Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sicily rising: Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG and Vittoria DOC

On the afternoon of the day following Contrada dell'Etna, Brandon Tokash and I headed out from Mt Etna to visit a few wineries in the southern part of the island. The first wineries visited were Cantine Paolo Cali and COS, both resident within the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG zone.

The Cerasuolo (cherry-like) di Vittoria DOCG zone extends for approximately 70 km between Ragusa in the east and Riesi in the west -- a relatively large area for this particular classification. The regions and municipalities falling into the demarcated area of the zone are shown below the figure. The figure directly below shows the presence of a Classico sub-zone, which includes all of the municipalities included in the original DOC classification, as well as an area around the town of Santa Croce Camerina (outside of the main zone) which has a tradition of making the subject wine.


As is the case for most of Sicily, the climate of the region is hot and arid. Vineyards in the heart of the Classico region are on a plateau that ranges between 175 and 300 m in elevation. Areas further from the sea can have higher elevations, with Chiaramonte Gulfi and Licodia Eubia, for example, having elevations of 450 m and 500 m, respectively.

In general, the soils are limestone and clay, with sand increasing with proximity to the coast. Inland and high-elevation areas often have calcareous, clay-dominated soils. The two pictures below capture the soil variability within one of the Cantine Paolo Cali vineyards. It is held that soils with higher sand content produces wines that are "intensely perfumed, light, and delicate" while wines produced from grapes grown on redder soils are stronger and dark.

Sandy soil in a Cantine Paolo Cali Vineyard
Terra rossa soils in the same vineyard
Cerasuolo di Vittorio gained DOC status in 1973. Prior to that, the region's history mirrored that of the broader Sicily. The legislation associated with the DOC specified a wine comprised of 40% Frappato, a maximum of 60% Nero d'Avola, and a maximum of 10% Nerello Mascalese and/or Grossonero. The wine was elevated to DOCG status (the only one in Sicily) in 2005 and the composition was modified to be 50% - 70% Nero d'Avola and 30% - 50% Frappato. The wine must be aged a minimum of 8 months.

As shown in the chart below, Nero d'Avola is by far the most planted (18,300 ha) red indigenous variety in Sicily. Frappato, on the other hand, has much smaller surface area (803 ha) devoted to its growth (Nesto MW and di Savino).

Nero d'Avola (also known as Calabrese and translating as the "black of Avola") likes hot climates and produces wines with high tannins, medium acidity, and strong body. If grown in high elevations, it can produce smooth wines. The vines are generally trained espalier. The grape brings weight and body to the blend.

Frappato grapes are round-oval, medium-sized berries collected into medium-sized, pyramidal, compact bunches. The grapes produce cherry-colored reds which are light in body, aromatic, and low in tannins. As does Nero d'Avola, Frappato thrives in the hot, dry conditions of Sicily and brings flavors of black cherries and strawberries to the blend.

In addition to the DOCG zone, there is a Vittoria DOC zone which maps directly to the DOCG zone and has similar varietal blends. The primary difference between the wines are the yields (52 hl/ha for the DOCG and 70 hl/ha for the DOC) and alcohol levels (13% for the DOCG and 12% for the DOC). Wines made from grapes grown in the Classico region can be so labeled if the aging requirements (> 18 months) are met. Within the DOC classification area you are allowed to produce varietal wines which must have a minimum of 85% of the stated variety to be compliant with the regulations. The allowed wines are Nero d'Avola, Frappato, and Inzolia (white). The rules also allow for Novello di Vittoria, a Beaujolais-Nouveau-style wine.

The mostly small producers (ancient land-allocation practices doled out 2 ha plots to supplicants) utilize a number of varying fermentation and aging regimes. I will use COS practices as an example. This producer practices biodynamic farming in the vineyards and indigenous-yeast fermentation in the cellar. Some wines are fermented in resin-lined concrete vats while others are fermented in large clay amphorae. The wines are aged in Slavonian oak vats, large concrete barrels, or clay.
Amphorae at COS
I will detail the visit to Cantine Paolo Cali in my next post.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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