Revisiting Sicily from My Desk
As a newly minted Master of Wine, I toured Sicily for 12 days with 19 fellow Masters of Wine. A first-time visitor, I was enraptured by the diversity and dynamism of this unique island that clearly sees itself as a distinct entity from Italy – for many good reasons. Grape varieties are but one of them.
I was disappointed to have to decline an invitation to return last year due to a deluge of work obligations in New York City. Happily, I managed to revisit Sicily virtually thanks to a large number of samples shipped to my home office.
Below are tasting notes of wines from wineries I visited while on the ground as well as a range of other producers’ products. The best wines of this tasting confirm what I’ve said for just over a half decade: I believe Sicily is a region on the rise to being one of the top quality producers (it has long been a top volume producer of Italy), if it isn’t already. Piedmont and Tuscany can’t be surpassed for now, but I believe that Sicily could overtake the Veneto in both range of styles and age-ability of certain wines.
Feudo Principi di Butera NV Neroluce Nero d’Avola Brut 11.5%
Pale colored, dry and straightforward, this wine could use some time in bottle to settle into itself. Minerally and aspirin-y on the nose, its mouthfeel is decidedly Italian. This is a wine for fresh seafood and lighter gastronomic bites with a decidedly savory and salty kick that blasts into the wine’s lingering and spritely citrus finish. This is a novel style for Nero d’Avola, and I never would have guessed a black grape variety was behind such a pithy, white bubbly!
Gulfi 2014 Carricante Carjcanti 12.5%
Bright yellow in color, this wine has an interesting, sniff-worthy nose that shows a surprising dichotomy of beeswax and sweet caramel. The palate is as intriguing with a combination of savory and succulent flavors as well as contrasting textures. The broad, sweeping palate on the outset turns into a crinkly, brisk feeling finish tasting of lemon curd and honey-drizzled yellow grapefruit. The lingering flavors and impressive depth of character (that show best when enjoyed not too cold) lend well to a multitude of gastronomic delights. My husband says he’d happily pay $40 for this beauty (it costs about $25 retail), and I agree that it is worth as much!
Benanti 2014 Etna Bianco Superiore Pietra Marina 12.5%
This is 100% Carricante, a grape I usually love for is smoky, minerally tones and fruit austerity. This wine offers a striking contrast with its exuberant fruit, medium body and lightly caressing glycerol. It’s an awesome introductory wine for folks new to Etna, yet its already evidenced bottle age and lean flavor profile suggest it will take on petrol characters soon. So, it’s time to sip this up if you like bolder bodied wines now; alternatively, wait six months and introduce this to your friends who like petrol-y, older Riesling style wines.
Feudo Principi di Butera 2016 Grillo 13%
This wine is tight and feisty on the nose and is a touch reduced on the palate on first sip. With time in the glass and warmer temperatures, it opens up. Grillo can be rather neutral, but there’s a distinctive Italian-leaning, Mediterranean herbal and salty air to this. There is often a bitterness and a sensation-stopping minerality that encapsulates the flavor profile of Italian wines, and if served too cold, this will succumb to the same description. However, this wine is absolutely flavor-filled when given the chance to expand. There are scents of peach skin, lime blossom and gardenia. If you think it’s all charm on the front palate, the youthful vibrancy subsides into a smoky, minerally, nuanced delight on the lingering finish. I would never have expected so much from an $11 wine! This is a bright and shiny winner.
Cottanera 2016 Etna Bianco 12.5%
Woo wee! This pure Carricante wine is a profusion of citrus tones, mostly peels and zests. Yellow grapefruit, lemon, lime and green gauges explode from this pristine pure glass of pale yellow juice. This is massively perky and youthful and, while well-structured, its modest finish suggests it should be enjoyed between its youth to midlife.
Tascante 2016 Buonora 12.5%
Smelling lean and lemony with whiffs of heather on the nose, this wine opens to a surprisingly generous palate considering its relatively miserly nose. The key (à la music) changes on the palate with more generous breadth to delightfully spread to every corner of the palate, where dry almond paste and pancakes are accompanied by yellow plums and chamomile tea. A pleaser with or without accompaniments, this wine over-performs for its price point. While good in length, it likely won’t take on age well as its flavors are straightforward. Still, I’d gladly buy this for any crowd now.
Drink: 2018-early 2019
Benanti 2016 Etna Bianco 12%
Also 100% Carricante, this wine is a definite surprise for its accessibility as Carricante can be as tight in structure and in youthful fruit. However, this gold-flecked beauty ravishes with its supple musk melon flavors, its dappling of pineapple flesh and its drizzle of smoky, flinty character. Though technically light in alcohol, there’s solid weight and so much flavor here that it is hard to believe it’s only 12% abv. Its heft suggests at least another percent. Still, there’s a fine tram of integrated, citrusy acidity and pithy tannic structure to give this palate a feel that is rounded on the attack and buttressed by plenty of structure.
Colosi 2016 Salina Bianco 12.5%
This was one of my fave whites on a personal level. At just over $20, it’s not inexpensive, but it is enrapturing in its seemingly unlimited, French pastry-like layers of nuance. Tasting of raw almonds, Asian pear and pomelo, this wine is just a smidge over medium-bodied yet has a pithy, nut nuance to its finish that makes it feel lighter. It works as a refreshing wine by the glass but it is even better as a wine for the table given its textural diversity. There’s a lovely leesy, hay-toned weave in the finish that heightens the savoriness of this lightly voluptuous white. Since the acidity is mellow, this 50-50 blend of Inzolia and Catarratto is not a keeper. Still, it’s not one to miss in the near-term, thanks to its zesty gutsiness.
Cottanera 2016 Barbazzale Bianco 13%
This is Catarratto with a dash of Viognier. Highly unorthodox, this blend is loads of fun, especially for my fellow texture tasters. Round and a bit waxy on the palate, this rather viscous wine is exuberant in flavor. Showing sweet pear, peach peel, almond, a hint of heather and a wisp of fennel on the moderate finish, this is a solid crowd pleaser that will not disappoint. It’s not über complex, but it is a bit of everything you need. It’s also a terrific “comfort wine” to pull out and sip any time.
Drink: Through 2018
Feudo Principi di Butera 2015 Insolia Serò 13%
It can be hard to be complimentary of a grape variety that typically doesn’t show much personality. Happily, that’s not a concern with this bottling! Aka Ansonica, though this grape doesn’t have a load of natural acidity, there is plenty of friskiness in this particular bottling. Its super pure flavors of lime zest and fresh garden herbs make this a sure bet for a poolside sipper while its more savory and minerally tones of veal broth and wet stones makes this an excellent accompaniment for seafood-based dishes. I love this wine’s waxy and lightly grippy texture. For full enjoyment, don’t serve this too chilled!
Colosi 2016 Grillo Terre Siciliane 13%
This wine pours into the glass with a gleaming, gold color. Despite its relative youth, its nose is reserved in fruit character but pronounced in lanolin and waxy tones. Floral notes then invade the palate and finish off this medium-bodied wine’s vinosity with a lightly tugging texture. Its peak aromas are showing now. Though “only” a $10 wine, this is a poolside sipper. This is a serious wine that deserves a place at the table to show its best.
Drink: Through 2018
Tasca d’Almerita 2016 Grillo Fondazione Whitaker 13%
Moderately aromatic on the nose, this is a sparkling-bright, yellow-colored wine with scents of pear and wild flowers. The palate is medium-bodied with a nut pith-driven, bitter twang and a hint of phenolic-y apricot skin. Straightforward and correct with nice freshness, this would be a good by-the-glass wine. However, it’s no doubt best with food given its textured, dry finish and pronounced, near-piercing acidity.
Drink: Through 2018
Gulfi 2011 NeroSanloré 13.5-14%
This deeply-colored red swells the glass with a rust-tinged maroon. Its fragrances of hot sauna wood and strawberry jam are enticing. It is savory from its full-flavored attack of bramble and boysenberry to its lingering finish of rusty iron, tobacco and burnt barbecue ends. Its palate is textured with a slightly swaggering grip and lilting acidity. That catapulting freshness makes this brilliant at the table, but there is plenty of sweet summer berry fruit stuffing to sip this on its own. This seems to be hitting its drinking prime but has plenty of determined concentration to last another five-plus years.
Benanti 2012 Rovitello Etna Rosso 14%
I’d hope I’d be forgiven if I said this wine were a Nebbiolo or Pinot Noir on first sniff; there are roses, red cranberries, briary limbs and a dash of earthiness. Perhaps the palate would steer me away from Pinot Noir, however, given the somewhat rogue texture of the tannins. If I “listen” to the wine, there is a warmer climate kirsch note on the finish along with a smoky tone, the latter of which speaks to volcanic soils. This is still young and a bit disheveled in an enticing, come hither way. Give it three to five more years for it to truly begin to blossom. With all of its mighty concentration and structure, this will age gloriously.
Gulfi 2011 NeroBaronj 14%
This wine starts with the bluster of Bordeaux and finishes with the finesse of Burgundy. It’s gritty while eking out sheer charm. From start to finish, it almost reeks of balance. Were there one, this would be the Chambolle-Musigny of Sicily’s Nero d’Avolas. Deeply black at the core with evident bottle deposit floating in the juice, this is just over the hump of development to erase all of the first shades of youth yet not feel old. It smells of dirt, rusting metal and Morello cherries. With air, this wine opens up to barbecue spice and beef jerky tones. Full-bodied and sweeping across the palate, it almost could be mistaken for a beefier Barbaresco, but its more relaxed structure is decidedly more Southern Italian.
P.S. This wine holds surprisingly well overnight, and during that window, it expands overnight into another element with a lengthy, layered and moreish finish. WOW.
Cottanera 2012 Etna Rosso 13%
Mid-depth color at the core with a vaguely mahogany-tinged rim, this bouquet sings of rusty nails and roses. It’s a beguiling combination. With time and aeration, a dappling of crunchy red fruits emerges, shuffling between dried cranberries and dried red plum skin. A decided earthiness is coupled with a cigar-like flavor on the finish. It’s a toothsome wine with noticeable body yet reigned-in alcohol. It flaunts super smooth tannins coupled with well-measured acidity. Resolved and attractive now, this will hold perfectly well for a few years though its rather simple flavor profile may not allow it to evolve to great depths. As of this vintage, this wine is made of nothing but the estate’s oldest and at least 30-year-old vines.
Gulfi 2013 Pinò 13%
Still impressively young in color, this savory, almost sultry Pinot Noir shows only a wee bit of Pinot Noir flesh and a lot of dusty Sicilian terroir. Structurally, too, its tannins are svelte almost to the point of being quiet in the presence of so much ripe fruit. This wine is a perfect argument that Pinot Nero’s expression focuses largely on its terroir between its clear showing of a warm climate combined with the delicacy of Pinot’s classic expression. Nonetheless, its toothsome mulberry, kalamata olive and açai flavors invigorate the palate flavor-wise while showing a very reserved acidity, whatever the wine’s rather low alcohol. Pleasing now, there doesn’t seem to have a lot of staying power.
Benanti 2015 Etna Rosso 13%
Composed of about 85% Nerello Mascalese with a generous dollop of Nerello Cappuccio, this wine tastes impressively similarly to its Cru Rovitello sibling (even if the Rovitello is three years older). Moderate ruby at the core, its pale-ish but interestingly wide rim is copper-inflected. Vinous through and through, this supple wine shows powdery tannins that begin with an easy-going attack then finish nicely dry. There’s ample acidity here with a perkiness that is reminiscent of even higher altitudes from further north on the mainland. It’s worth spreading the word about this insanely good, super elegant, highly food-flattering Sicilian red that only costs a Jackson. Oh, and it’s vaguely funk-ed out (earth and poo – in a nice way) nose also shows both sweetly fleshed and dried red fruit tones.
Feudo Principi di Butera 2014 Nero d’Avola Deliella 14%
Bold and powerful, this intensely concentrated wine needs time to unfold in a decanter. Over the course of four to five hours, it really opens up. Happily, there are no evident new oak characters. Instead, the wine really lets its savory, sandy-earthy tones of Sicilian terroir shine through along with tones of blackberries, black plum skin, sun-doused scrub brush and lilac. Despite its ample and well-ripened fruit characters, it’s a wine noticeably pungent in powerful acidity and broad, gangly tannins. There’s plenty of everything – including a flavor-filled, minerally finish – in this bottling to allow it to age well in the medium-term.
Tenuta Regaleali 2010 Rosso del Conte Contea di Sclafani 35th Edizione 13.5%
Beautifully mature, this wine has lots of gusto and concentration. Alas, it lacks vivacity. Its full of leather, dried out mulberries and pithy, grippy tannins. It’s concertedly dry, thoroughly earthy and very much a wine for the table. This bottle seems a bit past its prime, but it is still a pretty beast. (I’ve tasted many an older bottle of Rosso del Conte that has been vibrant several decades down the road.) Given its solid evolution, this might hold well though it is resolutely showing its best now.
Colosi 2015 Salina Rosso 14%
This wine reminds me of the Leonard Cohen song “Happy Feet”, applying the sentiment to the tastebuds! Again, like its white sibling co-named Salina, this is a personal favorite. A blend of 50% Nerello Mascalese and 50% Nerello Cappuccio, this vino is surprisingly focused on juiciness rather than minerally-ashy-salty tones. It’s a people-pleasing gulper with its medium-plus body, sexy-curves palate feel and oodles of primo-ripe fruits. There are bushels of mulberries, boysenberries and black plums all sprinkled with licorice! The moderate finish offers some lingering smoky tones verging on meatiness that do nod to the wine’s Etna area origin. Buy by the case and open with a vengeance! Another bonus: a half open bottle, vacuvined and put back in a wine fridge, holds very well and even improves over the following two days!
Cottanera 2016 Etna Rosso 13.5%
This red boasts a dark, black cherry color with a licorice-tinted nose and sleek, if lurking, minerality. This wine’s exuberant fruit presence is distractingly laced with woodsy and licorice tones. Meaty, full-bodied and dignified with boisterous, mouth-filling fruit character, this wine punches above its weight. The round and custardy palate is held up by some coarsely crunchy tannins. The spicy and moderately lingering finish suggests this wine is just getting started.
Colosi 2016 Nero d’Avola Terre Siciliane 14%
This wine shows the warmth of the Sicilian soul through its hearty, intensely savory fruit tones of mulberries and black cherries as well as its beguiling, finishing tones of sandy beaches and (is this weird?!) beets! Neither its nose nor its palate is particularly fruit-driven, but there’s a more savory, baked earth character that pervades followed by a jaded, youthful charm laced with nuances of well-aged beef. If that’s not enough, it’s got a gorgeous label, too!
Tascante 2014 il Tascante Nerello Mascalese 13.5%
This subtle, $50 red is a fine companion to its younger vine rosso sibling, Ghiaia Nera. With more flavor intensity yet carrying a similar palate suaveness, this is clearly a notch up. However, even with 54 years of vine age, this is still straightforward on the palate and very short on the finish. It is rather tense in its vivid acidity and prickly tannins. It has a pleasantly concentrated nugget of red berry fruits, but I can’t see a reason to pay double the price of the Ghiai Nera, as hard as I look, from a gustatory perspective. (See below.)
Tascante 2014 Nerello Mascalese Ghiaia Nera 13.5%
This $20 strawberry-colored red opens up nicely over two days. Its attack remains firm with sinewy tannins and somewhat pronounced acidity, but its aromas expand nicely. The fruit flavors remain on the tingly red side with lingonberries and cranberries, but notes of underbrush, blood and iron come through on the second day. The tannins finish with a gravel-like texture – highly typical of Nerello. I enjoy the Pinot-y attack coupled with the Barbaresco-like structure. Were it more nuanced in flavor, this medium-bodied and modestly complex wine would merit a higher score.
Tenuta Regaleali 2015 Nero d’Avola Lamùri 13.5%
Roasted red plums and toasted wheat bread crumbs: this wine smells of a warm origin and sun-baked vines. There are also balsamic vinegar tones on the nose, which some will find exceptionally appealing. There’s no evident new oak here, but the fruit ripeness is heady and almost heavy with a syrupy strawberry character. The tannins are creamy and there’s a barely perceptible string of acidity, so drink this on the early side.