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Delhi Wine Club
Speedtasting Wines of Sicily- Part A

Posted: Monday, 17 October 2011 16:32

Speedtasting Wines of Sicily- Part A

Oct 17: The tranquil Etna Golf Resort near Catania at the base of Etna mountain came to life earlier this month with about 20 producers of the Eastern half of Sicily moving from table to table in a rhythm, meeting buyers and journalists from eight target markets and tasting their wines within a specified time of 25 minutes, writes Subhash Arora who was one of the two invitee journalists from India

Click For Large ViewThe concept devised by the Italian wine specialist and journalist Michel Shah and registered by her as ‘Speedtasting’. It  is a very efficient way for producers to showcase their wines in the shortest possible time. Follow-up can be done later by the interested parties. ‘This may not be the perfect set up for journalists who are naturally interested to know more about the wines and the wineries, its history, winemaking philosophy etc, but it forces people on both sides of the table to focus on the wines.

To make it practical the Speedtasting was divided into two different days- in Catania (for wineries on the Eastern half) and Palermo (for wineries in the Western half) to also showcase the difference in terroir and the soil in the two-especially with Etna producing unique wines because of the live volcanic soil with the Etna volcano erupting quite often and at times destroying the vineyards, like it happened in the important wine village of Randazzo about 20 years ago.       

SpeedStatistics of Sicily

Before the Speedtasting details, a short note on Sicilian wines may be helpful. Sicily is an Italian island with about 116,000 hAs of vines with about two thirds of production being of white grapes (64%). It is the size of Chile and twice that of Tuscany or Piemonte in terms of grape cultivation. Sicily has 22 DOC wine appellations and a sole DOCG of Cerasuolo di Vittoria since 2005. A majority of the vines are in the Trapani province (58%) with Trapani, Agrigento and Palermo-all in the Western half, accounting for over 88% of the total production.

Sicily has a huge variety of autochthonous (indigenous) grape varieties though the Sicilians also love to experiment with international grape varieties like Cabernet, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Shiraz. This is also one of the reasons for a significantly high amount of IGT wines being produced. Nero d’Avola is the most popular red grape, cultivated now in India too in a small way by Vintage Wines in Nashik. With over 16% of the cultivation (18,830 hAs) in various parts of Sicily it gives interesting red wine with changing characteristics due to terroir in the diverse areas.

Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are interesting varieties in the Eastern Part-especially the volcanic Mount Etna, which make interesting DOC Etna wines. Frappato, Perricone and Nocera are the other varietals special to this Italian region.

Catarratto is the king of white grapes in that over a third of the total Sicilian grapes is being planted with this variety. Inzolia (Insolia- also known as Ansonica) and Grillo are the other popular local varieties although Grecanico and Trebbiano Toscana and Zibibbo (Muscat di Alexandria that makes luscious sweet wines) are also popular.

Sicily has been making wine for centuries due to favourable climate and excellent, diverse terroir- with 65% of the vineyard located on the hillsides and 5% on the mountains. But with lack of following the wine making laws and producing and exporting bulk wine not only to other parts of Europe but even within mainland Italy had made it notorious as a cheap and bulk wine producer till about 20 years ago.

With introduction of modern technology and increased investments, adherence and respect for the law and dedicated efforts by wineries like Planeta, Tasca d’Almarita and Donnafugata etc. to make quality wines and promote the region, Sicily has come to be known as a resource for terroir driven quality wines with still an excellent Price-Quality Ratio. During the same period several new wineries came up, a majority of whom had been grape growers or bulk wine producers and decided to switch to brand-based marketing of their wines with improving quality.

About 20 producers from the Eastern half of Sicily which contains Etna, Piazza Armerina Caltagirone, Vittoria, Noto, Siracusa, Messina Faro, Nebrodi-Mamertino and Isole Eolie came to the Etna Golf Resort to meet importers and journalists from 8 countries including India.

Terrazze dell’ Etna

This winery was founded in 2008 by Antonio (Nino ) Bevilacqua, a Professional Engineer from Palermo and has 19.8 hA under its belt at the foothills of Etna mountain. With the famous Ricardo Cotarella as its consultant, the winery boasts of Tre Bicchieri (3 glasses- the highest rating) awarded to the first vintage of Cirneco 2008 of which only 500 cases (9-liter) were produced (the award to be announced on October 22. The Terraced vineyards so common in the Etna area are an interesting feature that gives the name to the company. 

Wines Tasted:

Sparkling chardonnay (86/100) a clean wine,  Sparkling Rose- fuller body, very light pink  wine ( 87) and Cirneco 2008- made from  100% Nerello Mascalese grapes - full bodied with mineral flavour and soft and ripe tannins dominating (90) needing an evolved palate and not for every  Indian wine lover, were tasted.

Contact: Giuseppe Monaco- export manager
With 2 million bottle production annually the family rune winery since 1898 is the biggest in Etna area, and one of the biggest in the East. Although it exports only 10% , it is well respected in the restaurants throughout Italy and may be found in wine shops selling quality wines. Etna Rosso and Etna Bianco are good  value-for-money wines. It produces a wide range of wines at various price points and can handle a difficult market like India because of its experience.

Fondo Filara Etna Bianco-Carricante 60%, Catarratto 40% is a well- structured wine with mineral flavour (91).  Etna Rosso  with 80% Nerello Mascalese  and 20% Nerello Cappuccio has a slightly higher level of acidity and is not for everyone (90).  Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG has the usually recipe of grapes 60% Nero d’Avola and 40% Frappato, the local variety specific to the region. Tasting of sweet vanilla and ripe cherries it has a slight bitter after taste but a very pleasant and interesting wine (92). Sosta Tre Santi 2007 with 14% alc. is an IGT wine that has seen 12 months in new barriques and the same time in bottle before being released. With 85% Nero d’Avola and balance % 15 Shiraz it has tobacco, chocolate and  cherry perfumes. With  liquorice and slightly bitter after taste  because of the Nero predominance and length it deserves 90, a gold medal in mind.

Cantine Russo (Gina Russo)
Contact: Gina Russo –export manager

Don Francesco (Ciccio) Russo, father of the current owner Vincenzo Russo started wine production in bottles in 1955 though his family had been in vine-growing for around 150 years and they were selling in bulk. He had created Rusvini IGT label for his wines made at the foot of Mount Etna in Solicchiata, about 5 kms from the Etna Resort. Today, the company owns about 25 hAs of vineyards located at a height of 700-1000 meters and produced about 35-40,000 (9-liter) cases. Vincenzo’s daughter Gina Russo looks after exports and finance.

Wines Tasted:

Rampante  Etna DOC Blanco 2009:  uses blend of Catarratto 30% and Carricante 70% as a Field blend (which means the grapes are grown in this mix in vineyards and are harvested and fermented together. Very pleasant, soft, mineral wine with good perfume, high in acidity due to day and night temperature, a characteristic of the area. The export price appears to be slightly above the equivalent wines (89)

O’Rus  Nero d’Avola IGT 2009 is aged in stainless steel tank for a year. It is a fruity, light daily drinking at a good price (84). Etna Red  DOC 2007, 80 %  Nerello, 20%  Capuccio, again a vineyard blend is released 3 years after the harvest and is a good value low alcohol (13.5%) wine (89). Don, a 100% Syrah IGT is an intensely perfumed wine with aromas full of berries and sweet vanilla with chocolate flavours and good balance, overall a delicious wine (90)

Belonging to the Benanti family, the winery founded in 1992 in its current avatar has a long tradition of winemaking. Very well-known wine overseas, it makes wines which are well aligned with this reputation-generally quite expensive, they are still good value for money because of their premium quality. Bigger production of 150,000 cases- they export to all countries where wine is exported except China, India and Israel. Etna was not as devastated with phylloxera and the company is proud to own a part of its vines that are around 100 years old, giving very concentrated, low yield fruit.

Pietramarina 2007 Etna Superiore DOC is a delicious wine complex wine full of minerals and elegance (93) but almost expensive as a Barolo- ideal for wine connoisseurs who love the whites and are not overwhelmed with high prices. Lamoremio 2005 is an igt Rosso wine made from a third each of Nerello Mascalese,  Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s popularity in US, Japan and Europe might also reflect the excellent PQR for a high quality wine. Serra della Contessa, Etna DOC Rosso  is aged for 10 years. This elegant and smooth tasting, well turned out and elegant wine justifies the higher price in the mouth. Il Musico is a Moscato di Noto 2008 is a sweet wine packed with 100 gm sugar but well counterbalanced by acidity.


Based near Siracusa which according to Greek mythology was founded before Rome, Antonio Pupillo owns 20hA of vines in the 138 hA estate out of which 13 hA is only Moscato. It produces only 11,000 cases annually of which 30% are exported. It was founded in 1908 by the current owner’s grandfather. Pupillo claims that he initiated the movement for Moscato di Siracusa doc in the 1970s and relaunched it if you talk of the history. A total of 6,500 cases are produced.

Cyane 2010-named after the river has tropical aromas exploding into your mouth. The fruity wine feels as if it had over 10 gms of residual sugar while in fact it has only 2.5 gms /liter. It priced well for export if you consider its top quality though slight bitter end was not too pleasant for my palate. Cyane 2009 had more subdued aromas, more pineapple and enticing tropical flavours - slight bitter end being the characteristic of this varietal. With 13.5% alc. it’s quite a unique wine. Their  Nero d’Avola IGT perhaps won’t go down with the Indian Palate (86) though the price is reasonable.

Valle dell’Acate
Contact: Gaetana Jacono, owner

This is a 100 hA estate at 220 m above sea level, founded in 1982 in Acate, near Ragusa and is owned by 6th generation producers. They use only autochthonous grapes and do not buy any from outside. The soil gives very fruity and elegant wines of almost 40,000 cases, 70% are exported to US, Canada Brazil and Japan etc and the company is now loking to enter Indian and China.

Zagra- a blend of 70 % Grillo and 30 % Insolia it has very concentrated fruit and needs no wood. (94). Excellent starting wine. Il Frappato IGT  2010 is made with the oldest grape vine in Ragusa according to Gaetana who claims one can have it with fish, cheeses, meats and pizzas, making it a multi-purpose wine.  But this is an expensive wine for India despite lots of aromas, perfume, berry fruits. Cerasuolo di Vittoria  classico DOCG, the only docg appellation in Sicily is 70% Nero d’Avola with the balance being the local Frappato grape. This Can be two types- classico and non classico with aging of 18 or 8 months respectively. 4-Il Moro 100% Nero d’Avola – 2008 is very elegant, clean and fruity wine with excellent balance and structure (94)

Tane 2005  is a 80% Nero, 20% syrah- very structured wine (90) but expensive.

Az Ag Cavaliere

The small winery was founded in 1880 and though makes only 2,500 cases a year, the wines are of high quality varietals-no blends and made from grapes at 900-1000 m altitude in Mount Etna and have been mentioned in several historical citations. Carricante is their specialty with Millemetri as a flagship wine. Wines are not as expensive as their quality in the glass and thus offer good value to the discerning palate.

Carricante Millemetri 2009 is a low alcohol (12.5%) very fresh, full on the palate elegant wine with minerals which are not overpowering, has good balance and freshness and crisp acidity (88). Etna Rosato 2009 is a 100% Nerello Mascalese (no Cappuccio has been added as is tradition in these parts), extremely fresh in the mouth and has rose aromas, with strawberry flavours with a mineral touch (90)-only 350 cases are produced. Millemetri Rosso Etna doc 2008 has been bottled only in 2011, using Cappuccio only for colour only. Shades of liquorice are up front. I loved this wine instantly (88) though it feels slightly over expensive for Indian market. Don Blasco (not Bosco!) 2009 is their top igt wine from Nerrello Mascalese and an uncommon Nerello Etnei with very fresh and intense aromas.

As may be expected, it exports very little quantity (3%) and may be considered only for small quantities on exclusive basis for a restaurant or a hotel chain on exclusive basis.

Antica Azienda Curto

The Curto famil has been growing grapes for over 340 years. With a vine area of 30 hA under their belt, they produce around 6,000 cases of wine- still a small number to manage exports to India. Nevertheless their wines are of very good quality and offers excellent PQR and if it can support the market, would make a nice resource.

Poiano Inzolia 2010 was too cold to taste- a good example of how a white wine can be killed in its flavours when too cold. Nevertheless, a good quaffable wine with low alcohol at 12.5% (88) at reasonable price. Eos Rosato Eloro DOC is an absolutely delicious Rose with generous fruit, pleasant aromas and a juicy finish (90) with attractive prices. Eloro Nero d’Avola DOC Eloro is an entry level 2008. Dark ruby coloured wine is quite quaffable ( 87). Ikano- a blend of 60% Nero d’Avola, 35% Merlot and 5% Syrah is a full bodied igt wine.( 90)  Curto Fontanelle (named after the vineyard) 2006 is a 100% Nero d’Avola wine- very concentrated flavours and a good value( 93-94) at slightly higher price.  Krio Syrah  100% is a very juicy wine, fruit forward but with slightly high tannins, chocolate and coffee flavours abound with shades of spiciness. Great stuff (93) .

Castellucci Miano spa
Contact: Buffa Piero

The 125 hA estate was refurbished in 2005 and produces 11,000 cases out of which 85% are exported to Europe and the US. They concentrate on the cultivation of Catarratto, Perricone and Inzolia and do not use irrigation since the land is wet. Their Brut made from Charmat method is unfortunately not suitable for the Indian palate and is too expensive for the market. Miano- 2010 igt uses only but it is intriguing taht they say it cannot be made a doc wine unless they add international grape varietals. Grown on 30-40 years old bush vines at an altitude of 600 meters high and made from a selection of 4 vineyards, 3000 cases of this wine with good PQR (87). Shiara Catarratto 2008  made from 40-60 year old vines has made very mineral, wine which is full mouthfeel (89). PerricOn Perricone 2008 igt is very perfumed and  spicy wine but has a typical flavour that may not work for India until the palates are more evolved and look for diversified flavours. Same goes for Maravita Perricone 2007 which is very concentrated wine ( 89) and quite expensive

Some two the earlier articles, Click

To Be Continued.:

Tag: Terrazze dell’ Etna, Nicosia, Cantine Russo, Benanti, Pupillo, Valle dell’Acate, Az Ag Cavaliere, Antica Azienda Curto, Castellucci Miano spa


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