Sicilia IGT Carolina Marengo Feudi del Pisciotto 2007

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Sicilia IGT Carolina Marengo Feudi del Pisciotto 2007

Sicilia IGT Carolina Marengo Feudi del Pisciotto 2007

Everytime I go back to the post on the Sicily tasting I find I’ve spelled a name incorrectly.  Today, it was Sicilia IGT Carolina Marengo Feudi del Pisciotto 2007.  I’ll take a closer look at the wine itself, as well as the grape Grillo and the producer Feudi del Pisciotto.  I’ve already written a few times about Sicily in general, so I won’t belabour the region.

Just to recap, I attended a wonderful tasting a couple of weeks ago and posted the general notes and a gallery of bottle shots.  However, I took my time with notes such that I am going back about once a week and writing in particular about some of the varietal wines that were interesting and which I don’t often find available.

So today’s wine is a varietal Grillo, one of the lesser well known white grapes of Sicily.  How lesser known?  I can’t find any reference to it being grown anywhere else in Italy, much less the rest of the world.  In fact, looking around there’s precious little information available about the grape.

It’s a white grape, best known as a high quality component of Marsala.  It does well in the warm climate of Sicily and is typically grown on bush vines.  The wine it produces can be moderately acidic, full bodied, and aromatic, with notes of jasmine, pear, quince, lemon, cashews, and sometimes and overriding smokiness.  Relative to the other grapes that go into Marsala, it is less aromatic than Inzolia and has lower yields than Catarratto which has replaced it in a number of vineyards.

The producer, Feudi del Pisciotto, is based in Sicily and is part of the Domini Castellare di Castellina empire which has several other brands within Italy, as well as a Champagne label.  Fuedi del Pisciotto is an very old winery, recently reincarnated.  The original Fuedo, or feudal manor house, was used in the production of wine as far back as the 18th century, and features a gravity fed pressing area with vats underneath.  Fast forward to the 21st century, and a modern winery now sits within the centuries old structure, and a series of new plantings surround it.  Their holdings are split between two vineyard areas, with the newer (about 10 years old) vines are a mix of primarily Nero d’Avola and other Sicilian natives, along with some popular international varieties, and the older vines being Nero d’Avola, Inzolia and Catarratto though they are scheduled to be replanted.

One thing notable about this winery is their line of wines with labels created by prominent Italian fashion designers.  I admit that I was not familiar with the designer of this label, but she is Carolina Marengo, the Italian designer behind the Kisa, an eastern European backed clothing fashion house known for its high end cocktail dresses.  Names more familiar to me at least in the line include Versace, Valentino, and Missoni.  (Alas, the designers at Prada have been too busy designing shoes for my wife to dabble in wine labels.)  The idea of having prominent artists or designers gracing a wine label is not new, with Château Mouton Rothschild being the most obvious example.

Details on this wine are a bit thin on the ground, but I can tell you it was fermented in steel under controlled temperatures and saw no oak before bottling.

In the glass, this wine was a medium minus gold colour with slow legs, and generally looked very developed.  On the nose it was clean with a developing character, smelling younger than it looked, with a medium plus intensity.  It smelled of a slightly cheesiness, along with some white chocolate, lemon rind, mushrooms and some flor/lees character.  The palate was dry, with medium plus body and acidity, but medium intensity and alcohol. The flavours were of lemon, bell pepper, white pepper and spices.

This was a good wine, but I didn’t much know what to make of it.  I liked it, but part of that was knowing that it was something new.  There certainly was plenty of complexity, with my nose and palate being all over the place.  The body and acidity were good, and it was holding together well for a white with a few years on it.  I look forward to having it again sometime.

Etna DOC Pietramarina Bianco Superiore Benanti 2007

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Etna DOC Pietramarina Bianco Superiore Benanti 2007

Etna DOC Pietramarina Bianco Superiore Benanti 2007

Today I’m writing up notes for a wine I tasted a week and a half ago at the Sicilian Tasting.  Every time I look back at the original notes from the day, I find something I’ve managed to misspell, and this time it was the name of today’s producer.  So there is value in going back again and again, even if it makes me feel like more and more of an idiot each time I do so.  A thorough idiot though, I’m hoping.

This is a good day in terms of being both timely/topical, and productive in my quest for a century of varietal wines.  This is topical because of Eric Asimov’s New York Time article this week on the wines of Etna (even if he’s talking about reds and this is a white wine).  And after yesterday’s excellent wine that disappointed only because it turned out to be a blend, thus not incrementing my count, I can certainly use this wine to make up for it.

Today we have the Etna DOC Pietramarina Bianco Superiore Benanti 2007.  As I mentioned, this is from Italy, in particular Sicily, and specifically Etna, the region in the vicinity of the volcano that towers over the east of the island.  Also, this is a varietal wine of the white grape Carricante, which is where I’ll start.

Carricante is a new grape to me, but it’s been cultivated in Sicily for over 1,000 years.  It’s apparently grown nowhere else, but given the number of interesting Italian grape varieties that have been turning up even in South Australia, I can’t imagine that will be the case forever.  The berries are a greenish yellow in relatively loose bunches, it matures late, and the vines themselves are typically pruned into what’s called arberello.  Meaning little tree, these are a southern Italian take on bush vines, densely planted, low to the ground and severely pruned.  It’s grown in Etna at high altitude, on the order of 1,000 metres, and is noted for high levels of acidity, both in terms of pH and malic acid.

As I mentioned, Mount Etna is a huge volcano in the east of Sicily that geographically dominates the whole island, and geologically defines the Etna DOC as a crescent going clockwise from the north of the peak around to the southwest .  The soils are, wait for it, volcanic.  As far as the cultivation of wine grapes, they’re well suited, being rocky, readily draining, and poor in nutrients.

I haven’t written much generally about soils and vines, but there is a sadistic notion that the more a vine has to struggle, the higher quality the grapes are.  Likewise with yields – lower yields typically mean greater concentration, and therefore better wines.  So if you were growing anything else, you might want rich, fertile soil and high yields, but it’s just the opposite for wine grapes.  As to drainage, soils that don’t drain well can be damp, which means roots don’t have to struggle to find water, and also there’s higher disease pressure.  So good drainage is something that’s possibly counter-intuitive as being something that’s desirable, but it is.

But back to Etna.  Like the rest of Sicily, it defines what it is to have a Mediterranean climate.  Etna DOC itself is a series of microclimates, depending on where the area is with regard to the peak, and aspects vary widely.  The volcano is what sets the DOC apart from the rest of Sicily, not just in soil type, but also in altitude.  Vines are cultivated from 450m to 1100m, which contributes to great diurnal temperature variation.

Within the rules of the DOC, a relatively small number of grapes make up the bulk of wines, with Carricante, Catarratto and Minnella though other non-aromatic grapes may contribute as well in small quantities.  Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are the red grapes of the region, with the former making up the bulk of DOC wines, and other varieties being permitted in very small amounts.  That said, as I mentioned in another article, most wine produced within Sicily is not DOC, and so the requirements for IGT wines are less stringent.

Vinicola Benanti is one of Sicily’s premier producers, having been established toward the end of the 19th century by Giuseppe Benanti, and now under the leadership of his grandson, Dr. Giuseppe Benanti.  They produce eleven wines in the Etna area, as well as one from the island of Pantelleria and three in Pachino in the area near Syracuse.  They range from classic DOC reds and whites of Etna to varietal IGT wines as well as a Spumante from 100% Carricante.

This wine is off an 80 year old vineyard situated at 950m, and is 100% Carricante.  It’s fermented in stainless steel and doesn’t have any oak influence.  There’s no mention of malolactic fermentation in the winery notes, and I didn’t detect any sign of it.

[Update - I had a tweet from Benanti letting me know that this wine does in fact undergo malolactic fermentation, which is the conversion of malic acid which can be very harsh to lactic acid which is a bit gentler.  The reason I mentioned it at all is that Carricante is known for high malic acid, which makes it a good candidate for malolactic fermentation, and so I was on the lookout for it.  The fact that I wasn't able to detect it is a clear sign that my tasting skills need more practice.]

In the glass it’s pale lemon green, with slow legs.  Clean on the nose, it’s developing, with medium plus intensity of honey and patisserie.  On the palate it’s dry, with high acidity and a medium minus body.  I tasted lemon, honeycomb, white flower and sweet spices, as well as good minerality.  Good complexity and concentration, and an elegant finish.

This is a very good wine.  It was very refreshing when we tasted it, but showed signs of being able to take a few more years in bottle, a quality I don’t normally associate with Italian whites.

Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996

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Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996

Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996

Today is the first of a more complete posting about one of the wines from the recent Sicilian tasting, Sicilia IGT Duca Enrico Duca di Salaparuta 1996.  I looked through the twelve wines we tasted, and have decided I’m going to examine four of them, and for very selfish reasons.  First, I discounted the sweet wines because I’m just not that interested.  They were very good, but I took my exam in fortified wine a year and a half ago (and passed) so it’s water under the bridge until Marsala is suddenly trendy (again?). Of the eight remaining, I decided that four Sicilian wines would really be enough, given there are so many other regions/countries I haven’t touched (Germany springs to mind), and the selfish bit comes into it in the form of deciding which four.  I went with the four straight varietals, first because I’m interested in hitting a century as far as varietal wines, and also because I find it easier to identify varietally typical characters in varietal wines than in blends, especially when they are grapes with which I’m not particularly familiar.  And with that, we have this wine with is a Nero d’Avola.  First though, the region.

This wine is labelled Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) Sicilia which doesn’t tell us a whole lot.  It does tell us the grapes are from Sicily, and in terms of quality it is a step up from Vino da Tavola (VDT) or table wine, but it doesn’t telll us much more than that.  However, knowing that it’s Nero d’Avola and having a look at the fact sheet for the wine gives us a bit more detail.  On Sicily, the city/commune of Avola is in the southeastern tip of the island and plantings were initially concentrated in that region.  However, Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely planted red grape, and plantings have extended out to other parts of the island.  The fact sheet puts the origin of the grapes for this wine in the hinterlands of the Gulf of Gela if Google Translate is to be believed, which is in the vicinity of the Cerasuolo DOC and DOCG regions, as well as the Riesi DOCs, all of which are known for Nero d’Avola production.  The climate in that part of Sicily is not unlike the island as a whole, with mild winters and a dry growing season.  If ever there was a place that could be described as having a Mediterranean climate, it’s Sicily.  The soils on which these grapes were  grown is described as clay and limestone at an altitude of 100-200 metres, far from the volcanic heights of some other Sicilian vineyards, particularly in the east around Mount Etna.

There could be several reasons why this is an IGT and not a DOC or DOCG wine.  First, it could be that the grapes were sourced from multiple regions, though that would not disqualify it from DOC Sicilia.  Second, and more likely is that the method of production is not in line with all the DOC requirements, possibly to do with cropping levels.  Third, the producer might not have considered it worth the bother of jumping through all the DOC/DOCG hoops, as very little Sicilian dry wine is DOC or DOCG.

Nero d’Avola, in addition to being the most widely planted red grape on the island, is also the most famous.  Locally it is often called Calabrese, hinting at a connection with Calabria in the toe that is Italy’s boot.  At the moment there are a number of Nero d’Avola clones in use in Sicily, and so it’s difficult to make broad statements that apply to all of them.    Generally though it’s a thick-skinned grape, and requires a fair amount of warmth and sun in order to ripen.  The two main issues for producers are yields, which can be too high if left unchecked leading to a lack of concentration, and acidity which can be too low if grapes get too much sun and ripen too quickly.  The flavour profile is of cherries, berries and plums, each of which can be red or black depending on the clone and vineyard conditions.  It can be made in a fruity, drink-now style, or with more structure and acidity to have long ageing potential, and with or without oak maturation.

Duca di Salaparuta is one of three wine producers owned by a large holding group, along with Corvo and Florio.  It has existed as a wine brand for 180 years, dating back to Guiseppe Alliata, who was in fact Duke of Salaparuta and was run by a member of his family as recently as 1959.  It is both the largest and most famous Sicilian winery, having produced the first fine wine of Sicily.  They produce a wide range of wines across the island, with red, white, sparkling and sweet wines as well as grappa, with this Duca Enrico being the top of their range.

This wine certainly showed it age in the glass, with a medium minus garnet shade and very slow legs when the glass was swirled.  On the nose it was clean and fully developed, with medium intensity oak, chocolate and coffee coming though – a bit musty.  On the palate it was dry with medium intensity of dried cherries, liquorice, coffee grinds, tobacco and a hint of dirt.  The tannins were velvety but of medium plus intensity, and medium minus alcohol and medium body.  This was a very good wine, though it may have been slightly too long in the cellar.  The developed flavours were potent, but the taste of dried cherries reminded me that there might have been a point where the fruit wasn’t completely overshadowed.  That said, I certainly enjoyed tasting it and would absolutely pick up a bottle of a slightly younger vintage.

The pin in the map is the location of the company headquarters – this wine is from the region of the Gulf of Gela to the south/southeast along the southern coast.  At least it’s on the right island.