The Magic of Sicilia
Principi di Butera
Content hereThe end of feudalism came late to Sicily, as late as 1949 when the size of large rural estates was finally limited and the excess forcibly sold and then given to poor tenant farmers. Feudo Principi di Butera, located on the beautiful southwestern coast of Sicily in the province of Caltanissetta, once belonged to the noble Branciforte and Lanza di Scalea dynasties, whose union through marriage brought together into one family dozens of titles, hundreds of manor houses, thousands of hectares of land, and unbound riches. In 1997, first family of Italian wine, the Zonin family, purchased what had been reduced to a 790-acre estate, located at 1082 feet above sea level over-looking the coast. Subsequently, he replaced what had been exclusively wheat cultivation and planted one hundred forty five acres to vineyards and 97 to olive groves and left the rest in wheat. Gianni Zonin planted mostly indigenous Nero d’Avola and Insolia but also the international varieties Merlot, Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, and Syrah. He restored the fortified manor house, constructed a new winery, and generally renovated the entire estate. Talking about the Feudo Principi di Butera estate, Gianni Zonin says, “I am proud that our Sicilian estate is a bastion of quality and the rural way of life, an oasis of the farming traditions, which we want to defend.”
Winemakers are competing to claim parcels on the extraordinary slopes of Mt. Etna, the tallest and most active volcano in Europe. The soil on its steep slopes is shallow but fertile due to lava flow. The Etna DOC consists of 20 small districts, which are located within Etna Park on the north, east, and south slopes, where the reds Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio and the whites Carricante and Catarratto are grown. Prominent Sicilian winery Tasca d’Almerita owns Tascante, whose name is a blend of Tasca d’Almerita and Etna. Two separate parcels comprise 51 acres on the north slope in the Castiglione and Randazzo districts at 750 meters above sea level. The vineyards grow Nerello Mascalese and Carricante and produce three wines, Tascante and Ghiaia Nera from Nerello Mascalese and Buonora from Carricante.
Italian Wines of the Month
Principi di Butera 2009 Nero d’Avola, Sicilia
This graceful wine is 100% Nero d’Avola with cherry, plum, and orange zest on the nose and light spice on the palate with a mineral finish. Nero d’Avola is capable of making big wines, but the attempt here is elegance and finesse. The wine is aged in large oak casks for 12 months. Serve at cool room temperature with fish stews, ravioli, white bean dishes, and braised rabbit.
Principi di Butera 2011 Insolia
This 100% Insolia wine is a golden yellow with tropical fruit notes, hints of fresh flowers and good acidity. The finish suggests almonds. Serve chilled and enjoy with seafood pasta or risotto, pan-seared fish or slow-roasted chicken.
Principi di Butera 2011 Symposio
A blend of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, and 5% Petit Verdot, this Bordeaux blend takes on a Sicilian personality in the vineyards of Butera. Smooth, spicy, and rich but not over the top with alcohol, the wine has dense color and ripe plum, spice, and Sicilian herbs on the nose. Aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, the palate is rich and smooth. Serve at cool room temperature with Sicilian style couscous and rack of lamb.
Tascante 2011 Ghiaia Nera
With translucent color, typical of the varietal, the Ghiaia Nera (black gravel) is 100% Nerello Mascalese. This is only the third harvest from the vineyard in the Randazzo zone on the north slope of Mt. Etna. The wine has a pronounced cherry-almond nose with stony mineral flavors. Don’t try to compare it with any other wine you’ve ever tasted. Nerello Mascalese sings its own tune. The wine was aged in large oak casks for 12 months so that its natural flavors would not be muted by wood. Serve at cool room temperature with mild flavored foods. James Suckling gave the wine 91 points.
Tascante 2012 Buonora
From Tasca d’Almerita: “Ours is a local interpretation, which presents mineral content from volcanic soil, sulfurous accents, and fading scents of hydrocarbons even in recent vintages. Buonora reflects the nature of the soil from which it is born.” I’m laughing as I write. What does the language mean? But the fact remains that this wine is just one more thoroughly original white from Italy, specifically from the magical slopes of Mt. Etna. I do think they’re right though. The wine tastes like minerals and stones and suggests the scent of cold lava (as I imagine it). James Suckling gave the Buonora 93 points. “A salty and rich white with minerals, lemons, and a sliced apple character. Wonderful density and freshness all at the same time. A benchmark white from Etna. It shows Burgundian density.” Serve chilled.
Principi di Butera 2008 Deliella Nero d’Avola
The Deliella is 100% Nero d’Avola from a Butera vineyard at 1000 feet above sea level, over-looking the Mediterranean sea. The Deliella is the true prince of Butera’s production, an intense and complex wine. The color is deep, and prune, tobacco, and liquorish dominate the nose. The palate suggests berry, tobacco, and chocolate. Aged for 18 months in both French oak barrels and larger oak casks, the wine is without oak hang-over and has long aging potential. But right now, tannins are smooth, and the mouth-feel is beautiful. Gambero Rosso gave the wine its highest Tre Bicchieri award in 2000, 2002, and 2005. Decant and serve at cool room temperature with rabbit braised in olive oil, wine, garlic, and rosemary.
Tascante 2009 Tascante
Writing for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, Antonio Galloni gives the wine 93 points and describes it as follows: “The 2009 Tascante (Nerello Mascalese) is all about the weightless elegance and depth that is possible on the Etna. The wine possesses gorgeous inner sweetness and mid-palate pliancy, not to mention terrific overall balance. Striking floral and mineral notes are woven throughout a core of expressive fruit in this vivid, totally inviting wine. This is a great showing from Tasca.” Serve 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, and DOC wines have greatly increased to 23 DOC zones and 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.