two engaging red wines from sicily that showcase the region's diverse range of wines

Wine for september – under $20

Morgante, Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2012 (about $16)

Nero d’Avola is Sicily’s most widely-planted and most famous red grape variety. It grows almost exclusively in Sicily where it can be vinified on its own or blended with other varieties. Nero d’Avola is one of those nimble grape varieties capable of producing a range of wine styles anywhere from strucured and elegant to plush and fruity depending on the wishes and proficiency of the winemaker.

The Morgante estate consists of about 190 acres of vineyards located inland from Agrigento (famous for its ancient Greek temple ruins) in 2012 Nero d'Avola from Morgante in Sicilysouthwest Sicily. Although the Morgante estate has been growing grapes for generations, it was only in early 1990’s that they starting producing and bottling wines under their own label. Their wines have received increasingly favorable attention in the international wine press over the past decade. Consulting winemaker Riccardo Cotarella has worked with the Morgante family for several years and the estate’s wines reflect his talent for crafting compelling wines from native varieties.

Morgante’s Nero d’Avola consists entirely of Nero d’Avola grapes harvested from the estate’s vineyards. After fermentation in stainless steel tanks the wine is then judiciously aged in small oak barrels (barriques) for 4 months and spends an additional 4 months ageing in the bottle.

The 2012 Nero d’Avola has a beautiful, dense, purple hue. It delivers ripe fruit that is international in appeal and backs it up with Sicilian weight and structure. It opens with opulent notes of ripe cherries, blackberries and exotic spices followed by a warm, mouth-filling, rich black fruit taste balanced with good acidity. Its tannins are soft and muted so this is not a wine to lay away – it’s best to drink it over the next couple of years.

This assertive wine should be paired with equally robust foods. Grilled sausages or steaks, hearty stews and oven-roasted winter vegetables come easily to mind as well as does a good hamburger. Eggplant parmigiana or pasta with pesto would also be good.

Wine for september – $20 and over

I Custodi, “Aetneus” Etna Rosso 2007 (about $36)

I Custodi is a respected producer in the volcanic Mount Etna region of eastern Sicily, a wine region that has over the past decade come into its own as one of Italy’s most exciting wine regions.

The winery has several vineyards in premier locations on the eastern and northern slopes of Mount Etna which, incidentally, is Europe’s largest active volcano. These are high-elevation vineyards that range from 2,100 feet to almost 4,000 feet above sea level. The steeply-sloped, terraced vineyards are difficult to navigate with mechanical equipment so most of the tending and harvesting of the vines is done by hand, a time-consuming and expensive proposition.

The Aetneus Etna Rosso is one of the winery’s premier labels. It is a blend of 80 percent Nerello Mascalese and 10 percent each of Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante. The Nerello Mascalese (neh rel’ loh mahs kah ley’ zeh) is a little-known variety grown almost exclusively in the Mount Etna region. It is a deeply colored, thick-skinned variety that contributes gritty tannins and vibrant acidity to the wine.

Nerello Cappuccio (neh rel’ loh cah pooch’ cho) is another native red variety that contributes spicy aromas and red berry flavors and perhaps a touch of elegance to the Aetneus blend.

Alicante is better known in the wine world as Grenache (or Garnacha in Spain) and is one of the most widely planted red grape varieties in the world. This heat-loving, drought-resistant variety contributes soft, spicy, berry-flavored components to the blend.

The I Custodi winery is one of the leaders of Italy’s natural wine 2007 "Aetneus" Etna Rosso from the I Custodi winery in Sicilymovement. The winery is certified organic and follows biodynamic principles in the cellar and vineyard. Its vineyards are chemical-free, only indigenous yeasts are used in the fermentation process, no sulfites are added to the wines and the wines are bottled without fining and filtering. The winery touts their wines as suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

I Custodi’s Aetneus Etna Rosso is made with the assistance of Salvo Foti, a consulting enologist who also on his own makes some of the most interesting Mount Etna wines.

The grapes are hand-harvested from the estate’s vineyards on the northern side of Mount Etna. The vineyard’s 150 year-old vines thrive in the mineral-rich, sandy, volcanic soil. After maceration and malolactic fermentation, the wines are aged in new and used small oak barrels (barriques) for 24 months and then spend an additional year ageing in the bottle prior to release.

The 2007 Aetneus is an elegant, structured and long-lived wine with a velvety fruit flavor profile reminiscent of a fine Burgundy. It has a ruby, raspberry-ish color and an intoxicating aromatic profile with notes of black currants, cherries and kitchen spices. Its ripe cherry and plum flavors are balanced with a lively streak of acidity and soft tannins. It’s a compelling wine, complex while still fruity, structured and built for the long haul. While drinking well now, it will age well for at least another decade.


©Richard Marcis
September 10, 2015

To view other wine of the month selections, see Monthly Wine Reviews

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