Archives for October, 2011

New Sicily: Etna in ancient diversity

Touring Sicily on wine and food exploration turned into an adventure – as I expected.

There were grapes to discover. They were relatively new to an enduring Aussie palate but oh so ancient to the Sicilians in the know.

And the number of vineyard investments, many non-Sicilian, are growing steadily as time passes is a sign of more prosperity to come.

A quick look at the vineyard landscape would not suggest an inviting environment for cultivating its natural red inhabitants, mainly nerello mascalese and its lesser cousin nerello capuccio.

Over eons the volcano Etna above has showered the countryside with both eruptive lava, and sometimes daily doses of ash powder.

The vine environment looks more lunar than viticultural – uninviting, cactus-strewn, rugged, craggy laval monuments sited between, amongst and encircling some vineyard sites. Lava rock is the fence of choice.

This has not denied Etnan development in the least; the lava weathers well, the soils are limiting but presumably sufficiently fertile. The local water is certainly mineralised!

Viticulture is not new here, but is undergoing rejuvenation of the same varieties which have existed for over a century, or more, and probably since antiquity, given the past Roman and Greek influences.

The best influence is the modern thinking: forget the crazy DOC/DOCG system founded by traditionalists and therefore held to be inflexible, and labelling as IGT (Sicilia IGT) indicates contemporary, real-world Sicilian wine (the variety is revealed).

So the process of recognising “crus” or the Sicilian equivalent as “contrade” around the Etna DOC is accelerating nicely, with a greater recognition also according to elevation, starting at 600 m, extending to 1000 m.

Obviously there is greater viticultural risk ripening nerellos at 1000 m, protracted harvest dates, slow times to physiological ripeness, while the few examples I tasted demonstrate greater aromatic character than their equivalents grown at lower heights.

Contrade (crus) of Castiglione di Sicilia

Passopisciaro’s tasting host Letizia Patane presented three 2010 nerello mascalese from differing contrade (there are four):

Rampante of 2 ha (1000 m), Sciaranouva, meaning new lava flow site, these vines are 50 years going older, (800 m) and Porcaria, meaning ugly thing.

To find Passopisciaro-go up the hill!

These wines are sold as single vineyard contrade.

Ramparte showed a lot of flowers, roses, small floral notes, attractive cool-grown influence, sweet in the mouth (the only one to do so), long in fruitiness, distinctive acid and tannin-acid balance; Sciaranouva showed funk (natural yeast effect), some oak aromas, volumes of nose, then black fruits palate, fine and long; Porcaria showed red fruits on nose, black fruits on palate, warming alcohol, yet retains its elegance.

Ramparte contrade-single vineyard nerello

What is the taste anatomy of nerello mascalese. Not a heavily coloured varietal wine, in sync with pinot nero or nebbiolo there. The nose aromatics range from red cherry, black cherry, wild yeast effects, tobacco, earth, spearmint and a range of herbal nuances.

Palate: never full bodied, closer to light-bodied, more textured with a length of flavour which needs to be supported by drying tannin and rising acidity (nebbiolo similarities), oak is subliminal and hardly detectable; minerality on finish is a given. Savouriness.

Sensations in this varietal rise when tasted while eating; in drinking solo the flavours are present but the tannins will often appear unbalanced.

So here is a process for enjoying Etna IGT varietals.

Peter Scudamore-Smith is a Brisbane-based Master of Wine, winemaker and educator

Top Tuscan IGT: Where in 2011?

Top Italian reds: are the Tuscans prevailing or is the pre-eminence of Piedmontese nebbiolo be set to prevail?

The Gambero Rosso may have its ideas with three glasses and the like, anointing wines from many regions.

Italian standards continue to rise and much of it is better winemaking. Hopefully there is more attention towards eliminating brett.

In one Florentine wine bar I had to leave wine; after ordering three glasses, older Chianti (1998), current vintage (2009) and an expensive (8 euros glass) pinot nero, I just gave up. Too bretty to drink and no varietal flavour left to enjoy.

At the top end of Tuscany there is a big challenge between IGT and traditional DOCG (Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino).

Tradition has producers strapped in as top sangiovese wines ought to stay as just that. Not a bad outcome really.

It was simply stupidity that the Montalcino producers chose to covet the idea that dilution of Rosso di Montalcino with international varieties become a right. Their vote last month failed thankfully and does not need revisitation.

Just because Chianti Classico contains some.

It would be better if this were revoked and all Chianti styles revert to being 100% sangiovese or native red varieties (colorino and canaiolo nero) to strip out the influence of international varieties. Those extra wines can carry the IGT status with impunity.

Many IGT reds impressed, and here is a revisit this month during my Italy Wine & Food Tour of some leading styles – in order of preference.

Ornellaia 2008; 14.5% (USD 250-trattoria price-Rignana); ++++1/2; deep colour, impressive, cedar, leaf, ripe, spicy fruit, a total nose package, palate layered with oak and fruit, the backbone is cabernet, the subtleties rise up as it evolves, many flavours though few protrude and the finish closes off with authority.

Ornellaia 2007; 14.5% (USD 250-trattoria price-Rignana); ++++1/2; deep colour though losing its purples, cedar box oak gives nose sweetness; cabernet expressed as mint/catmint, lots of drying cabernet tannin, juicy drinks, very homogeneous and full-bodied, a powerful drink to enjoy. Memorable.

Solaia 2006; 13.5% (USD 280-Florentine restaurant price); ++++1/2; good deep colour though losing its purples, nose heavily aromatic from very sexy oak use, on the top of that is spicy-ripe cabernet fruit, ethereal and heavenly aromas showing an enjoyable vintage and barrel age residence time, youthful on the palate, powdery, drying tannin, palate still tight, acidity still stoic, long aging wine yet to soften.

Mormento 2008; 14.% (USD); ++++; great colour, what an emphatic wine, lot of oak aging character for 14 months, nose power, spiciness of correct ripeness, fruit has aromatics too, enticing, palate very powerful, nice dryness  yet heaps of tannin for longer aging, yet to be complex but not a consideration for this fresh long liver. Bravo.

Sassacaia 2004; 14% (USD 345-Florentine restaurant price); +++1/2; aged colour, some browns, nose mature, earthy, spearmint, leafy, bonox, palate lifts, complexity, body and prune flavour of mature grapes is very emphatic, earthy aged tones, soft all round with oak recessive, no signs of drying out but mature.

Guado al Tasso 2001; 13.5% (USD); +++1/2; aged colour, browns, some russet shows mature colour, could be brighter, nose earthy, damp soil, fungal, mature leafy fruit has gone into its bottle-complex phase, palate similarly mature, tertiary prune and bonox flavours, drying but not dried out.

Peter Scudamore-Smith is a Brisbane-based Master of Wine, winemaker and educator

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