An exotic melange of juicy dark cherries, freshly cut flowers, licorice and tobacco takes shape as this huge, racy wine shows off its irrepressible personality. The integrity of the fruit and the wine’s sheer balance are both marvelous to behold. Layers of fruit fill out the broad-shouldered finish beautifully. In 2008, the Nerobaronj is striking in every way. I loved it. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2023”

Occhipinti Il Frappato Sicilia 2011 ($39.95) $33.00 special, 3+ cases available
Wine Spectator 91 points
 “The juicy core of crushed black cherry, dark currant, spice and wild underbrush notes is supported by medium tannins and fresh acidity. Well-balanced and long. Drink now through 2016

Occhipinti Nero D’Avola Siccagno Sicilia 2010 ($39.95) $33.00 special, 18 bottles available
Wine Spectator 92 points
 “A dense, racy red, with bright acidity backing a savory mix of pine, hot stone, game and tobacco notes that lead to a buried core of crushed wild cherry and black currant fruit. Needs time in the cellar to fully integrate. Best from 2015 through 2019. 450 cases imported. ”

Occhipinti SP68 Rosso Sicilia 2012 ($27.95) $24.00 special, 3+ cases available
Wine Spectator 90 points
 “Light and elegant, with a pure, persistent mix of wild cherry and fresh crushed blackberry notes, backed by fresh acidity. The finish shows floral and mineral hints. Drink now through 2017. 1,550 cases imported.”

Passopisciaro Contrada Chiappemacine 2010 ($69.95) $59.00 special, 6 bottles available
Antonio Galloni 94 points
 “The 2010 Contrada Chiappemacine C reveals a more immediate expression of fruit. Dark red berries, tobacco and mint flesh out on the radiant mid-palate. This is still an energetic style because of the vintage, but the Chiappemacine C is a bit richer than some of the other 2010s as this site sits on the lower end of the slope. Like all the Passopisciaro reds in this vintage, the Chiappemacine C is impeccably refined and harmonious. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020”

Passopisciaro Guardiola Blanc 2011 ($39.95) $31.90 special, 4 bottles available
Wine Advocate 91 points
 “The 2011 Guardiola (Chardonnay) boasts impeccable richness and class in its juicy peaches, lemon, white flowers and spices. Insistent veins of minerality frame the long, finish. The 2011 is a gorgeous, totally pure expression of Chardonnay from the slopes of the Etna. I would not be surprised if the 2011 opens over the next 6-12 months, as it had just been bottled at the time of my tastings. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2016”

Terre Nere Etna Bianco Vigne Niche 2011 ($39.95) $33.00 special, 24 bottles available
Wine Advocate 93 points
 “The 2011 Etna Bianco opens with an extraordinary bouquet laced with the incense, smoke, gunflint, lime and crushed rocks. Taut and marvelously pure, the 2011 is endowed with superb energy throughout. Quite simply, the Bianco is one of the very finest Italian whites I have tasted in some time. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2017.”

Terre Nere Etna Rosso Calderara Sottana 2010 ($49.95) $34.50 special, 13 bottles available
Antonio Galloni 91 points
 “The 2010 Etna Rosso Calderara Sottana is a lovely introduction to the vintage at Terre Nere. Pine, menthol, red cherries and wild flowers all take shape in the glass. Firm tannins provide the backbone in this finely sculpted, chiseled Nerello Mascalese. Savory notes reappear to frame the bright, high-toned finish. If opened today, the 2010 will benefit from a few hours of air. Anticipated maturity: 2013-2020.”

Terre Nere Etna Rosso Fuedo Di Mezzo 2010 ($49.95) $35.70 special, 5 bottles available
Antonio Galloni 91+ points
 “The 2010 Etna Rosso Feudo di Mezzo Il Quadro delle Rose comes across as deep, powerful and earthy. This is a decidedly dark, brooding Nerello Mascalese. Firm, incisive tannins don’t seem to soften, even with considerable aeration. The 2010 is best left alone for another year or two, but it is hard to imagine it developing into a wine of true finesse. My impression is that the 2010 will always remain a bit of a brute. New leather, earthiness, tobacco, smoke and incense all add complexity on the mysterious, beguiling finish. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2025”

Terre Nere Prephylloxera Don Peppino 2010 ($89.95) $77.00 special, 20 bottles available
Antonio Galloni 94 points
 “The highlight in this range of 2010s is the Etna Rosso Prephylloxera La Vigna di Don Peppino, easily the most refined of these offerings from Terre Nere. A gorgeous, vibrant core of fruit caresses the palate in this expressive and totally delicious wine. The 2010 isn’t as big or rich as some previous versions, instead it is a wine that impresses for its considerable length and pure finesse on the palate. Tobacco and spice notes add complexity to the finish in a Nerello Mascalese that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Volnays of the Cote de Beaune. D’Angerville comes to mind. Anticipated maturity: 2015-2025.”