Sardegna & Sicilia, Marvels of the Mediterranean
Sardus Pater or in English “Sardinian Father” refers to the ancient mythological hero-god of the Nuragic civilization from the Bronze age, BCE 18th Century to the 2nd Century AD. According to the story, Sardus was generated by the Libyan Heracles and left with a multitude of men to occupy Sardegna. On the island of Sardegna, the second largest in the Mediterranean after Sicilia, over 7000 Nuraghe fortresses remain. But the vine growing co-operative Sardus Pater is actually located on the tiny Isle of Sant’Antioco off the southwestern coast of Sardegna. The co-operative of grape growers was organized in 1949 and began to make wine in a shared facility in 1955. The 280 associates farm a total of 300 hectares. Most of the vines are Carignano with an average age of 80 years, and some are as old as 150 years, all planted on their own roots instead of different rootstock, which is now the common practice internationally. Many of the vineyards are no more than 150 meters from the sea, where the soils are uniformly sandy. Italian wine guide “Gambero Rosso” describes Sardus Pater as follows: “The level of quality reached in recent years by Sant’Antioco based Sardus Pater is unbelievable.” Its flagship wine had been Carignano del Sulcis Arenas Riserva, which had received Gambero Rosso’s highest Tre Bicchieri award for three vintages in a row. But this year, the 2007 Carignano del Sulcis Superiore Arruga also received the Tre Bicchieri award and, more important, was honored as “Red Wine of the Year”. Since 2005, the consulting winemaker has been internationally recognized Riccardo Coterella.
Caruso & Minini
In 2002, Stefano Caruso and Mario Minini formed a partnership to produce the classic wines of Marsala on the western coast of Sicily. The estate’s vineyards, Giummarella and Cuttaia, a total of 120 hectares, have been cultivated by the Caruso family for many generations and are the heart and soul of the project that makes wines such as Nero d’Avola, Grillo, and Perricone, the ancient grapes of the region. But Stefano and Mario also cultivate the international varieties Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, which are very much at home in the area’s rocky soils, bright sun, and ocean breezes. While the entire production takes place in an old baglio in the heart of Marsala, the interior gleams with the latest temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and houses the finest oak barrels for ageing the wines. Fernando Paterno is the viticulturist, and Giuseppe Clementi is the enologist.
Italian Wines of the Month
Caruso & Minini 2008 Terre di Giumara Nero d’Avola
Despite its probable origins in Calabria, Nero d’Avola has become the favored red grape of Sicily and is often compared to Syrah because of its rich, dark flavors. The 2007 Caruso & Minini Nero d’Avola shows deep violet scents and berry patch aromas and on the palate is well balanced with black fruit flavors, refreshing acidity, and a velvety tannin texture. The wine was aged for 4 months in larger oak barrels, for eight months in stainless steel tanks, and for four months in bottle before release from the winery. Serve at cool room temperature.
Caruso & Minini 2009 Terre di Giumara Inzolia
Apparently indigenous to Sicily, Inzolia has clean and crystalline flavors, an intense bouquet of aromas, and is refined and graceful on the palate. The vineyard is dry-farmed, which means that it is un-irrigated, so flavors and aromas are even more intense since the grapes have no access to extraneous water. Serve chilled with roasted fowl, white bean soup, and appetizers.
Caruso & Minini 2006 Cutaja
This Cutaja is a delicious blend of 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Syrah, a combination that is becoming increasingly common in Sicily because the fruity flavors of Syrah can provide balance for Nero d’Avola, which can sometimes be an austere wine. Prestigious Italian wine guide “Gambero Rosso” describes the 2008 Cutaja as offering “intense meaty aromas and balance in the mouth,” a description that applies to the 2006 as well, except that with six years of aging, the 2006 is more elegant and fruity. Serve at cool room temperature with roasted meats and dark leafy greens, braised in garlic and olive oil.
Sardus Pater 2007 Is Solus Carignano del Sulcis
The 2007 Carignano del Sulcis is 100% Carignano, a beautiful earthy, aromatic, medium-bodied wine, made from vines with an average age of 70 years. The wine is all the more remarkable because Americans know Carignane, as it is called here, as the workhorse of the Prohibition years, a rugged, thick-skinned grape that was transported by train from California across the country to Chicago and the East Coast to home winemakers, and could survive the journey and still make a palatable wine. But from the tiny island Saint’Antioco off the coast of Sardegna, we see Carignano in its most elegant form. Serve at cool room temperature.
Sardus Pater 2005 Kanai Carignano del Sulcis Riserva
With lots of red berry fruit and spice on the nose, typical of Carignano, the Kanai Riserva is deliciously balanced with fruit, acid, and fine tannins. The fruit was allowed to ripen in the Sardinian sun to an alcohol content of 14% and produced a rich and extracted wine, aged in French oak barrels for ten months. A Bronz Age artifact appears on the label. Robert Parker gave the Sardus Pater 2005 Kanai Riserva 90 points. Serve at cool room temperature.
Sardus Pater 2004 Arruga Carignano del Sulcis Superiore
The Bronz Age coin on the label was found at one of the many Nugaghe fortresses scattered across the island. Wild strawberry, myrtle, juniper, and mastic bushes cover the land and incorporate themselves into the flavors that the old Carignano vineyards produce in Sant’Antioco. Now eight years old, the wine is more subdued and elegant than the exuberant and fruity 2005 Kanai. At its release from the winery, Robert Parker gave the 2004 Arruga 93 points. But the wine is a clear precursor of the 2007 Arruga, released this year, which won Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri award and, even more important, was chosen as Gambero Rosso’s “Red Wine of the Year” for 2012.
Italian Regions of the Month
Facing Spain to the west, Lazio to the east, and the island of Corsica a stone’s throw to the north, the island of Sargegna is still mostly undeveloped. The rocky Costa Smeralda in the north draws tourists to its resorts, while the island’s agriculture and viticulture dominates the south where its capital city and major port, Cagliari, is located. The rugged Gennargentu Mountains, the lair of legendary bandits, provide sweeping views to the east. Throughout Sardegna, the prehistoric nuraghi towers made of stones still inspire the curiosity of scholars who are unsure of their origins or purpose.
In the 8th century BC, Phoenician traders influenced wine making in Sardegna, and much later in the 13th century, the Spanish conquistadors brought Iberian grape varieties to the island. Today, these Spanish grape varieties, Vermentino, Cannonau, Monica, and Carignano, among others are the most widely planted on the island. But the indigenous Nuragus, named after the nuraghi towers, is the leading white variety and occupies as much as 1/3 of vineyard space. Described by outsiders as having an antiseptic quality, the wine seems to appeal mostly to Sardinians. Sweet wines are also traditional in Sardegna.
The older vineyards have traditional head-pruned arberello vines whose leafy canes bend to the ground. Such vines are lower and less influenced by the winds from the sea. The newer vineyards are likely to be trained on vertical trellises and planted in locations where they are protected from winds by hills or trees. While the most respected wines are produced by estate wineries, most Sardinian grape growers sell their grapes to cooperatives where the wine is made and sold.
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. But much of this wine is either shipped north as blending wine or distilled into industrial alcohol. The proportion of DOC wine is only 2.5%, most of which is Marsala, Sicilia’s proudest wine 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.
Sicilia has now switched its emphasis to lighter, dryer wines, both whites and reds. The pale white, dry Bianco d’Alcamo is the only DOC wine made in significant quality. The dry white and red wines of Etna, whose vines drape over the lower slopes of the volcano show notable class as does the pale red Cerasuolo di Vittoria. 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.