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Delhi Wine Club

Posted: Thursday, 25 March 2010 13:25

Sicilian Jewels: Golden Gulfi- Princely Principi

When results for the best red wine category were announced at the India Wine Challenge in January, it was a surprise to see a golden Nero d’Avola from an obscure Sicilian winery bag the coveted prize. But a recent trip to their vineyards by Subhash Arora explained how Gulfi makes excellent wines as also another premier winery, Principi di Butera he visited en-route. 

View of some of Gulfi's Vineyards from the winery

If Gulfi had an importer in India, he would have been bragging to the potential buyers about the 90+ points awarded by Robert Parker to all four of their Cru wines made from Nero d’Avola- Neromaccarj, Nerosanloré, Nerobaronj and Nerobufaleffj the last of which also managed a medal at the Challenge, albeit a Bronze. To those familiar with the Italian Gambero Rosso, the importer would also boast about the coveted tre bichhieri for the Nerobufaleffj and also chip in for San Lorenzo Cru 2006 (Nerosanloré) had won ‘five bottles’ (highest rating) by L’espresso, another creditable wine guide.

Of course, the more modestly priced and affordable Nero d’Avola, Il Nerojbleo, the Best Red Wine of the Challenge would have been the first to be on the list of the discerning restaurants specializing in Italian cuisine and fine wines. 

I had been also fascinated that Le Guide de L’espresso in its ‘I Vini d’Italia’ 2010 edition had given 2-star rating (No Sicilian winery managed the highest 3-stars)  to only five wineries. Gulfi was one of them-the other being Benanti, Florio, Planeta and Tasca d’Almerita.

Therefore, I decided to visit this winery even though it would mean an extra day or two and over 500 kms of detour after the end of the Sicilian Ante Prima Tastings this month. The choice made, it wasn’t difficult for Franco Zuffellato, the Director Communications for International Business for Veneto- based Zonin, who had especially come for the Tasting from the Zonin headquarters in Gambellara, to convince me to visit their premier Sicilian winery – Feudo Principi di Butera on the way to Gulfi as it was midway, generally in their direction.

1.  Feudo Principi di Butera
Contrada Deliella, Butera, Agrigento
+39 0934347726

Vineyards and Winery of Principi di Butera

If the €100 million Zonin wine empire was earlier known for high volume, industrial wines in the seventies and eighties, Gianni Zonin, the enologist patriarch is also acknowledged as having moved towards quality wines by buying new premium wineries which he has been setting up during the last three decades.

Principi di Butera estate was bought in 1997 and completely replanted; grain was the basic crop at the time of purchase. ‘We were looking for the best possible land for Nero d’Avola in Sicily and Franco Giacosa, our technical director and right hand man of Gianni  Zonin selected this spot after 15 years of research,’ explained Zuffellato, adding, ‘we were the first ones to grow vines in this area.’

Sleeping in the comfortable, quiet guest house that night, my thoughts turned to the remote possibility of my retiring some day, taking sanyas (renouncing worldly possessions and turning spiritual) and going to the Himalayas. Principi di Butera estate might be a better, nicer, quieter and a vinuous location with a wide expanse of vines. My most immediate thoughts were however, focused on the remote possibility of a heart attack, in which case I’d hope the good Lord and a couple of glasses of red wine might be my saviour.

Tasting the princely wines of Principi with Irene Milazzo

The 300 hA estate is well located, away from civilization in the countryside with rolling hills around 3-400 meters high. Seemingly located well in the interiors, about 40 minutes drive from Caltanissetta; the vineyards are barely 8 crow-kms away from the Mediterranean and have a maritime climate with hot mornings, windy afternoons and cool nights. The 180 hA planted vines give about 900,000 bottles a year although the stainless steel tank capacity is 25 million liters, keeping in view the future expansion, explains the winemaker and Direttore Antonio Cufari, . The winery is very modern- from the crushing equipment to the tanks, the cellar and the automatic bottling plant.

First thing that struck me while tasting wines after an extensive visit to the vineyards and the winery was the presence of two labels of Surya (which means Sun in Hindi). Surya IGT Insolia- Chardonnay blend and the Nero d’Avola -Merlot red, both label names were borrowed from India where the Zonin wines have been exported for several years, first through Brindco and now through Aspri Spirits. Both make excellent value for money options. All four varietals were also part of the portfolio I tasted.

But the star performer of the winery is – yes, the signature red grape of Sicily, Nero d’Avola. Riesi is a DOC wine with 90% Nero d’Avola. Deliella 2006 is a 100% single vineyard wine from vineyards of the same name, which despite the expensive price tag, is a delicious, concentrated wine with the Mediterranean touch. Plump and juicy wine, it had a great mouthfeel and a persistent after taste. One can drink it now with food although it will age and get better during the next 4-5 years.

2.  Gulfi
Chiaramonte Gulfi (Ragusa)
+39 0932921654
Contact: Matteo Catania

A View of Chiaramonte Gulfi from the winery

Approaching the city of Chiaramonte Gulfi from Catania or Gela/ Ragusa, one is reminded of the beautiful city of Orvieto in Umbria- perched on top of a mountain top. The Gulfi winery is about 4 kms from the city and one of the first and last impressions the visit leaves is the beautiful and different views of the city from the winery.

‘The winery has an interesting but familiar Sicilian story. My grandfather who was from this city went to Paris for better prospects and settled there. My father decided to come back to Italy where he settled in Milan because of better business prospects,’ says Matteo Catania, son of Vito Catania, who had come especially from Milan to meet me. ‘Our core business is making chemicals including cleaning agents used for cleaning the Ferrari engines at Formula 1.’ The business is obviously prosperous because they have invested their own money for the whole project started in 1995.

Matteo was very excited about the high ratings received from Robert Parker and thrilled at having his wines awarded at the India Wine Challenge. ‘We had decided at the last minute to enter three samples and two of them won the prize,’ he said. ‘But I am really ecstatic that one of our cru wines Neromaccarj 2006 was  selected as one of the only three wines from Sicily by Matt Kramer of Wine Spectator at the New York Experience last October for a seminar on Sicilian wines and tasting at the event.’

Tasting of Gulfi wines at the Locanda with Matteo Catania

‘Matt talked for an hour about Neromaccarj. Not only that, he acknowledged my presence in the audience of 300 persons even though I was sitting alone at the back,’ says Matteo. ‘Apparently, he had tasted this wine in the USA and expressed desire to visit our winery. Within a week of his visit he confirmed he would showcase our wines. I could cry with joy!’

But why were the names so strange and foreign sounding, I ask? ‘It is very simple actually. They all represent the names of the vineyards, district in which the hills are present. It is not possible according to the local laws to get a brand registered in their names, so we simply changed the ‘i’ to a ‘j’ in their spellings,’ said Matteo. So Nerobufaleffj simply means the Cru red Nero d’Avola red wine from the single vineyard in the Bufaleffi district. The Golden Gulfi Nerojbleo is the red wine from Nero d’Avola from Ibleo hills- in this case 80% of their grapes come from the province of Ragusa and 20% are from Pachino, in the municipality of Noto- a small town noted for its terroir.

The vineyards are spread over different parcels within a radius of around 60 kms, in Pachino, Etna and Noto. Farming is completely biological and the soil makes it possible for them not to irrigate the vines at all.

Locanda Gulfi

It is a beautiful surprise to enter their charming guest house-Locanda Gulfi. The 7-room complex with each room named after the contrada (district) in which the vineyard is located, is very modern with tasteful interiors and a 24/7 complimentary Wi-Fi internet facility. The restaurant- actually two of them on different floors, offers the best view one might have enjoyed over breakfast, in a long time. Facing the vineyards on one side, there is a big glass door on the other side through which you can view the winery at the lower level. One can also walk out of the door and inspect the winery in operation!

On the other side of the winery there is an open kitchen where Chef Carmelo Floridia whom the Catanias hired from the Four Seasons Hotel in Milan shows you his culinary and presentation skills- if Michelin inspectors went into the restaurant they would be tempted to star it!

View of the Restaurant- Winery at the back, one floor below

The view from any which way you look is almost breathtaking- starting with the town of Chiramonte Gulfi, a few kilometers away and the rolling vineyards wherever your eyes follow- and of course olives and fruit trees. But the wines Gulfi makes and I tasted with food were all very delicious-even the ‘non- cru’ wines. In fact the Nerojbleo, the IWC Top Wine should be well within the reach of most. Full of fruit and a crisp acidity, the wine is well structured yet drinkable now with or even without food.

One of the creations presented by Chef Carmelo Floridia

The best of the lot for me was a Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2008, the mandatory blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato red grapes, 50-50 in this case, which was so fresh, crisp and full of cherry, blackcurrants and plums with a long and crispy end that made me want more before finishing the sip. I could have drank all night! And still have asked for more!!

It is strange that the presence of Gulfi is felt more in the market- or so I feel. ‘We have been busy in working on the quality of our vineyards and wines and have only recently finished with the winery and the Locanda. We have achieved it all with our own funds. Although my grandfather was from these parts, we are treated as outsiders and Sicilians can be very different and unique people. We were not given any bank loans.  But we are now ready with our winery, Locanda and the restaurant is also fully operational. We will be promoting ourselves now-including hopefully active participation int the Assovini event next year.’

Participating in Ante Prima and inviting a group of journalists to visit the winery would be a big booster for the Golden Gulfi- wine, Locanda et al.

3.  Cusumano
Partinico, Palermo

Alberto Cusumano at his winery

Cusumano used to export wines to India a few years ago-mostly low ended and some medium ended, through S V Distributors, Mumbai. Then one stopped hearing about either. Once, I saw a pile of their wines at Olive Beach Restaurant, way beyond a balanced inventory would suggest and then every thing went quiet- dead quiet. Therefore, when I met Alberto Cusumano at the recent tasting, not only did I taste the complete range of their wines- Angimbè 2009, Cubìa 2008, Jalè 2008- all whites made from Insolia and  Chardonnay; Pinot Nero 2007, Benuara 2008, Ságana 2007, Noa 2007- all made from different red grapes, 7 of the 13 wines they produce in all..

They are located near the airport (barely 10 minutes- I was told). So I planned to make a flying visit on my way to the Palermo airport after driving there and a half hours from the Gulfi winery in Chiaramonte Gulfi. I was reminded of the Indian Standard Time when 20 minutes past the airport, there was no sight of Cusumano. Suddenly, we were greeted by multiple huge tanks reminiscent of petroleum refineries and knew we had finally arrived.

The time being short, one could not dream of tasting. But a quick tour of the winery with Alberto Cusumano was enough to understand that they used to be in bulk wine business till a decade ago. The father  added the new business of selling the bottled wine for their sons in 2001 and today they sell 3 million bottles, increasing their holdings from 80 hA in 2000 to 400 hA today.

Vinoloc closures at the bottling line

The most interesting feature of the winery making 13 labels is that 2.7 million bottles of 5 wines use Vinoloc. ‘We were the first Sicilian winery that started using the glass stoppers and now are the only company which is using automatic machines to put the stoppers on.’

Jogging through the rather modern winery, I noticed they were bottling for a UK importer a special Cusumano label, making them a good source for importers who may be able to get a special label for private retail stores, if the volumes are large. A plethora of awards they have won during the last few years for their Ságana ( no surprise-yet another Nero d’Avola!), Noá, Angimbè Benuara and even Jalè, suggest that they are fast becoming a Sicilian brand to reckon with.

And thanks to a quick ride with Alberto, I did make the trip to the airport just in time to catch the flights to Rome and home., already feeling ‘yeh dil mange more’ and promising myself to visit a few more wineries during my visit to Palermo in April as an international judge at the Concours Mondial Bruxelles.

Subhash Arora



giusi macchiarella Says:

Dear Mr Arora, It is a plesure to read you. Giusi Macchiarella ( Assovini remember ???

Posted @ March 27, 2010 11:56




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