Wine notes

Friday 24 September 2010


Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily's first (and so far only) DOCG in a sea of vino da tavola and a handful of osbcure, but potentially very interesting DOCs, showed itself with an easy-going confidence during my trip to the island last month.

The DOCG is at the southern tip of the island around the town of Vittoria in the province of Ragusa. As is often the case with Italian wine regions, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is actually two regions. The first, generic one, is broadly the triangle between the towns of Vittoria, Caltagirone and Gela. Within this area lies Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico, the original heart of the region. Curiously, a snippet of Classico also lies as an island around the town of Santa Croce Camarina outsite the main Classico region.

The difference between the generic and the Classico areas, however, is not immediately apparent, and this is mirrored by the Cerasuolo di Vittoria production regulations. Except for a mandatory ageing of 18 months for the Classico compared with the nine months prescribed for the normal Cerasuolo, there is no distinction between the two in terms of yield limits or grape varieties. As so often, the enlargement in 1995 of the original Classico region, which received its DOC as early as 1976, was nothing more than a quirk of politics. The 1976 denomination made intelligent use of the region's typical red sandy soils with a limestone substrata as the main demarcation criterion. This has subsequently been watered down by the 1995 extension to encompass whole stretches of land on different soil types as well as the aforementioned DOCG island outside the Classico zone, where apparently there isn't any real viticultural activity worth mentioning anyway.

Although the province of Ragusa has not been immume to the charm (and the prospect of a good financial return) of international varieties, the region has always shown a healthy interest in its own local grape varieties, and with good reason. First in line is the red Nero d'Avola, originating from the town of Avola. It is also known as Calabrese, albeit without any credible link to Calabria in the far south of mainland Italy, where it is virtually unknown. Apparently, the name comes from the word Calavrisi, local dialect and heavily influenced by Greek, with cala meaning 'grape' and vrisi 'from Avola', the town 70 km from Vittoria on Sicily's southeast coast in the province of Siracusa. In actual fact the vines are much more densely planted around Noto and Pacchino, the latter considered a cru by insiders, but perhaps nowadays better known for its very tasty cherry tomatoes.

With 19,304 ha (47,701) Nero d'Avola has become Sicily's most planted variety, followed, surprisingly, by Syrah (5,357 ha, according to 2008 data from the Istituto Regionale della Vite e del Vino), with which it is regularly blended. Nero d'Avola's success is nevertheless not a recent phenomenon.

In the past, Nero d'Avola was almost exclusively produced as a blending wine to beef up the wines of Piemonte and Tuscany, and known in France as le vin médicine, apparently for exactly the same reason. Nero d'Avola has colour in abundance and only a very short maceration time of a couple of days is needed to obtain a very dark, almost black juice. In additiion to its richness in colour pigments, it is high in acidity and, combined with high sugar levels, gives full-bodied wines with freshness. It is a fairly early ripening variety too, and unsurprisingly lends itself easily as a blending partner, especially with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and, more and more, with Syrah. Nero d'Avola has gone from being a workhorse grape to everybody's darling and is now a 'recommended variety', which means it can be planted freely throughout the whole of Sicily. So far, only the Etna region has resisted its obvious charms.

Much less is known of Frappato, which must comprise at least 40% of the blend of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the balance being Nero d'Avola, and most producers stick exactly to that. It has hardly travelled anywhere outside of the boundaries of Ragusa since the first records of the grape in the 17th century, although apparently there is a connection with Tuscany's Sangiovese. Compared with Nero d'Avola's omnipresence in hectares, there is only a tiny amount of Frappato planted (846 ha at the latest count, 2008) , and although it plays such important role in the Cerasuolo blend, intriguingly, the majority (454 ha) is planted in the province of Trapani, the far west of Sicily.

Unlike Nero d'Avola, Frappato has little to add in terms of colour to the blending vat. It is mostly praised for its perfume, with cherry and strawberry often mentioned. Although it is often considered as lacking in structure, I found that varietal bottlings of Frappato showed high acidity, fine tannic structure, succulent bright red fruits and fine perfumed aromas on the finish. When asked, Giusto Occhipinti told me that Frappato is actually praised for its acidity, and according to him, the misconception that Frappato is low in acid comes from grapes grown on heavy soils, and in hotter macroclimates.

If I have one tiny criticism it is that perhaps Frappato hasn't got entirely the interest or complexity to fascinate for long beyond its freshness, but in the blend it delivers something that is far greater than the sum of the parts. It has been suggested that Frappato was mainly used to lighten and soften the Nero d'Avola wines, but samples tasted during my stay gave a different picture. While Nero d'Avola on its own can be very impressive, it can suffer from overzealous extraction and new oak. The wines can often be very rich, and in some cases somewhat plump, while I found Cerasuolo much more refreshing and often lighter in alcohol too. Frappato is taken very seriously on its home turf, and has its own DOC, Frappato di Vittoria. More significantly, the producers that I had a chance to visit produce a pure version of it, allegedly designed for the local market, but Frappato shows such an enormous compatibility with food, from vegetables to meat and even fish dishes, it may well be the sommelier's next secret weapon.

And it is Frappato that gives Cerasuolo its cherry colour (cerasuolo means 'cherry-like'), although according to Alessio Planeta from the eponymous Planeta estate, which has a recently moved in to the Cerasuolo DOCG, the name actually stems from the very short vatting times the wines were allowed in the past. According to him, before the outbreak of phylloxera, the whole region of Ragusa was a sea of vines, literally up to the ocean, to produce the kind of blending material demanded in the north. Apparently the volume of grapes was so large, that the wineries could produce enough wine only if the vinification was speeded up, hence a much shorter maceration time in the area around Vittoria, and therefore less deeply colouredl wines.

As Sicily has always been used predominantly to mass-produce bulk wines, it is perhaps not wholly suprising that the history of Cerasuolo di Vittoria, at least as a bottled wine, is as recent as 1933, the year it was introduced for the first time to the public at an exhibition in Siena, Tuscany. This doesn't imply that Sicily doesn't have a tradition of local wine styles, but that remarkably few ever reached the international market in bottled, unadulterated form, except for Marsala perhaps.
This explains the willingness of many Sicilan wine producers, eager to bottle their own produce, to cultivate the international varieties untainted by a bulk wine past, and able to attract the attention of an international market. However, contrary to popular belief, the island is certainly still firmly in indigenous hands. For example: total plantings of Chardonnay are just 4,960 ha (12,256 acres) compared with 38,070 ha (94,073 acres) of the Sicilian white Catarratto. Producers therefore have no choice but to blend the prized international grapes with indigenous ones if they want to reach a certain number of bottles. But on the back of this necessity, the indigenous grape varieties have become internationally recognised, and this has increased wine producers' confidence in grapes that can better express their origin.

Does Cerasuolo di Vittoria deserve its elevated status as DOCG? On the basis of the samples I tasted, there seems to be little doubt that the handful of producers I met are extremely serious. Interestingly, the region is characterised by a colourful bunch of producers ranging from conventional to left field in their viticulture and vinifciation, from stainless-steel fermentation vessels to ancient clay amphorae. Organic and biodynamic viticulture are on the rise and wholly unstoppable. Therefore one can find a whole range of styles, from bold, dark wines flirting with the international market to medum-bodied, pale, perfumed reds. Whereas the whole of Sicily has fallen under the Nero d'Avola spell, it seems that Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG has a uniqueness that can only add to the variety's distinct profile in the sea of new-wave red currently coming from the Island.

One of the undisputed leaders of the DOCG, they were the first to draw international attention to Cerasuolo di Vittoria, and all this by sheer coincidence, or rather a scherzo, a joke, according to Giusto Occhipinti. A trained architect, Occhipinti used to help his grandfather with the harvest of the grapes, inviting his friends. These friends eventually became the founding members of COS and their initials (Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, Pinuccia Strano) formed the acronym for their new estate. This was all triggered by one day of foot-treading grapes, but it proved infectious enough. Their first real vintage was 1980 and, after a couple of years juggling jobs and wine-making, they decided in 1983 to truly invest time as well as money in COS. They can now show more than 30 vintages of Cerasuolo di Vittoria.
Unhindered by formal training or preconceived ideas, their route pretty much followed what gave the best results in the vineyard, which very soon appeared to be to interfere as little as possible. This approach logically preceded a growing interest in organics, and biodynamics, which triggered a similar curiosity in the cellar.

At first COS aged its wines in barrique, and was not averse to international varieties either. However, 30 years down the line, the barriques have all but disappeared. Occhipinti explains that they became tired of endless, and, as he puts it, 'pointless' experimentations with assessing each vineyard and trying to understand the impact of oak and how to modify it: Allier or Tronçais? A different grain? Less toast? More toast? Larger percentage of second year oak? Third year oak? etc, etc. Their cooper would come up with endless advice, but in the end they gave up and now use only amphorae, and concrete fermentation vats which have been constructed 12 metres under the earth. With the barriques, stainless steel also went out of the door, as Giusto felt that steel didn't permit sufficiently gradual temperature control. Although the amphorae are without any temperature control, they do not want to rely entirely on ambient temperatures, hence the concrete vats have an ingenious system of water tubes running through the inside of the walls. This allows for very gentle temperature variation.

In addition to Cerasuolo, they produce a Frappato and a white, one entry level and one top wine, fermented on the skins for a seriously long five-week period. Come to think of it, the amphora reds also remain on the skins for literally months. When I visited the winery in early March, the 2009 vintage was still on the skins. According to Giusto, this allows them to work without any sulphur as the proteins in the skins absorb the oxygen and hence play the same role as sulphur would.

COS follows a strict biodynamic policy, and this is also where the amphorae come into play. According to Occhipinti, they try to do as little as possible to ensure their soils are healthy and alive. Only this, so Occhipinti believes, delivers healthy grapes and therefore fermentation is triggered by indigenous yeast. Barriques would only blur the terroir message, while stainless steel would render the wine industrial. The amphorae came in as a consequence of the biodynamic methods employed in their vineyards, because, like oak, they allow some transpiration, but without having an impact on taste and aroma. Occhipinti sees the non-interventionist method as COS's main tool to counteract a sea of similar-tasting wines which lack a sense of place and hence soul.

COS Frappato 2008 IGT Sicilia16.5 Drink 2010-11
Pale ruby, very light colour. Quite fresh and intense strawberry and strawberry preserve. Herbal. Quite enticing. High drinkability paired with freshness and zing. 12.5% (WS)
COS Frappato 2009 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2011-12 Cask sample. Pale, violet ruby. Young, very sweet nose, still somewhat unsettled, but very fragrant. The fruit on the palate is propelled by high acidity and grainy tannin. Will need another year in bottle to truly open up. (WS)

COS, Pithos 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16.5 Drink 2010-13
Fermented in amphorae, this shows an intense ruby. Complex and undeniably spicy, especially hints of nutmeg. Multilayered. The high acidity gives the red and dark fruit a crunchy quality. (WS)

COS 2007 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 17 Drink 2010-14
Medium concentrated ruby. Brooding and somewhat closed plum fruit nose. Compact palate with fne, powdery tannins. Delicious, lively acidity. Seems still quite young. 13% (WS)

COS, Nero di Lupo 2008 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-2014
Pale, Pinot Noir look-alike ruby. The nose pairs ripe strawberry fruit with plum and just a touch of dried fig and tamarind. Very gentle initial mouthfeel until acidity kicks in. Well balanced with chalky tannins, closes up on the finish. Very light alcohol level for its intensity. COS's Pinot Noir equivalent. 12.5% (WS)

Feudo di Santa Tresa is a joint venture between Massimo Maggio and Stefano Girelli of Casa Girelli from Trento, which in 2005 was acquired by La-Vis, the Trentino based co-op, which also owns Villa Cafaggio in Chanti Classico. The driving force behind the estate is doubtless Massimo Maggio, Sicilian by birth and the proud and somewhat curt custodian of the estate. The estate's history goes back to the 17th century, its main agricultural activity having been the production of oranges and olives. Although oranges are still cultivated here, many of the orange groves are now vineyards. The soils are a striking red sandy loam wich covers a layer of porous limestone, which has a very good water-retaining capacity. Nonetheless, the vineyards need additional irrigation, and an undeerground system has been installed to limit evaporation.

The estate has been lavishly endowed with investments and new plantings are very much the norm here. Although Nero d'Avola is the main protagonist, Cabernet Sauvignon is considered essential to create wines that appeal to an international market. Signor Maggio leaves no doubt about his unshakeable opinion that the Anglo-Saxon market demands deeply coloured, fruit-driven wines. It is something that Nero d'Avola can achieve on its own, but Frappato certainly not. Maggio laments that Frappato doesn't ripen evenly every year. They have tried to overcome this lack of colour by clonal selection, as well as by cold soaking the fruit before vinification and long maceration times. Still, the 100% Frappato is produced for the local market only.

Both Cerasuolo and the 100% Frappato play very much second fiddle to the international orchestra that makes the core of Santa Tresa's range. Maggio clearly doesn't believe that Anglo-Saxon taste might be shifting from deeply coloured and super-extracted wines with a recognisable dollop of Cabernet to a more refreshing, elegant style. This is perhaps a logical point of view for someone who has just invested in replanting vineyards that are just about to come of age. But it is not all brand new: a 1964 vineyard with Nero d'Avola was kept because it was not planted with one single clone, and hence is a source of different genotypes now used for their own clonal selection.

One doesn't get the impression that the eggs are laid in one basket only. During the visit it became clear that the estate is still trying to find its way, and expriments are part and parcel of the process to discover what may work best. Although 80% of the vineyards are planted with Nero d'Avola, there are apparently a further 60 experimental varieties and/or clones planted (Viognier being one of them), invariably on trellis systems. However, several older tendone vineyards have been 'tolerated' and not grubbed up. They were left intact to observe the growing behaviour of the vines versus modern trellis systems. And even Frappato is under close scrutinty, as their objective is to isolate a clone with deep colour as, according to Maggio, Frappato's tell-tale pale-coloured skin may well be the result of the poor clones planted in the 1960s and 1970s.

Feudo Santa Tresa Frappato 2008 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-11
6,000 bottles produced only for domestic market. I got the impression that the wine was only reluctantly shown. Medium concentrated crimson. Herbal, leafy blueberry and raspberry, cherry nose. Lively raspberry palate with just a touch of stalky tannin. Beaujolais style, but not without merit. 13% (WS)

Feudo Santa Tresa 2007 Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 16 Drink 2010-12
60% Nero d'Avola, 40% Frappato. Still very youthful, violet ruby. Youthful too its nose, only hinting at sweet, concentrated fruit with the leafy, blueberry notes from Frappato framed by the more plum-like Nero d'Avola with soft, stalky and pleasantly bitter tannin. Slightly disappointing medium length 13.5% (WS)

Feudo Santa Tresa, Nivuro 2007 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2012-15
70% Nero d'Avola, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. The estate's 'battle horse', according to Signor Maggio, for all the obvious reasons. Very dark, purplish crimson. Very international profile with bags of sweet, upfront fruit and loads of caramel and spice from the oak (60% new). Seductive, despite the drying oak tannins, but impressively long plummy, cassis finish. However, this wine could come from anywhere.13.5% (WS)

Feudo Santa Tresa, Avulis 2007 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-14
100% Nero d'Avola. Very dark ruby. Immediate, and upfront oak with lots of concentrated sweet fruit. Really impressive, but again lacks a sense of place, and hence the wine seems formulaic, rather than an expression of the region. Despite the thunderous new oak impact, the palate is much more elegant, but hindered by drying oak tannins. Signor Maggio remarks the wine was made to appeal to an Anglo-Saxon market - we have a lot to answer for. 13.5% (WS)

Refreshingly different is the Cantine Terre di Giurfo, at first sight an unassuming operation but turning out some pretty classy wines. It is run by the amiable Achille Alessi, with Giuseppe Romano as consultant oenologist at his side. Terre di Giurfo has been in the Alessi family for more than 100 years, but wines have been bottled only since 2002.

The estate's vineyards are remarkably high, some 550 m, with calcareous soils high in rock content, and which seems to translate into altogether fresher, more elegant wines. But at least as important seems to be Achille's philosophy of restraint. Terre di Giurfo has not been able to resist Syrah either, but in their defence it must be said that the Syrah is neither blended with any other grape, nor does it see any oak. The Syrah vineyard was planted about 10 years ago, and Achille prefers the stainless-steel-only approach, because he likes the fruit flavour and according to him it is easier to understand the grape without it being blurred by oak.

The cellar is an undramatic collection of stainless-steel tanks, and the way of working is without great secrets. Giuseppe Romano explains that using cultured yeast is part of their philosophy, and the result of experimentation. In his own words, he feels that he can much more carefully determine the outcome of the vinification, while working out what he thinks are the characteristics of each variety. His explanation may sound plausible, but hardly convincing for purists, who consider natural yeast part of terroir, and hence a wine's personality. The introduction of refrigeration technology instigated modern Sicilian wines, and using natural yeast only seems to be the next logical step. Nevertheless, all Terre di Giurfo wines have a certain elegance and are extremely drinkable.

Terre di Giurfo, Suliccenti Insolia 2009 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-12
Concentrated straw yellow. Quite pure white fruit and lemon skin. The palate is still somewhat unsettled, but the finish shows perfectly balancing acidity in Satsuma fruit. 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Belsito Frappato 2009 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-12
Medium deep violet ruy. Bright, red, uplifting red fruit with spicy notes that suggests oak ageing, but this wine only sees stainless steel. Succulent and lifted palate. You can even serve this chilled, the perfect summer red. 13% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Kudyah Nero d'Avola 2008 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-13
100% Nero d'Avola fermented and aged in stainless steel. Subdued and earthy, incredibly seductive pomegranate and blueberry jam and cherry. Perfumed and concentrated. Very long, aromatic finish underlined by soft, rustic tannins. 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Maskaria 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16.5 Drink 2010-13
Medium concentrated violet, but very light in colour. The nose itself is concentrated with plummy notes in sweet, crushed fruit and raspberry jam. It has me wondering for a minute if all this upfront red fruit scent come from the cultured yeasts. Lip-smacking acidity and great balance, but finish derails slightly due to earthy note. This wine is fermented in stainless steel only. 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Ronna Syrah 2007 iGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2011-15
Violet ruby, with depth. Wine opens slightly leathery, and quite Syrah-like. Layers of sweet cherry and strawberry. Well made, with pleasant stalky bitter note. Seems ageworthy too, but the Frappato and the Cerasuolo are much more intriguing wines than this 13.5% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Kuntari Nero d'Avola 2006 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2010-14
The wine was aged in second and third year barrique. Deep, dark, violet ruby, no sign of age at all. Upfront, full-throttle dark fruit and vanilla, which actually can't be that pronounced if old oak is used. International, almost generic palate. Has plenty of freshness, but tries to hard to appeal perhaps. Sound winemaking, though. 14% (WS)

Terre di Giurfo, Uniku Frappato Dolce 2009 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-14
An intriguing sweet wine (with residual sweetness of 100 g/l) from sun-dried Frappato. Interestingly, it displays Frappato's signature freshness despite the sweetness. Quite versatile and with dark and red fruit flavours. 12% (WS)

The Valle dell'Acate estate lies within the Classico demarcation on the slopes of the valley of the Dirillo river. Exceptionally, the soils here are almost blazing white and chock full of fossils. This particular soil type is called milaro, and consists of calcareous sandstone with patches of clay, which provides moisture to the vines throughout the growing cycle. Perhaps unsurprisingly, part of the estate's vineyards has been planted with the apparently ubiquitous Chardonnay, but the results are impressive.

Gaetana Jacono, representing the sixth generation of a family whose vinous activities started at the beginning of the 19th century, had a little surprise for us: before pouring her Cerasuolo wine, she served us a flight of Bidis, the Chardonnay-Insolia (sic) blend, going back to 1997. These wines, even the ones that seem to have passed their peak, have something unique. And although Inzolia in my opinion is seldom interesting enough as a varietal wine, in this case the partnership adds something that makes the sum more than the total of the parts.
Since 1997 Gaetana has undertaken a range of experiments, trying to figure out what percentage of new oak to use, with a tendency to employ less and less each subsequent year. She seems very interested in Bidis, but is highly critical in its evaluation. She is also the one that blatantly states that the current revolution in Sicilian wine started with the introduction of refrigeration technology.

The blend is almost always 60% Chardonnay, 40% Inzolia. The varieties are fermented separately in stainless steel, while the Chardonnay undergoes malolactic fermentation in oak barrel and malo is suppressed for the Inzolia. The Bidis vineyard was planted in 1989 at fairly high density of 5,000 vines per ha. The first vintage was 1994.

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 1997 IGT Sicilia 15 Drink up
Apparently 1997 was the 'vintage of the century' in this part of Sicily. Golden honey colour with amber tinge. Breadcrumbs, hint of tinned sardines, caramel and caramelised nuts. First signs of oxidation. Mature, mushroom like notes initially with honeyed, nutty tones. Sprightly acidity has kept the wine alive, with some creaminess on the finish. 13% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2002 IGT Sicilia 16 Drink 2010-2012?
Sunflower yellow. Fresher, altogether more complex than the 1997 with first notes of pâtisserie, custard and hazelnuts. Honeyed too. Viscous and concentrated, with very good balance. Good length and very enjoyable, still. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2003 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-2013
Very deep, golden yellow. Exotic spice and walnut with hints of quince jelly, candied pineapple and oatmeal. Almost sweet, nutty, honeyed palate spreading out into apricot flavours on the finish. Acidity structures and melts in the finish. Very long, soft almond pudding with lemon rind. Cleary, but not obtrusively oaked. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2004 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2010-2013
Deep, brilliant yellow. Subdued and minerally with the noticeable impact of oak. Hazelnuts. Creamy fruit palate with candied white fruit and honeycomb. Attractive bitter liquorice finish. Very long, almost rich. 14% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Bidis 2005 IGT Sicilia 17 Drink 2010-2015
Deep, honey-like yellow. Exotic fruit cocktail, but not overtly sweet. With aeration notes of grapefruit and only a touch of saffron. Very fine, nervy acidity. Viscous palate with delicious phenolic bite. Sweet oak and lemon tart notes on the finish without becoming pastiche-like. Only ever so slightly alcoholic. Could still open up further. 14% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate Frappato 2008 Vittoria 16 Drink 2010-2012
Frappato is fermented at a low 18C as it is not considered a red wine here. Molto delicato is how the estate's oenologist Francesco Ferreri describes the grape as, due to few polyphenols in its skin, it has a tendency to oxidise quickly.
Very pale ruby (as if to prove their point about considering Frappato more a white than a red wine), with first signs of age. Soft, peppery strawberry nose, followed by sweet, soft fruit with just enough acidity to keep the balance. Could very well benefit from chilling. Very good length. 13% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate 2007 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16.5 Drink 2010-2013
Medium concentrated, youthful crimson. It is clearly the Nero d'Avola that delivers the pigments here. Intoxicating nose of dark fruit and cinnamon bark, white pepper. Rich, concentrated, ending on an attractive bitter note contrasting the fruit sweetness. Very good length. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Il Moro Nero d'Avola 2007 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2010-2014
Deep ruby. A single-minded and highly individual wine, with leafy, spicy dark fruit. Wonderful richness with appealing acidity, and bitter note. Good length. 13.5% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Rusciano 2006 IGT Sicilia 15 Drink 2010-2013?
Syrah 85%, Nero d'Avola 15%. After fermentation in stainless steel the wine is kept a further 18 months after bottling before release.
Quite genuine Syrah nose with hints of leather and olive tartare. A slight stewed fruit nose too. Sweet, almost monolithic. Quite bitter finish. 14% (WS)

Valle dell'Acate, Tanè 2004 IGT Sicilia 16.5 Drink 2012-2016
Nero d'Avola 70%, with 30% Syrah harvested overripe.
Very deep, almost brilliant ruby. Opulent, port-like big nose, with layers of spice. Baroque palate but balanced and carries its alcohol effortlessly. Valle dell'Acate's answer to Amarone. 15% (WS)

The last station on the Cerasuolo discovery tour is Planeta, the collectors of Sicilian terroirs. In addition to their base in Menfi, which is dedicated to international varieties, the Planeta family now has five estates scattered throughout Sicily, totalling roughly 400 ha (988 acres) in every important region, from Cerasuolo di Vittoria to Etna and Noto, where they revived the rare Moscato di Noto Passito. They are about to add another pearl to their string by reviving the ancient but more or less extinct Mamertino DOC. According to historical sources, Mamertino was the flagship wine of Sicily during the Roman period, but the DOC now exists only on paper, according to Alessio Planeta. The first results of the project, which is overseen by Professor Attilio Scienza, are expected in 2015, with the main protagonist being Nerello Nocera.

The Planeta family has come quite a long way since 1985 when they built the Menfi estate, turning out high-quality single-varietal Chardonnnay and Merlot wines, which took the world by storm and put Sicily on the international map. But even then the family was experimenting with blending the international suspects with indigenous Sicilian varieties.

Planeta's Cerasuolo di Vittoria outpost is situated near the town of Dorilli on the coast. The vineyards are planted on the typical red sandy Vittoria soils over tufa, which functions as a moisture retainer. One of the difficulties they faced when planting the vineyards was the limited availability of plant material, and hence the need to set up their own propagation and clonal selection programme.

The cellar, which was constructed in the 19th century, is yet another witness to the region's prosperous past which lasted until the arrival of phylloxera and the decline of the bulk-wine market. The Planeta family has lovingly restored the buildings, and replanted the vineyards with Nero d'Avola and Frappato only. The cellar's main fermentation vessels are concrete vats dating from the last century but Alessio is concerned that they may be tool old and hence the wines are made in stainless steel only. Alessio believes that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is all about perfume and the use of oak would only cloud this aspect. Tellingly, he suggests the wine is served in Burgundy glasses.

Planeta 2008 Cerasuolo di Vittoria 16 Drink 2010-2013
The only wine so far produced is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, while they wait for the vineyards to mature before producing a Classico version. Alessio Planeta sees Classico as a Riserva category, and expects a deeper-coloured wine from mature vines.
Medium deep ruby. The nose is marked by strawberry and pomegranate (Alessio mentions that the wine's aroma often reminds him of a Quality Street sweet, but it is not a flavour I seem to find in the wine), followed by an upfront fruit palate and soft, rustic tannins. Popular and appealing with class. 13% (WS)