An auspicious Sicilian red to welcome the Year of the Ox, which begins today.
From €15.50, $22.99, 590 Czech koruna, 24.90 Swiss francs, £22.95, CA$38.50, 3,550 Japanese yen, 299.90 Norwegian kroner, 239 Danish kroner, NZ$55, AU$52.99, HK$350, SG$70
In a tasting last month of Sicilian reds – including some big hitters from Cornelissen, Donnafugata and Tasca d'Almerita, among others – this was the wine was that stood out. Made by COS, it's a red blend of 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato that provides an ideal yin/yang balance of those varieties. It is Chinese New Year, after all.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria is the origin of this wine, a patch of land on the southern tip of Sicily. In 2010, Walter wrote an in-depth analysis of this appellation, then and now the only DOCG on the island (where the 'G' is supposed to guarantee an extra degree of quality above the standard of DOC).
At five years old, the current 2016 vintage is on supreme form. The Nero d'Avola component provides beautifully bitter black fruit offering the same appetising refreshment as a well-mixed Negroni, with an overall lightness of touch thanks to the frippery of Frappato, a variety akin to Gamay that gives the wine levity (see our guide to grape varieties), especially when served at lower-than-usual temperatures.
There is complexity that belies its relative youth too, with the kind of iron, earth and cedar aromas more readily associated with claret of distinguished age. I scored it 17 out of 20 and would recommend it purely on its own terms.
However, there is more.
For a start, I love the distinctive squat bottle, apparently based on a shape discovered by COS, an acronym of estate founders Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano, in a cellar dating back to the mid 19th century. The grapes have been organically grown since their first vintage, with elements of biodynamic practice, and fermentation is allowed to start by ambient yeast. COS make no overt claim to 'naturalness' but sulphite additions are kept to a minimum, and the wine seems to buzz with the vitality that is often associated with minimum-intervention winemaking.
Maturation takes place in large-format Slavonian oak, whose porosity helps to stabilise the wine as well as develop complexity. (Incidentally, COS is often associated with using clay amphorae, but these are used only for its Pithos range.)
Finally, it is an uncanny match with bak kwa, delicious slices of dried meat (usually pork) that is a traditionally auspicious snack at Chinese New Year, for which people queue for hours in Singapore and across Asia. It has a sweet and smoky flavour from a combination of honey and five-spice plus the ubiquitous soy and fish sauce that accompanies almost everything here.
Somehow, the bitter black fruit of the COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a perfect foil for these flavours, helped along by bright acidity that counters the sweetness of the marinade. It may not sound the most likely combination, but there's only one way to find out!
In the UK, it is sold by Exel Wines at £22.95, and is also widely available across Europe and the US. Finding bak kwa might not be quite so easy …