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COS and effect

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The second half of the April 14th tasting was led by Giusto Occhipinti, one of the two partners of Azienda Agricola COS. Giusto’s last name contributed the O in the estate’s acronym (current partner Giambattista Cilia contributed the C, while the S comes from former partner Cirino Strano). Though the wines made by Giusto’s niece Arianna Occhipinti arguably have a higher profile these days, it was COS, founded in 1980, that showed the way, that spearheaded the revolution in winemaking in the region. (Back in 2010, when she she led a MWG tasting, Arianna herself said it was Giusto who initiated her into winemaking.)

The estate is located in Acate-Chiaramonte, outside of Vittoria in Ragusa province in southeast Sicily. Originally owing only three hectares, COS acquired the nearby Villa Fontane estate and its nine hectares of vines – which they have since expanded to 17 hectares – in 1991. In 2005, they purchased a neighbouring estate with an additional 20 hectares of vines and an 18th-century wine cellar. They renovated the wine cellar and built new winemaking facilities, with 150 in-ground amphorae, which they inaugurated in 2007.

Early experiments with then-modish international varieties led them to focus – though not exclusively – on local varieties, especially the Nero d’Avola and Frappato for their flagship Cerasuolos. The partners also adopted biodynamic practices in the early 1990s, as they consider them the best option for expressing the region’s terroirs. Clay amphorae were first introduced in the fall of 2000. Cellar practices are non-interventionist: ambient yeasts; no additives except for a small squirt of sulphur dioxide at bottling; no fining or filtering. The unusual shape of the squat bottles is inspired by an ancient flask unearthed during excavations on the property.

Our tasting began with the estate’s three entry-level wines.

IGP Terre Siciliane 2013, Il Frappato, Azienda Agricola COS ($28.20, 12461488)
100% Frappato from organically farmed vines around a dozen years old. Macerated and fermented on the skins with indigenous yeasts for 10 days. Matured 12 months in glass-lined concrete tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.3 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Fresh nose of crushed raspberry, light spice and pumice. It’s a supple wine, on the lighter side of medium-bodied, with pure sweet fruit, sustained acidity and lacy tannins. As the fruit dries and fades, background minerals come to the fore on the long, bitter-edged finish. Very elegant and drinkable. Food friendly, too (think pasta, rabbit stew or grilled tuna). (Buy again? Yes.)

IGP Terre Siciliane 2013, Nero di Lupo, Azienda Agricola COS ($29.30, 12538561)
100% Nero d’Avola from organically farmed vines around a dozen years old. Macerated and fermented on the skins with indigenous yeasts for 10 days. Matured 18 to 24 months months in terracotta amphorae and glass-lined concrete tanks. Reducing sugar: 2.3 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Reductive at first, then yielding a fresh nose of red fruit, slate and sandalwood. Medium-bodied. Supple but more structured and dimensional than the Frappato. A fundamentally dry and savoury wine, remarkable for its dark, tart fruit, mineral underlay, overall balance and lightly spicy finish. Delicious. About as far as you can get from the run-of-the-mill Nero d’Avola. I’ll drink to that. (Buy again? Yes.)

IGT Sicilia 2010, Maldafrica, Azienda Agricola COS ($31.00, 12465155)
When I asked about the origin of the name, Giusto explained that, in Italian, maldafrica is, among other things, a kind of homesickness for an exotic place. In this case, the non-Sicilian varieties were planted by a régisseur who hailed from Bordeaux. This wine is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), Merlot (45%) and Frappato (10%) from organically farmed vines around 20 years old. Fermented on the skins with indigenous yeasts in terracotta amphorae. Matured in Slavonian oak barrels and in the bottle. Reducing sugar: 1.8 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Cassis, slate, hints of tobacco, red meat, leather and spice. Medium- to full-bodied and, like every other COS wine, balanced, civilized and supple. The ripe, solar, savoury fruit is intense yet lithe, the acidity smooth, the tannins round. Work your way through the layers of flavour and you’ll find a substrate of minerals. Tobacco and cedar scent the long finish. True to both its Bordeaux and Sicilian roots, this elegant wine is the “kind of pure and racy warm-climate red that should have New World winemakers seriously questioning their modus operandi (looking at you, Napa),” to quote my note on the 2009. Unfortunately, there is very little left in Quebec. (Buy again? If the opportunity presents itself, absolutely.)

MWG April 14th tasting: flight 4 of 6.

Written by carswell

August 18, 2015 at 17:13

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