Fine Italian Wines for the month of march

Wine for march 2010 - Under $25

Santa Lucia, “Vigna del Melograno” Castel del Monte Uva di Troia 2006 (about $16)

The Puglia region comprises the “heel” of the geographic “boot” that is Italy. With it’s rich, fertile expanses of land, wine-friendly hot climate and rich palette of indigenous grape varieties, Puglia has always produced prodigious quantities of wine. But until recently most of the wines produced here, like almost everywhere else in southern Italy, have been undistinguished, at best.

However, the Puglia wine scene is undergoing a dramatic transformation. With an infusion of capital from outside winemaking investors and the emergence of quality-oriented producers turning out top-quality wines from Puglia’s indigenous grape varietals, the Puglian wine scene is in process of reinventing itself and may well be poised to become Italy’s next great wine region.

The Santa Lucia winery is typical of the quality-oriented wine estates that are refashioning the wine scene in Puglia. The winery is located about 13 miles west of the Adriatic coast town of Trani, not far from the extraordinary, octagonal-shaped castle, Santa Lucia, 2006 "Vigna del Melograno" Castel del Monte Uva di TroiaCastel del Monte, that was built in the 13th century by Emperor Frederick II. The imposing, Gothic-style castle dominates the local countryside. At an elevation of about 1,000 feet and with a moderate climate, the area is conducive to growing quality grapes and the castle is surrounded by vineyards. It is from this imposing castle that the Castle del Monte DOC gets its name and is one of the largest wine zones in central Puglia. Wines from the Castel del Monte DOC zone can be rosso (red), bianco (white) or rosato (rosè).

The most interesting wines are dry, red wines derived from the Uva di Troia varietal, which date back to Greek plantings. The Rosso wines can be made entirely from Uva di Troia or be blends of Uva di Troia with Aglianico, Montepulciano or other local red varieties. These are wines with deep, rich character and enticing floral aromas and luscious, dark-fruit flavors. While the wines drink nicely in their youth, they have the stuffing to age well and are exceptional wines for their price class.

The Santa Lucia estate follows natural organic farming principles. No herbicides are used to control pests and weeds; rather, cover crops are used to provide natural disease protection. The vineyard rows are staggered and alternate between tilled rows and rows with grass cover that provide soil nutrients. Sulfur is used sparingly as a preservative for the wines.

The Santa Lucia estate has 38 acres under vine in the Castel del Monte zone. It is a small producer by Puglian norms where large cooperatives are the standard so the current owners can pay special attention to their vineyards and better control the integrity of the fruit. The Uva di Troia grapes come entirely from the estate’s Melograno vineyard and are harvested by hand.

The Santa Lucia Vigna del Melograno is 100 percent Uva di Troia grapes. The grapes are fermented in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks after which the wine is aged for eight months in oak casks and then finished with another six months in the bottle prior to release for sale.

The Santa Lucia Castel del Monte “Vigna del Melograno” wine has a rich, ruby red color with muted purple reflections. The red plum and black cherry aromas are fairly intense and its rich red berry fruit flavors are supported by lively acidity and soft tannins with some notes of cedar. It is rich and balanced with a nice, long, savory finish.

This is a versatile wine that pairs well with red meat dishes, roasts, stews, ragù, grilled mushrooms and aged cheese.

Wine for March 2010 – $25 and over

Azienda Agricola COS, Cerasuolo Di Vittoria 2007 (about $30)

Cerasuolo di Vittoria (chera swo’ lo dee veet tor’ ee ah) is a red wine produced in the area around the scenic, small town of Vittoria, which is about 14 miles on a very winding, corkscrew road due west of Ragusa in southeastern Sicily. It is Sicily’s only DOCG-designated region.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a blend of two indigenous Sicilian varieties – Nero d’Avola, arguably Sicily’s best red wine grape, and Frappato (frahp pat’ toe). The Nero d’Avola adds bracing acidity and rich fruit flavors to the mix while the low-acid Frappato adds floral aromas and freshness. Cerasuolo di Vittoria typically has a fairly light color that may be initially deceiving since the wine is medium-to-full-bodied and fairly robust. It is a distinctive and delicious wine with good acidity that is quite cellar-worthy and can be aged for up to twenty years.

The COS winery gets its name from the first letters of the surnames of the original three founders of the winery (Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Pinuccia Strano). Initially started on a shoestring by the three long-time friends in the early 1980’s with grapes given to them by Giambattista’s parents, the business took off quickly as they found critical success and decided to make it a serious, full-time pursuit. Today it is regarded as one of southern Italy’s premier wineries.

But the owners of this winery march to a different drummer in their willingness to experiment and try new procedures or reinvent old approaches to mAzienda Agricola COS, 2007 Cerasuolo Di Vittoriaaking wines. From something as simple as foot-treading of grapes, as they did in their initial year of production, or changing the shape of the traditional wine bottle for some of their wines to more substantive issues like their holistic, biodynamic approach to winemaking as well as aging some wines in terracotta amphora, the owners of COS have indicated a willingness to experiment with new, or in some cases old procedures. They have adopted a green approach to winemaking with unfiltered exuberance, so to speak, and in the process have made some extraordinarily good wines.

The 2007 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a blend of 60 percent Nero d’Avola and 40 percent Frappato. The grapes were fermented in stainless steel tanks and then aged in oak barrels for 20 months. The wines are then bottled unfiltered in distinctive squat-shaped bottles that resemble old Marsala bottles.

The ’07 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria has a light color but opens up with an aromatic ensemble of currants, dark fruit and spices that follow through in the taste. It has substantial grip and concentration with a certain “earthiness” that adds character to the wine. Its rich, black-fruit flavors come through loud and clear and its textured tannins are balanced by a crisp acidity. This is a distinctive wine that is proud of its Sicilian patrimony and may well be the perfect antidote to the trend towards “international-style” wines.

These wines are not easy to find and while they’re not exactly cheap at $30 a bottle, they are considerably more interesting than a lot of well-known, more expensive wines and are worth the effort.

COS’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria is very flexible with food and goes well, for example, with veal sauteed with sage as well as more hearty grilled meats and stews. Try it with a braised beef dish such as beef pizzaiola.


Note – prices indicated are averages of generally available retail prices and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed.  It is best to call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis
March 12, 2010

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