Brett happens

All wine, most of the time

Posts Tagged ‘Sicily

Orange juice

leave a comment »

Last up were COS’s two orange wines.

IGP Terre Siciliane 2012, Ramì, Azienda Agricola COS ($30.00, 12461525)
Inzolia (50%) and Grecanico (aka Garganega, 50%) from biodynamically and organically vines averaging ten years old. The grapes are manually harvested, destemmed, soft-crushed and macerated on the skins and pips for ten days. Temperature-controlled fermentation (with indigenous yeasts) and maturation take place in concrete tanks. The wine is filtered before bottling with a 2-micron filter. No sulphur is used during the wine-making but a small squirt of sulphur dioxide is added at bottling. Reducing sugar: 1.5 g/l. 12% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Delicious nose of straw and beeswax with hints of dried apricot, sun-baked stone and spice. Smooth and full in the mouth. The muted fruit is perfumed by dried orange, blanched almond and faint powdered ginger overtones. Bright acidity and supple tannins add tension and firmness. Long, balanced and remarkably fresh. While this may not be a radical example of the category – Orange Wine 101? – on its own terms it is wholly satisfying. It may also be the most versatile cheese wine in existence. (Buy again? Definitely.)

IGP Terre Siciliane 2012, Pithos, Bianco, Azienda Agricola COS ($42.00, 12316352)
Grecianico from biodynamically and organically farmed vines averaging a bit less than 15 years old. Manually harvested. The whole-clusters are fermented (with indigenous yeasts) and matured seven months in 400-litre terracotta amphorae, which are buried up to their necks to impede oxidation. Further maturation takes place in the bottle. Unfiltered. Minimally sulphured. Reducing sugar: 1.5 g/l. 10.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
By both the winemaker’s and agent’s admission, high in volatile acidity, not that you can see it. Complex nose of straw, banana peel, white spice, almond, dried yellow fruit, crushed rocks. So suave in the mouth. Smooth textured, fluid and fresh. The fruit is understated – though you definitely taste the skins along with grapes – and lightly tinted by salted caramel. Faint tannins add structure and an intriguing astringency, particularly on the finish. Not a shouter but no less wonderful for it. (Buy again? Yes.)

Carafe these several hours in advance and don’t make the mistake of drinking them too cold; remember, they’re as akin to red wines as to whites. I usually find 14-16°C (around 60°F) about right.

MWG April 14th tasting: flight 6 of 6.

Written by carswell

August 26, 2015 at 16:54

Vittoria! Vittoria!

leave a comment »

In Italian, cerasuolo means cherry-red. The word also appears in the names of two appellations. Cerasuolo d’Abrruzo is a Multepulciano-based rosé from central Italy. Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a red wine made in southeast Sicily, specifically in the province of Ragusa and parts of Caltanissetta and Catania.

Though Cerasuolo di Vittoria has been made since the 17th century, it wasn’t granted DOC status until 1974. Since 2004, it has been Sicily’s only DOCG. By law, Cerasuolo di Vittoria must be a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, with the former constituting between 50 and 70%. Within the DOCG is a large zone, centred around Vittoria and including the original DOC, whose wines are entitled to the Classico designation provided they have been matured 18 months or longer.

Viewing Cerasuolo di Vittoria as the wine with the deepest roots in the region and the most expressive of the regions’ terroir, COS has made it the estate’s flagship.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2011, Azienda Agricola COS ($34.75, 12484997)
Nero d’Avola (60%) and Frappato (40%) from organically farmed vines. Fermented in stainless steel tanks on the skins and with indigenous yeasts. Matured 15 months in 20 and 40-hectolire oak foudres and several months in bottle. Unfiltered. Reducing sugar: 2.7 g/l. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Cherry with a hint of pastry and overtones of balsam and spice. Medium-bodied. Fresh and fruity from start to finish, laced with bright acidity, graced by silky tannins. A mineral backdrop and touch of earthiness add welcome dimension. The long finish is appetizingly tart. Not what you’d call complex but so approachable and drinkable. (Buy again? Yes, though not without wishing it were a little less pricey.)

Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2011, Delle Fontane, Azienda Agricola COS ($79.00, private import, 6 bottles/case)
Nero d’Avola (60%) and Frappato (40%) from organically farmed vines around 20 years old grown in the Delle Fontane vineyard. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in glazed cement tanks. Matured 15 months in 20- and 40-hectolire oak foudres for the Nero d’Avola and in glazed concrete tanks for the Frappato. After blending, the wine is matured several additional months in the bottle. Unfiltered. 13% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
A nose to get lost in: cherry again, a whack of limestone and overtones of earth, dark minerals, marzipan, flowers (rose?) and dried herbs (bay?). A sip reveals a gorgeous surface and considerable depth, a wine denser but somehow not heavier than the estate Classico. The fruit is sweet yet the wine is dry. The layers of flavour – more like veils, actually – include minerals, tar, licorice and mushroom. Fine tannins and sleek acidity are in perfect balance. The structure, texture, complexity and weight are very Burgundian, in fact, though the aromas and flavours are anything but. The finish goes on and on. Gorgeous. I could drink this forever. (Buy again? If you can spare the pennies, sure.)

And, yep, the post’s title is another opera reference, this time to the second act of Tosca.

MWG April 14th tasting: flight 5 of 6.

Written by carswell

August 20, 2015 at 14:40

COS and effect

leave a comment »

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

The SAQ does natural wines – part 3

with 8 comments

The mystery wine is brought out in a decanter. The bouquet wafts around the table even as the glasses are poured. And what a lovely bouquet it is, a mix of crushed blackberry and blackberry jam with hints of pumice dust, smoke and game and a floral note pitched somewhere between violet and rose. In the mouth, the wine is fresh and pure, medium-bodied and supple, filled with sun-ripe yet ethereal fruit, dusty minerals and juicy acidity, framed by springy tannins that persist through a long, savoury finish. What can it be?

The wine’s solar quality has us immediately eliminating northern climes. After dallying with southern France and considering the flavour profile, we turn our attention to Italy. The fine structure and excellent balance are not unlike those of a Nebbiolo, yet the taste isn’t Baroloesque and that touch of jamminess seems incongruous. The host demands a guess. A newfangled Piedmont blend from a hot vintage?

The answer – and some thoughts about the SAQ’s first ever natural wine operation – are after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by carswell

June 1, 2015 at 15:58

Lucid and solar

leave a comment »

In the late 1970s, his youthful obsession with race car driving behind him, Marco De Bartoli returned to the family estate and set out to save Marsala wine from the quantity-over-quality mindset that had tarnished if not destroyed its once sterling reputation. To say he succeeded would be an understatement, as his terroir-driven, Grillo-only Marsalas are widely viewed as exceptional and peerless. In the mid-1980s, De Bartoli expanded his operations to the island of Pantelleria, renowned for its sweet Muscats. In the mid-1990s, his sons came on board, leading to the production of dry reds and whites made from local grape varieties. While the farming has always been organic, it is only now being certified as such.

We tasted two of the dry whites. A third, the 2013 Zibibbo (Muscat of Alexandria) “Pietranera,” didn’t make it out of the SAQ warehouse in time. The Marsalas we hope to taste before long, the good news being that at least one of them will soon be available at the SAQ Signature stores.

IGT Terre Siciliane 2013, Vignaverde, Marco De Bartoli ($29.35, private import, 12 bottles/case)
This is the first vintage of the wine. The grapes were picked earlier than is the case for the fruit used to make the estate’s Marsalas and oak-aged Grillo (late August as opposed to early September), the idea being to produce a fresher wine. 100% Grillo from organically farmed 18-year-old vines grown in the Samperi vineyard. Manually harvested. Gently pressed. The must is chilled and clarified by settling for 48 hours. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled 50-hectolitre stainless steel tanks. Matured on the lees for six months also in stainless steel tanks. 11.5% ABV. 15,000 bottles made. Quebec agent: oneopole.
Minerals, preserved lemon peel and a hint of mango, gaining sweat and quartz notes as it breathes. Medium-bodied but possessing a certain weight and roundness. The ripe-sweet fruit is dusted with minerals and checked by sourish acidity. A saline thread runs through the long finish. So smooth and solar you could be forgiven for not immediately noticing its complexity and depth. (Buy again? Gladly.)

IGT Terre Siciliane 2013, Lucido, Marco De Bartoli ($21.85, private import, 12 bottles/case)
100% Catarratto Lucido from organically farmed 11-year-old vines. Manually harvested. Gently pressed. Fermented with indigenous yeasts in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks. Matured on the lees for seven months also in stainless steel tanks. 11.5% ABV. 10,000 bottles made. Quebec agent: oneopole.
Shy rainwatery nose with peach and floral overtones. Drier, fleeter and even more savoury than the Vignaverde, packed with rocky minerals. Acidity is sustained but not souring, while the finish is clean and appetizing. Opening, deepening, drinkable and delicious. Great QPR. (Buy again? Done!)

MWG March 12th tasting: flight 2 of 7.

Written by carswell

April 29, 2015 at 14:04

Bordel de Noël workshop (4/6)

with one comment

IGT Terre Siciliane 2013, SP68, Arianna Occhipinti ($55.75/1.5 L, 12429470)
A 50-50 blend of organically farmed Nero d’Avola and Frappato from vines averaging 11 years old. Manually harvested. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and macerated 30 days on the skins with daily pump-overs and punch-downs. Matured six months on the lees in tanks and two months in the bottle. Sees only stainless steel until bottling. Bottled unfiltered, unfined and with minimal sulphur dioxide. 12.5% ABV. Also available in 750 ml bottles ($28.45, 11811765). Quebec agent: oenopole.
Delightful nose: candied rose petal, plum, cherry and basalt dust. A supple middleweight in the mouth. The ripe and juicy fruit – so not heavy or sweet – is framed by lacy tannins and tanged with a mineral sourness. The long finish shows some tannic astringency and exits on a white pepper and anise note. A shade lighter than the 2012 perhaps but, as ever, one of the most drinkable reds on the planet. One of the most food-friendly too, as demonstrated by its compatibility with all the foods on the plate. Along with the Canarelli rosé, my turkey dinner pick of the evening. (Buy again? Automatically.)

Côtes du Rhône 2012, Lieu-dit Clavin, Domaine de la Vieille Julienne ($28.75, 10919133)
Organically farmed Grenache (80%), Syrah (10%), Mourvèdre (5%) and Cinsault (5%). Manually harvested and partially destemmed. Temperature-controlled maceration and fermentation with indigenous yeasts lasted 20 days. Matured 12 months in 50-hectolitre foudres. Unfiltered and unfined. Sulphur was added – and then minimally – only just before bottling. 14.5% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
A nose both exuberant and savoury: dusty plum, spice, turned earth, slate, dried herbs. Rich and dense with satiny, ripe, remarkably pure fruit. Tannic but not harshly so. Any sweetness is checked by the vibrant acidity. Bitter, earth and fired mineral flavours mark the long, full finish. Fundamentally dry and – that word again – savoury. Too intense for unadorned turkey and in no way synergistic with the Brussels sprouts, this really needs food that’s darker and more substantial: grilled lamb, say, or a beef daube. (Buy again? Absolutely, just not for Thanksgiving dinner.)

And that roasted turkey that even us turkey haters loved? Cooked using what some refer to as the blast-furnace method, which is nicely explained by chef Marek’s co-blogger here.

Written by carswell

January 14, 2015 at 15:12


with 2 comments

Finishing off the tail end of a bottle of this impressive pomace brandy, two friends and I brainstormed a collective tasting note. Their contributions are in quotes. This being a new product made in micro-quantities, there’s virtually no mention of it on the Web and no technical information that I’ve been able to find. Even Occhipinti’s website is silent on the subject.

Grappa di Frappato, Arianna Occhipinti ($73.50/500 ml, 12329401)
Distilled from the pomace of organically farmed Frappato grapes. 44% ABV. Quebec agent: oenopole.
Crazy complex nose: “Tequila-like” “agave” then fruitiness (dried cherry, “raspberry jam with lots of pectin,” “russet apple”) then spice (anise, caraway) then “old-fashioned black licorice.” After ten minutes in the glass, the fruit evanesces leaving “green” and spice with hints of “pineapple sake,” dried violet and mastic. Mouth-filling and flavourful on first sip. Clean and polished but with a welcome rustic bite. A “green herbal note” brings “oregano” and “bison grass vodka” to mind. There’s some background cherry too. It’s dry and fiery but not harsh – the alcohol’s warm, not burning – and the finish lasts for minutes. “What distinguishes this is that it evolves so much in the glass.” Also, as another imbiber pointed out, while eaux-de-vie like framboise and mirabelle are made from the whole fruit, this is made from the grape pulp, skins, seeds and stems left over from winemaking and yet, in contrast to many grappas, it manages to retain a definite fruitiness. Literally and figuratively breathtaking. (Buy again? “Yes.” “Yes.” Yes.)

Written by carswell

September 9, 2014 at 17:56


leave a comment »

Etna 2010, Rosso di Verzella, Benanti ($23.75, 11348459)
Around 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% Nerello Cappuccio from 40-year-old vines grown on the northern slope of Mount Etna at an altitude of 700 m (2,300 feet). (An SAQ wine advisor told me the 2010 was, exceptionally, 100% Nerello Mascalese but I’ve found nothing to support that claim.) The grapes are picked by hand in mid-October, destemmed, pressed and macerated 20 to 25 days in stainless steel tanks. After malolactic fermentation, the wine is matured in 225-litre barrels for eight to ten months. 13.5% ABV. Quebec agent: L’Enoteca di Moreno de Marche.
Dried black cherry, red currant, brick dust, dried herbs. Medium-bodied and satin-textured. The lithe fruit is on an equal footing with volcanic minerality; the acidity is illuminating if nipping; the supple tannins show some astringency on the long, savoury finish with its cedar and spice overtones and lingering maraschino. So dry and so drinkable. Pair with red meats, especially ones cooked more than rare, game birds or rabbit stew. (Buy again? Yes.)

Written by carswell

September 5, 2014 at 13:59

Posted in Tasting notes

Tagged with ,

MWG April 17th tasting (6/6): On and off

with 4 comments

IGT Sicilia 2011, Plumbago, Planeta ($22.20, 11724776)
100% Nero d’Avola from vineyards in west-central Sicily. The grapes are destemmed, lightly crushed and transferred to stainless steel vats for 14 days’ fermentation at 25°C with regular pump-overs. The wine is then racked into stainless steel tanks for malolactic fermentation before being moved into third- and fourth-fill oak barrels for eight months’ maturation. 13.5% ABV.
Tertiary, leathery and dried herbal along with the expected blackberry, dried cherry and chocolate cake. Smooth and juicy on the surface but with something dark, angular and faintly acrid and metallic underneath. A Bizarro World version of the charmer tasted a couple of weeks earlier. One intrepid taster reports that he bought and drank a bottle the weekend after the tasting and found it quite different from the wine we tasted and quite in line with my description of the earlier bottle. (Buy again? Based on two out of three bottles, yes.)

IGT Sicilia 2010, Nero di Lupo, COS ($27.25, 12135084)
Biodynamically farmed Nero d’Avola from 18-year-old vines grown in southeast Sicily. Temperature-controlled fermentation (30-33°C) with indigenous yeasts in concrete vats. Aged in barrels for 18 to 24 months. Bottled unfiltered. 12% ABV.
Nuanced, savoury, wafting nose of sour cherry, plum, fired mineral and herbs. Fluid and supple – closer in texture and weight to the preceding flight’s Savigny than to the other Neros in this flight. The dark, dusty fruit is sweet at its core and carried on soft tannins and taut acidity. Earth and licorice notes colour the finish. As always, an elegant wine, though this bottle left us wondering whether the 2010 lacks some of the depth and presence of earlier vintages. (Buy again? Maybe.)

IGT Sicilia 2010, Sàgana, Cusumano ($30.00, 11292580)
100% Nero d’Avola from the Sàgana vineyard near Butera in south-central Sicily. The vines average 18 years old. Manually harvested. Destemmed. Fermented on the skins at 28-30°C in stainless steel tanks for ten to 15 days. Transferred to used 20-hectolitre barrels for malolactic fermentation and 12 month’s maturation. 14% ABV.
Blackberry and plum, dark minerals, carob and faint hints of dried mint and tobacco. The densest, biggest-boned and most structured of the three, with a trickle more than a stream of acidity and round tannins that dry on the finish. The fruit is sun-drenched but not jammy. Broad and long but not what you’d call deep. On the up side, it’s impeccably made and shows admirable restraint for a wine that could have been a fruit bomb. On the down side, it doesn’t have a strong sense of place and isn’t exciting or memorable. Might be interesting to revisit in four or five years. (Buy again? Probably not.)

The Sàgana was the last-minute replacement for a corked-to-high-heaven IGT Sicilia 2008, NeroBaronj, Gulfi ($41.25, 12152757) that’s no longer available without a trip to the burbs. In other words, of the 14 wines in the original tasting, five were off. So it goes.

Written by carswell

May 5, 2014 at 18:55


with 4 comments

Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2010, Azienda Agricola COS ($36.25, 11577391)
A blend of biodynamically and organically farmed Nero d’Avola (60%) and Frappato (40%) from quarter-century vines. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts and takes place in glass-lined concrete tanks. The varieties are fermented separately: the Nero at 30 to 33ºC, the Frappato at 28ºC. Maturation, which lasts 18 to 24 months, is in oak barrels for the Nero and concrete tanks for the Frappato. Unfiltered and minimally sulphured. 13% ABV.
Dusty cherry and elderberry, sun-baked earth, hints of leather, old wood, tobacco, flowers and licorice. Medium-bodied yet intensely present. The fruit, sweet and silky up front, fades and dries into the mid-palate as tertiary, mineral and earth flavours unspool. The acidity may be low-key but it’s sufficient to keep the wine fresh and buoyant, while the structurally light tannins add a firm astringency. The finish – long, drying and savoury – has an appetizing sour edge. Like all COS wines, this is a model of elegance and balance. The price may be creeping into treat territory but you won’t find a finer, more engaging Cerasuolo di Vittoria. A brilliant pairing for lasagne made from scratch but versatile enough to serve with a wide range of white meats, well-done red meats and deep-flavoured vegetarian dishes. (Buy again? Yes.)

Written by carswell

March 15, 2014 at 13:13