David 22 May 2014
I’m always on the lookout for a decent red table wine, so here’s one from Sicily I recently came across that’s sure to bring you a little Mediterranean warmth .
Sicily’s been front of brain lately - a friend is heading off there for an adventure with his family and I’ve been catching a bit of the terrific BBC series ‘Sicily Unpacked’ in which art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon teams up with chef Giorgio Locatelli. The two are a great combination as they explore the stunning natural beauty of the island, taking in art, architecture, history, food and wine.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, and one with a long and significant history. Medieval Sicily was a seat of culture and trade, and I was interested to read that in the early 14th century Palermo had 100,000 inhabitants. At the time only Venice and Milan boasted larger populations in the whole of Europe. The flipside of this is that post WWII Sicily has been marred by poverty, violence and the presence of the Mafia.
Sicily has an incredible wine history dating back over 3000 years. With its hot climate, it was renowned for many centuries for its sweet wines. Since the 1800s the island’s most famous wine has been its fortified Marsala, which more recently has fallen out of fashion.
Modern Sicily is a powerhouse of the Italian wine industry, producing more by volume than any other region in Italy - about 15% of the country’s production. That’s a lot of wine… more than the whole of Australia. Until the 1980s though, most production was bulk industrial wine, much of it used by the northern regions of Italy to beef up thinner cool climate wines.
The last few decades, especially since 2000 with the advent of EU grants, have seen big changes in Sicilian wine. There’s been a significant improvement in quality and a reduction in quantity. Sicily now offers wines for the enthusiast and boffin alike.
Sicily boasts many indigenous grape varieties, including catarratto (white), which is the island’s most widely planted grape. You’ll also find carricante, frappato, grecanico, grillo, inzolia and nerello mascalese to name a few, but it’s nero d’avola, also known as calabrese, that’s the island’s most important red grape. Named after the city of Avola in the far south of Sicily, it likes the hot climate and tends to ripen later, producing strong, full-bodied wines that are deeply coloured, with firm tannins. Some compare nero d'avola to Aussie shiraz, but I think you'll find it more savoury - it's from European earth but with a familiar touch.
Cantine Calatrasi epitomises the shift in Sicily away from poorly made industrial plonk, to modern wines that are clean and approachable, yet still have the unique warmth, and most importantly, affordability of traditional Sicilian wine. I’d call them a new, old world producer.
The Miccichè family was growing grapes in the south of Sicily in the middle of the 18 th century, but it’s the current generation, headed by Dr Maurizio Miccichè, that has transformed the family’s fortunes.
In 1968 he acquired land in the Ginestra region in the northwest of the island and in 1980, along with his brother Giuseppe, established the Calatrasi winery in nearby San Cipirello, just south of Palermo. Over the ensuing decades, further holdings were acquired in the northwest between Corleone (of Godfather fame) and Campofiorito.
Then in 2000 Calatrasi employed 3 Australians: Brian Fletcher (Evans & Tate), Lisa Gilbee (making her own wine in Italy) and Linda Domas (Andrew Garrett, Maglieri/Mildara Blass). This was a wise step, as it introduced a strong new world influence, with modern winemaking practices and technologies but the real masterstroke by Calatrasi was what they didn’t do. They didn’t rip out all their old native grape varieties and it’s this clever juxtaposition of old-and-new, tradition with innovation, that has become their signature. Calatrasi offers the unique flavours and aromas of traditional Sicilian wine, coupled with clean and fresh upfront vivacity.
This successful combination saw continued expansion and Calatrasi now controls over 2,700 acres. They’re one of the biggest and most successful wineries in Sicily and it’s their size and success that allows them to produce such good wine for the price.
Calatrasi ‘Terre di Ginestra’ Nero d’Avola 2012
The Terre di Ginestra range is the flagship range of Calatrasi, with the fruit coming from sustainably farmed vineyards in the northwest of the island, at more than 300m elevation. It's pretty warm here, giving the fruit plenty of ripe flavours. The wine is made with modern techniques, using selected yeasts and temperature controlled ferments and it sees about 10 months in oak. New world style from old world grape.
It’s not a complex wine, but it delivers exactly what you’re looking for in a red at this price - a flavoursome and satisfying mouthful.
Rosey red in colour, you'll find sour cherry notes, a slight earthiness and chinoto characters. It's fruit forward and generous, yet it retains some savoury regional characters. As with all Italian wines there’s plenty of acid and firm tannins with a nice grip, that make it great with food.
Over the years it’s racked up a few awards - a great effort for a wine of this price.
• 2 glasses Gambero Ross. Vini d’Italia 2010.
• 2 glasses Gambero Ross. Vini d’Italia 2008.
• Decanter World Wine Award UK 2005 - 5 stars - gold medal.
You won’t find this around town much, so grab some and enjoy a mouthful of generous Sicilian sunshine. At this price it’s an easy any-night-of-the-week drink. Perfect with pizza and pasta… or a barbeque.
I can offer it for $21 a bottle. SOLD OUT - Check availability