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South Italy & the Islands - Top Producers of Sardegna & Sicilia

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks

Top Producers of Sardegna & Sicilia

Argiolas - Sardegna/IGT Nuragus di Cagliari

location: via Roma 56/58, Serdiana
telephone number: 0707 40606
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: red: 1998, 1997, 1995, 1994, 1993, 1992; white: most recent
recommended wines: Turriga IGT, Angialis IGT, Nuragus di Cagliari

To give credit where credit is due, Argiolas had already discovered the potential of Sardegna’s terroir when the current crop of headline-grabbers were still knee-high to a grasshopper. Fine producers are still in short supply, and the Argiolas pedigree deserves as much recognition as the wines. The flagship Turriga, an IGT wine, comprises a majority of Cannonau stiffened with a little Malvasia Nera. Its ripe, jammy character framed by toasted oak would embarrass many a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Equally impressive are the sweet Angialis, the dry Costamolino from Vermentino, and a rare white Nuragus di Cagliari DOC. If Argiolas were in Tuscany, the wines would be three times the price.

Cantina Gallura - Sardegna/Vermentino di Gallura

location: via Val di Cossu 9, Tempio Pausania
telephone number: 0796 31241
wine styles: red, white, rosé, dessert
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Vermentino di Gallura: Canayli, Mavriana, Piras

A lonely outpost of Sardinian viticulture, the co-op in Gallura continues to exhort its members to show due care and attention in the vineyards. Over the years these fine words have seeped into the members’ consciousness and, phoenix-like, decent Vermentino has emerged from this region. The three versions (Canayli, Piras, and Mavriana), are all richly aromatic and expressive. Vermentino di Gallura DOCG remains one of Italy’s best-value whites, and this modest co-op one of its principal proponents.

Cantina di Santadi - Sardegna/Carignano del Sulcis

location: via Su Pranu 12, Santadi
telephone number: 0781 950127
wine styles: red, white, rosé, dessert
best vintages: red: 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998; white: most recent
recommended wines: Carignano del Sulcis Superiore Terre Brune, Carignano del Sulcis Riserva Rocca Rubia

Far from an average co-op, Santadi consistently serves up not only some of the best wines on the island but some of the best wines in Italy. That they remain resolutely affordable is a source of continuing delight to those who have discovered the pleasures of the little-known DOC of Carignano del Sulcis. Santadi’s Terre Brune is jam-packed with tarry, blackberry fruit allied to supple tannins and great length. Its younger brother Rocca Rubia is nearly as impressive, and both look like increasingly good value.

Capichera - Sardegna/IGT

location: SS Arzachena, S Antonio, 5km, Arzachena
telephone number: 0789 80800
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Capichera Vendemmia Tardiva IGT, Capichera IGT

In among the parched, rocky scrub of northern Sardinia lies the immaculate estate of Capichera. The Ragnedda family’s relentless search for quality may not be unique in Sardegna, but it is still in sharp contrast to the majority of producers. The family recently made the difficult decision to turn their back on Sardinia’s only DOCG, Vermentino di Gallura, and label all their wines as IGT. This is a shame, since Capichera’s unstinting efforts with Vermentino did much to elevate the reputation of the region as a whole. The Vendemmia Tardiva remains one of Vermentino’s finest moments, showing nutty aromas overlaid with wild flowers and rare complexity. The Capichera offers a more affordable introduction to the pleasures of this grape. The estate has recently added a range of sound, if a little pricey, reds.

Contini - Sardegna/Vernaccia di Oristano

location: via Genova 48/50, Cabras
telephone number: 0783 290806
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: red & white: most recent; dessert: 2001, 1992, 1990
recommended wines: Vernaccia di Oristano Antico Gregori

Attilio Contini’s determination to produce one of Italy’s least fashionable wines, Vernaccia di Oristano DOC, is to be applauded by supporters of vinous diversity. Gently oxidized, indestructible, and peerless with soups and antipasto, Vernaccia di Oristano is Italy’s answer to fine amontillado sherry , with a delicate nose of hazelnut and honey and a warming caramel note on the finish. Attilio’s magnificent, multi-vintage Antico Gregori is still resolutely undiscovered.

Benanti - Sicilia/Etna & IGT

location: via G Garibaldi 475, Viagrande
telephone number: 0957 893 533
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: 2000, 1999, 1997
recommended wines: Etna Bianco Superiore Pietramarina, Minella IGT Sicilia

High-density plantings, low yields, and hand-plunging during fermentation are just a few of the steps the Benanti family has taken to establish their estate at the forefront of viticulture in Etna DOC. The high altitude and volcanic soil yield a small crop of aromatic local grapes. The white Pietramarina, made from 80-year-old Carricante vines planted at 2,800 ft (850 m), is a concentrated, blissfully oak-free mélange of almond, apple, and licorice. The Rosso di Verzella is an equally impressive rendering of Nerello Mascalese.

Calatrasi - Sicilia/IGT

location: loc San Cipirello, contrada Piano Piraino, Palermo
telephone number: 0918 576 767
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: D’Istinto IGT Sicilia range

One of the most international producers in South Italy, Calatrasi is owned partially by Australian conglomerate the Hardy Wine Company and partially by Maurizio Miccichè, a Sicilian doctor who started the estate as the vinification arm of the co-op he had encouraged local farmers to form. There is now a winery in Puglia, too, but Calatrasi is the driving force behind the D’Istinto label, which combines crowd-pleasing quaffability with great value. All the D’Istinto wines are varietally labeled and released under the IGT banner.

Colosi - Sicilia/Malvasia delle Lipari

location: via Militare Ritiro 23, Messina
telephone number: 0905 3852
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Malvasia delle Lipari Passito di Salina

Piero Colosi is a tireless champion of one of the south’s near-extinct dessert wines, Malvasia delle Lipari DOC. He makes this in both a naturale and a passito style, but the sun-drenched island of Lipari specializes in the passito method. This process exaggerates the herbal character of the grape, and creates a wine with a pleasing eucalyptus and apricot bitterness.

Cusumano - Sicilia/IGT

location: con San Carlo, Partinico
telephone number: 0918 903456
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: IGT Sicilia: Inzolia Cubìa, Noà

Brothers Diego and Alberto Cusumano have been experimenting with different grape varieties on their father’s 140-ha farm since 1989. It took them until 2001 before they were happy enough with the results to release their first wine. This is an estate that can do no wrong, and Diego’s larger-than-life personality shines through all the wines, from the jolly Inzolia Cubìa to the dramatic Noà, a blend of Nero d’Avola, Merlot, and Cabernet. They recently purchased a 160-ha parcel of vines at 2,300 ft (700 m) to experiment with cool-climate varieties. All wines are released under IGT Sicilia.

Donnafugata - Sicilia/Passito di Pantelleria & Contessa Entellina

location: via S Lipari 18, Marsala
telephone number: 0923 724 200
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: 2001 (w), 2000, 1998 (r)
recommended wines: Contessa Entellina Vigna di Gabri, Passito di Pantelleria Ben Ryè

Donnafugata has an exemplary range of Sicilian classics, many of which are Contessa Entellina DOC. Vigna di Gabri is a pure expression of the summer fruits and acacia for which the Inzolia grape is prized. The unctuous Ben Ryè has raised the bar for devotees of traditional, unfortified Passito di Pantelleria DOC.

Firriato - Sicilia/IGT

location: via Trapani 4, Paceco
telephone number: 0923 882755
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2000, 1999, 1998; white: most recent
recommended wines: IGT Sicilia: Chiaramonte, Santagostino Bianco, Santagostino Rosso

The di Gaetano family has invested heavily in keeping both vineyards and winery in top shape. Maintaining quality across 16 wines and four million bottles cannot be easy, but all the wines that emerge from their unassuming premises are eminently presentable. The well-priced Chiaramonte, made from the Catarratto grape, offers a wealth of attractive lemon and stone fruit flavor. Moving up the scale, the dual-varietal Santagostino Bianco fattens 70 percent Catarratto with a dollop of oak-aged Chardonnay. The Santagostino Rosso does much the same with 65 percent Nero d’Avola balanced by Syrah’s spiciness. Both offer a modern take on traditional Sicilian flavors. All wines are released as IGT Sicilia.

Gulfi - Sicilia/IGT

location: loc Roccazzo, via Maria Santissima del Rosario, Chiaramonte Gulfi
telephone number: 0932 921 654
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2001, 2000
recommended wines: Nero d’Avola Rosso Ibleo IGT Sicilia

Vito Catania, a local boy made good through working with Formula One auto racing, has returned to his home-town determined to produce Nero d’Avola that can take the world by storm. Since 1996, he has planted 90 ha with dry-farmed, bush-vine Nero d’Avola at an incredible density of 8,500 vines per hectare. The estate’s first inky-black release is a Nero d’Avola just as it ought to be: redolent of tangy black fruit layered with balsamic new oak. There is no doubt that this estate will evolve into one of the most dynamic forces in Sicilia.

Marco de Bartoli - Sicilia/Marsala

location: contrada Fornara Samperi, 292, Marsala
telephone number: 0923 962 093
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: white, dessert, fortified
best vintages: dessert & fortified: 2001, 2000, 1998, 1994; white: most recent
recommended wines: Marsala Vecchio Samperi 20-year-old Riserva, Marsala Superiore, Passito di Pantelleria Bukkuram

Lost in a sea of mediocrity, Marco de Bartoli has been a lone voice championing the potential of Marsala. And what a siren call. At the top of the tree is the sublime Marsala Vecchio Samperi 20-year-old Riserva, a gently sweet, extraordinarily complex fortified wine that immediately confers respectability upon the entire Marsala family. The vintage-dated Marsala Superiore and Vigna la Miccia are similarly refined. Not content with making benchmark Marsala, Marco also produces an exquisite Passito di Pantelleria, Bukkuram.

Morgante - Sicilia/IGT

location: contrada da Racalmare, Grotte
telephone number: 0922 945579
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2000, 1999, 1998
recommended wines: Nero d’Avola Don Antonio IGT Sicilia

It is difficult to imagine a more unassuming winery than this utilitarian building behind Agrigento. The wines, however, are testimony to Carmelo and Giovanni Morgante’s quiet determination to bring Nero d’Avola to the world’s attention. Just two, modestly-priced wines are produced from Nero d’Avola: a chuggable version with just four months in oak, and the more contemplative Don Antonio, aged for a year in new oak. The Don Antonio offers an additional dimension of ripe fruit and spicy complexity that more than justifies the higher price.

Murana - Sicilia/Passito di Pantelleria

location: contrada Khamma 276, Pantelleria
telephone number: 0923 915231
wine styles: red, white, dessert
best vintages: red & white: most recent; dessert: 1999, 1998, 1997
recommended wines: Passito di Pantelleria Martingana, Passito di Pantelleria Khamma

Salvatore Murana, the unofficial prince of Pantelleria DOC, is the island’s foremost exponent of its luscious sweet wines, made from sun-dried Moscato grapes. The Martingana reveals divine concentration of Moscato’s signature orange blossom and raisin aromas, complemented by peach and honey. The Khamma is similar, but a very brief period in oak adds a spicy note.

Palari - Sicilia/Faro

location: loc Santo Stefano Briga, contrada Barna, Messina
telephone number: 0906 94281
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red
best vintages: 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994
recommended wines: Palari Faro

In 1990, noted Italian wine journalist Luigi Veronelli approached Salvatore Geraci, an architect from Messina, with an ambitious undertaking: he asked Salvatore to save the DOC of Faro from extinction. At that time there were only two producers of Faro; under Italian law, there must be a minimum of three if a DOC is to remain in existence. Geraci’s family owned 4 ha of terraced vineyards but had always sold the wine locally in demijohn. Fortunately, Salvatore took up the challenge, experimenting from 1990 to 1994, then releasing his first wine, which went on to scoop one of Italy’s top awards. Crafted from low-yielding Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, Palari’s Faro is an elegant composition of new oak and sweet berry fruit.

Planeta - Sicilia/IGT

location: via Michele Amari, Palermo
telephone number: 0913 27965
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: red: 2000, 1997, 1996; white: most recent
recommended wines: IGT Sicilia: Cometa, Santa Cecilia

Year after year, the supremely confident Planeta clan delivers the goods. Although the obvious, international charms of the Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon win the awards, the family is most proud of their achievements with Italian varieties. The white Cometa, a 100 percent Fiano, aged partly in barrique, delivers an unforgettable performance with an intense palate of dried fruit and spice. Santa Cecilia is their version of Nero d’Avola, and it is suitably impressive with refined tannins and good persistence. Given the quality of the wines and the hype surrounding the Planeta estate, the wines continue to offer exceptional value and are released as IGT Sicilia.

Planeta’s meteoric rise

Just 20 years ago, the achievements of the Planeta family would have been unthinkable. Their metamorphosis from anonymous grape supplier to one of Italy’s most respected wine producers is a tale of hard work and unwavering belief in the potential of Sicily’s unique terroir. In 1985 Diego Planeta, president of Cantina Settesoli—the island’s largest cooperative cellar—and one of its 6,000 members, decided to experiment with both local and international varieties to see if it was possible to coax anything but inevitably cheap and poor-quality wine from Sicily’s unrewarding soils. He planted more than 50 different combinations of variety, clone, and rootstock in a tireless campaign to raise the quality of the island’s wines through their raw material. His project marked a turning point in Sicilian viticulture. Planeta’s first release, a Chardonnay grown from this experimental vineyard, was greeted with unanimous praise from both sides of the Atlantic and offered proof of the south’s potential. Today, Planeta produces more than a dozen wines with an increasing emphasis on local varieties.

Valle dell’Acate - Sicilia/Cerasuolo di Vittoria

location: contrada Bidini, Acate
telephone number: 0932 874166
winery open to public: by appt
wine styles: red, white
best vintages: most recent
recommended wines: Inzolia IGT Sicilia, Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC

The Acate River has carved a series of broad, alluvial terraces through the arid plains of Sicily’s southeastern tip. Valle dell’Acate is a mini-cooperative comprising just seven members, each with vineyards planted on these terraces. The unrewarding, stony soil and proximity to the sea create an ideal mesoclimate for Inzolia, Nero d’Avola, and Frappato, all skillfully vinified by Gaetana Jacono. The delicate red fruit and fresh acidity of her Cerasuolo di Vittoria make it an ideal summer red.

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