Stunning Sicily, Leading Wine Region of the South
Azienda Agricola Graci
Tasting the wines from this tiny winey that produces only 1,000 cases is a privilege shared by very few, probably more foreigners than native Sicilians. Alberto Aiello Graci founded the winery in 2004, and his vineyards are located on Mount Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe, which is 3.329 meters above sea level (10.922 feet), its fiery halo visible from great distances. The Graci estate is located on the northern slope of the mountain at Passopisciaro, where viticulture goes back thousands of years. Alberto Graci farms three vineyards at various altitudes. The largest is located in Contrada Arcuria in Passopisciaro with 52 acres ranging in elevations between 1,800 and 2,000 feet, including 30 acres of the indigenous red Nerello Mascalese and five and a half acres of the whites Carricante and Catarratto. The second smaller vineyard is located in Contrada Barbabecchi in Solicchiata. Just four acres, the vineyard is planted with Nerello Mascsalese at an elevation between 3,000 and 4,200 feet. These vines were planted over 100 years ago on their own roots, instead of rootstock, which is the modern practice. The remainder of the property is planted with olives and apples. The vineyards are farmed with no extraneous materials whatsoever, not even what might be approved by organic farming regulations. Contrada Feudo di Mezzo is a new vineyard, just three acres planted this year with the indigenous varietals Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Carricante and Catarratto. These extraordinary wines are all pure extractions of this mountain and its volcanic power that has awed ancient peoples and modern witnesses alike.
This tiny estate is located in Sicilia in the hills around Messina. The winemaking philosophy of Salvatore Geraci is simple: make two wines with the same indigenous grapes but with different selections. His Rosso del Soprano, a blend based on a wine known in antiquity as Mamertino, comes from the native Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Capuccio, and Nocera grapes. Until this year when Rosso del Soprano received the prestigious Tre Bicchieri award from Italian wine guide Gambero Rosso , Faro was considered Palari’s primary wine. Presumably, Faro includes a finer selection of the same grapes that make this a Tre Bicchieri winner almost every year. Faro, which means “lighthouse,” is one of the smallest DOC zones in Italy with just above six hectares or 15 acres. Sicilia’s focus on modern production techniques and international grape varieties such as Cabernet and Syrah has met with success, but to his credit, Salvatore Geraci prefers to concentrate on the great indigenous wines of the island.
Valle dell’ Acate
Both from ancient wine-making families in eastern Sicily, Jacono Ricca and Ferreri del’Anguilla created Valle dell’Acate winery in 1981on the Bidini estate in the province of Ragusa. Today Valle dell’Acate is run by Gaetana Jacono and covers over 100 hectares of wine grapes, including the native Nero d’Avola, Frappato, and Insolia, along with the international varieties Chardonnay and Syrah. This large property lies between the towns of Acate and Vittoria on steep hills above the Dirillo River. Wine guide Gambero Rosso, calls the wines from both indigenous and international varieties “impeccable.” The jewel of the estate is Nero d’Avola, Sicily’s noble red grape, which is blended with aromatic Frappato in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria wine and with Syrah in the Tane’.
Italian Wines of the Month
Valle dell’Acate 2011 Nero d’Avola, Case Ibidini
Named after the Bidini road to the winery, this wine is 100% Nero d’Avola from vineyards at 360 feet above sea level. You may have tasted big, dense Nero d’Avola wines, but perhaps because of its higher altitude vineyard, the Valle dell’Acate Poggio Bidini is elegant in nature with bright ruby color, spicy red fruit in the nose, and smooth, fresh acidity on the palate. Instead of oak barrels, the wine spent six months in stainless steel tanks to preserve its delicate flavors and aromas. Serve at cool room temperature with salumi, roasted meats and poultry, and fish dishes with tomatoes or tomato sauces.
Valle dell’Acate 2013 Insolia, Case Ibidini
This delicious white is 100% Insolia from vineyards at 500 feet above sea level. Everything about this wine is bright from its golden color, to its citrus and jasmine aromas, its lively clean fruit flavors on the palate, and its zesty acidity. At just 12.5% alcohol, the wine was aged for four months in stainless steel tanks and two months in bottle before release from the winery. Serve chilled with appetizers, first courses, vegetable dishes, and main courses with fish.
Valle dell’Acate 2010 Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Although the area around Ragusa is an ancient grape-growing region, vineyards were heavily damaged by the phylloxera epidemic, which first appeared in 1881 in that zone, eventually destroying most vineyards on the island. Fifty years elapsed before the Ragusa zone recovered and stabilized at 7,000 hectares, planted especially to the noble Nero d’Avola and Frappato among others. The Valle dell’Acate is 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato from estate vineyards. Medium- bodied at 13.5% alcohol, the wine has intense aromas of black cherry, black licorice, and cracked pepper that spring from the glass with supporting flavors of earth, tobacco, and other dark red fruits. The wine was aged in large tonneau casks for 12 months. Decant and serve at cool room temperature.
Valle dell’Acate 2012 Frappato
This Frappato speaks through its amazingly intense aromas. A bright and translucent red, Frappato is a lighter-bodied wine at 13% alcohol and continues on the palate with berry and cherry jam impressions, braced with a zesty acidity. Frappato is especially delicious during warm seasons when it can be chilled a bit and served with appetizers, pasta salads, grilled poultry, and fish dishes with tomatoes or tomato relishes.
Graci 2012 Etna Bianco
The vineyard is located at Passopisciaro on the northeast slope of Mt. Etna at 600 meters or 1,970 feet above sea level. Of volcanic origin, the soils are black and sandy and rich in iron and nitrogen. The wine is made naturally without commercial yeasts. At just 13% alcohol, the nose is fragrant and the flavors stony with mineral nuances. Serve chilled with foods of the season, fish and fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella with tomatoes, basil, and a drizzle of olive oil.
Palari 2010 Rosso del Soprano
This delicious wine, winner of Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award is a blend of local native varietals inspired by a centuries-old blend. The dominant grapes are Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccino with smaller quantities of Nocera, Cappuccio Tignolo, Acitana, Galatena, and Calabrese. These are the same vairetals that go into Palari’s other well-known and award-winning wine, Faro. The wine was aged for one year in French oak barrels. The nose is intense with notes of ripe red fruit, a spicy touch of vanilla, and a hint of the musty “barnyard aroma,” common in French wines, especially Burgundian reds. In the mouth, the wine is dry and intriguing, medium bodied at 13.5% alcohol and with the mineral and stony flavors of this fabled Island. Decant and serve in large glasses at cool room temperature.
Graci 2011 Rosso Arcuria
According to the Greek author Homer, Nerello Mascalese was the wine that Ulysses used to intoxicate the Cyclops. You’ll soon find out why the Cyclops was uncontrollably enthralled. In its elegance, Nerello Mascalese is more like a Barolo or a fine Pinot Noir. Grown at 600 meters (1,968 feet) on the slopes of Etna, the fruit produces rich bitter cherry flavors that have depth and intensity. Known for its haunting aromas, this Graci Nerello Mascalese has spicy nuances of lava in the nose. So as not to interfere with its delicate flavors, the winemaker avoided small oak barrels during its aging. Instead the Arcuria was aged for 14 months in large wooden tini, made from Nevers oak by Austrian cooper Stockinger. With roots that meander deep into the rocky volcanic soil, this Graci Nerello Mascalese produces flavors that are a direct transformation of its extraordinary environment. Decant and serve in large glasses at cool room temperature.
Italian Region of the Month
Some say that today, Sicilians have less Italian blood in their veins than Phoenician, Greek, Arabic, Norman, Spanish, or French. Because Sicilia is on a crossroads between Europe and Africa, it has been overrun by many different cultures, which have left their traces on this beautiful island, the largest in the Mediterranean. The Greek cities of Sicily flourished during the 6th and 5th Centuries BC, and their ruins are some of the most impressive outside of Greece, especially the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. The Romans took over in the 3rd Century BC, followed by the Vandals, Ostrogoths, and Byzantines. The Arabs ruled from the 8th to the 11th Century, although not much has survived from their rule. The Norman era began in 1060, and the cathedrals of Monreale and Cefalu are their brilliant achievements as is Santi Peitro e Paulo outside Taormina. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the accomplishments of the Spanish Viceregal court, especially the palaces and churches of Palermo.
Nature also has its achievements in Sicilia, its magnificent beaches, remote hill towns and plains, its mountain ranges, and spectacular Mount Etna, one of three active volcanoes, which has rendered the land immensely fertile. In fact, Sicilia has more vineyards than any other region. The western province of Trapani alone produces more wine than the entire regions of Toscana or Piemonte, most of which is Marsala, one of Sicilia’s proudest wines despite decades of degradation when it was flavored with various sweetners. The English created Marsala in the late 18th Century and made Sicilia its prime source. Marsala, as well as Moscato and Malvasia, rank with the best fortified wines of Europe. But in the last 20 years, a new generation of Sicilian producers has realized the full potential of the island’s climate, ancient grape varieties, and fertile soil. Thus DOC wines have greatly increased to 23 with one DOCG, Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Today, Sicily is the leading wine region in Southern Italy, its wines garnering many awards. Mt.Etna, Europe’s largest active volcano, is one of the most exciting vineyard locations in Italy, and is attracting much attention and investment. The white Bianco d’Alcamo and the red Cerasuolo di Vittoria show notable class. Increasingly prominent are the fruity aromatic whites, Inzolia, Catarratto, and Grecanico. Native reds have also achieved prominence, such as Nero d’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, and Perricone. The newly introduced French varieties, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah are also producing exciting results.