Sicily has been basking in the JR.com limelight in 2021, with no fewer than 10 (11, if you count this one) articles focusing on this remarkable island in the heart of the Mediterranean.
From €9.95, 269 Czech koruna, 12.49 Swiss francs, £10.99, HK$137, $17.99, 199.90 Norwegian kroner
From smoking volcano to contrada, wildly rugged terrain and the sweetest Pachino tomatoes, achingly blue sea and black soil, indigenous grape varieties and the Mafia, there is something enigmatic and dangerously irresistible about this Italian wine region that has been undergoing an incredible revival over the past two decades.
Last week Richard picked a rather special Sicilian sweetie and back in February of this year he chose a Cerasuolo di Vittoria for his wine of the week. I feel a bit guilty about the repetition, but I’ve picked another Cerasuolo di Vittoria. You might forgive me when I tell you that it's half the price of Richard's wine of the week. (It's the holiday period – your wallet needs the break.) This wine will get you through the sausage rolls, the 'we're getting pizzas because we're all too knackered to cook' and the turkey-leftover days.
Actually, a bit like Beaujolais Nouveau, this is the kind of wine that is like the kind of person that you just want in your life all the time: friendly, undemanding, honest, transparent, energetic, positive, fresh, kind, generous, connected. Whether it's ramping up to holidays with mountains of presents that require crimps and rapel rings to tackle, shopping lists that give grandma's scarf a run for its money, and menus that have your cooker trying to tear itself from its sockets in fright, or whether it's the depths of February and we're trying to remember what sunlight looked like, this little wine will bring refreshment and energy.
Brother and sister team Stefano and Marina Girelli are from Trentino in the north of Italy, but there was something about Sicily they couldn't resist, and so, in 2001, they bought the 50-ha (123-acre) Santa Tresa estate, which had existed since 1697. Unstoppably energetic (Girelli also founded The Wine People with Peter Kosten, and along with running TWP, he's added the Cortese estate to his vineyard holdings in Sicily), the Girellis converted the entire estate to organic production, upgraded the winery, adjusted the winemaking to minimal intervention and invested significant time, energy and capital into running the estate as a part of the natural local ecosystem, focusing on biodiversity and environmentally empathetic practices.
Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Girelli says, is one of the reasons they fell in love with this region. 'It's special', Girelli says of Sicily's only DOCG. Walter Speller agrees. In his in-depth article on Cerasuolo di Vittoria some years ago, he wrote, '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 ... 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.' On the basis of the admittedly small Cerasuolo di Vittoria (Zoom) tasting I did just over two weeks ago, I found the same. Each wine, although distinctively Cerasuolo di Vittoria, was made slightly differently and had its own distinct character, but more importantly, each wine was a lot more serious than you'd expect from a blend which is roughly 50% Frappato – a grape that most people perceive to be simple.
According to Girelli, the reason is that Frappato grown in Vittoria is different from Frappato grown anywhere else. The yields here are extremely low and the sandy soils seem to produce a Frappato that is extremely elegant. He also finds that Nero d'Avola from Vittoria is different – again, possibly due to the sandy soils. His belief is that Nero d'Avola here is more gentle, the tannins are softer, and it shows more floral aromas and more fruit.
The Santa Tresa CdV, the cheapest wine of the line-up, is a certified-organic blend of hand-picked 40% Frappato and 60% Nero d'Avola. 15% of the Nero d'Avola grapes are lightly dried on the vines (appassimento) which, says Girelli, adds complexity, richness and brings soft tannins. The Nero d'Avola is fermented in 30-hl used Slavonian barrels with 15 days of maceration and the Frappato is fermented in stainless steel at 18–20 °C (64–68 °F) and left on skins for 8–10 days. The blended wines go into 30- and 60-hl oak botti and 15% French oak barrels for about a year and then spend six months in bottle.
It's deliciously spicy on the nose and palate, packed with ginger, nutmeg, black pepper and bay leaf. And it's a riot of fruit on the palate: dried cherries, balsamic-drenched blueberries, wild strawberries. Rose petals layer over kalamata olive notes, black pepper over red-bush tea and thyme. The tannins are subtle, like a velvet sash. Scrumptiously fresh, and yet with incredible complexity, especially for a wine that sells for under £12. VGV, or perhaps even VVGV! My only objection was the very heavy bottle – 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) when full. Ouch.
The other thing, which has nothing to do with the wine in the bottle but in this case is to be appreciated, is the very beautiful, intricate and meaningful label. It represents the 3,000 years of Sicily's history, cultures (as ruling nations and inhabitants came and went) and layers richly coloured, detailed impressions of the traditional artworks of each period, one over the other in a textured suggestion of a spiral. It really does look, and feel, like a celebration of everything Sicilian.
We did some food pairing over the weekend with the Santa Tresa and the other wines from that tasting. First of all, it's worth noting that all the wines held up incredibly well in bottle after having been opened, lasting up to two weeks without losing any freshness. We tried the wines with a tomato-based fish stew (mussels, prawns, kingclip, smoked haddock, saffron, bay leaf, chilli and orange peel), with chargrilled tuna steak and spicy roasted cauliflower with tahini, and with confit pheasant (which, I might add, arrived on our doorstep still warm and in full plume – the kitchen was afloat with feathers on that Friday night…) and a radicchio-carrot-pistachio salad.
They all made superb partners with all three dishes, even though I'd thrown down the gauntlet of fish (with red wine), chilli, tomato sauce, curry, tahini, very gamey game (along with the rich fattiness of confit) and sweet+bitterness in the radicchio salad. Of all the wines, though, it was the Santa Tresa that came up trumps, besting all her more expensive compatriots at the table game.
The 2018 is imported into the UK by North South Wines and is available from Costco at £10.99, The Wine Society at £11.50, but also from Ocado, Vintage Roots, Cheers Wine Merchants, Rodney Fletcher Wines and Country Wine. It's available in the US (NY, NJ, CA), the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Italy, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Malta and Norway. I'm told that the 2019 will be released shortly. I see no reason why that won't be just as good.
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