Friday, April 17, 2009

New Sicilian Wine Projects

The Etna district in eastern Sicily is home to some of the most interesting red wines in all of Italy. This is a DOC zone where two red varieties, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio are dominant. Many estates here have very old vines of at least 50 years of age, while there are a few 100-year-old plantings in the area. At the new Tenuta di Fessina, owner Silvia Maestrelli (pictured at left, Photo ©Tom Hyland) purchased an existing estate with beautiful old vines (most planted about 80 years ago) and is now producing some beautiful reds from this area. The 2008 basic red receives no oak; this wine called Erse has delicious red currant fruit, soft tannins and is quite charming. The other called Musmeci is more robust with ripe morel cherry fruit, but still quite elegant and has plenty of spice. Look for this to be at its best in 5-7 years.

Maestrelli is also producing a Chardonnay at Fessina, but the grapes for this wine come from the western reaches of the island. Unlike a few of the more famous Chardonnays from Sicily, this wine received no oak aging. This 2007 offering, labeled Nakone is outstanding with excellent concentration, beautiful texture and vibrant acidity. Combining deep fruit flavors of quince and pear with a light touch of minerality, this is comparable to a Premier Cru Chablis both in terms of style and quality. What an excellent first-release; much of the credit certainly goes to agronomist and winemaker Federico Curtaz! (The Tenuta di Fessina wines are brand new and will be available in small quantities perhaps by year’s end in the US market.)

I met my long-time friend Mario Schwenn (pictured left, Photo ©Tom Hyland) on my trip; having known him entirely from his days at Dievole in Chianti Classico, seeing him in Sicily was a pleasant surprise. He was premiering his 2007 Chardonnay named Laudari for his new Sicilian project Baglio del Cristo di Campobello. The Chardonnay is quite rich with ripe golden apple fruit and features spicy oak, which is more noticeable in the nose than on the palate. This has deep concentration and needs a bit of time to settle down; it should be at its best in 2-3 years.

Schwenn has also produced a 2007 Syrah named Lusira and a red blend named Adenzia consisting of Nero d’Avola, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. I didn’t taste these wines, but given Schwenn’s passion – along with the winemaking expertise of Riccardo Cotarella – I’m sure these releases will be something special!

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