Peter Ranscombe‘s 12 Wines of Christmas continue with organic bottles from Sicily.
COMING from the north of Italy, brother and sister Stefano and Marina Girelli noticed some immediate differences when they bought the Santa Tresa estate on Sicily in 2001.
While their grapes in Trentino need to soak up every hour of sunshine they can find in order to ripen, the grapes in Sicily need to be shielded from the sun.
Those long hours of southern sunshine and the accompanying warmth allowed the Girellis to pursue a dream – to farm organically.
Farming grapes organically involves only using copper and sulphur to treat diseases and tackle pests in the vineyard.
It’s tough in cool and wet climates, but much easier in drier and warmer climes.
As regular readers will know, I’m a vocal advocate for organic and biodynamic wines – there’s a clarity and concentration to their flavours that’s unmistakable in the glass.
As Stefano put it during a recent webinar, grape variety nero d’Avola “has a different soul when organic”.
It’s a great example – many supermarket neros can be competent yet uninspiring.
But use organic fruit and suddenly the flavours shift up a gear.
Crush on you
That difference was certainly evident in the nero Stefano uses in his blends, including the 2018 Santa Tresa Cerasuolo di Vittoria (£12.75, Vintage Roots) and the Cortese Sabuci Cerasuolo di Vittoria (£18.50, Aitken’s Wines) from the Azienda Agricola Cortese, another Sicilian estate that Stefano and Marina bought in 2016.
Both are blends of nero with frappato, another Sicilian red variety.
The Santa Tresa Cerasuolo offered wood smoke, black fruits, and sweeter red cherry and raspberry jam on the nose, with crunchy raspberry and redcurrant on the palate and then a sweeter raspberry jam finish.
The acidity was perhaps a little on the high side without food and the tannins either need some meat or cheese to help soften them, but the complexity of the fruit shows that this is one to watch.
On the other hand, the Cortese Cerasuolo is a more experimental wine, with some of its components aged on their skins for a year in amphorae.
The result is even more texture, with grippy tannins, yet tonnes of lush red and black cherry fruit for balance.
On its own, the frappato really shines – I always think of it as being a bit like pinot noir, but with more structure.
In the 2018 Santa Tresa Rina Russa Frappato (2019: £10.75, Vintage Roots), those pinot-like aromas come through as raspberry jam, spun sugar, and just a bit of damp earth, but without any green notes.
That theme continues on the palate, with a juicy and fresh mix of sweet and sour raspberry jam and cranberry, all wrapped up in crisp acidity; hence its pairing with tuna and swordfish on the island.
In a similar vein, the 2018 Nostru Nerello Mascalese (£10.75, Street Wines) also provides a splendid mix of fresh and sweet fruit flavours, ranging from black fruit on the nose to redder fruit on the palate, finishing with blackcurrant and strawberry jams.
Fire up the grillo
While the reds were really impressive, it was Stefano’s whites that really shone during the recent online tasting.
The 2019 Santa Tresa Rina Ianca Grillo Viognier (£10.75, Vintage Roots) was my pick of the crop – hence selecting it to go alongside the smoked haddock macaroni recipe from The Seafood Shack in Ullapool in January’s Wine to Dine column in the main Scottish Field magazine.
A blend of 70% grillo and 30% viognier sounds like an odd mix on paper, but it really works in the glass, with high acidity, tangy lemon rind and green apple, plus a blast of brighter and rounder peach.
Not far behind was the 2019 Cortese Vanedda Bianco (£15.50, Aitken’s Wines) with its blend of catarratto, grillo, and fiano fermented together.
It took the savoury and nutty elements of the Ianca and shifted them up a gear, with nuttier apricot crumble notes alongside its red apple skin texture.
What links both the reds and the whites from Santa Tresa and Cortese is the superb value for money they offer – these are the kind of vibrant and exciting wines that spark conversations.
Tomorrow: the 12 wines of Christmas carry on with sparkling wines from England.