When visiting Sicily for vacation the other week, I took the opportunity to taste some local wine. The very majority of the wine produced on Sicily appears to be bulk, but there are quality producers. Particularly on the western part of the island, you must be picky.
Me and my family rented a beachfront house outside the city of Marsala on the south-western tip of Sicily. In this westernmost part of Sicily there are one or two handfuls of top producers, whereas at the eastern part of the island, particularly around Etna, quality is allegedly higher, at least according to Vini d’Italia and Parker. When blindly picking a wine off the shelf at the local supermercato, it frankly wasn’t very good, not even at €18. I visited Donnafugata, which is top-notch and was located just about 7 kilometers from our house, and Firriato in the small town of Paceco just outside Trapani.
Firriato started out as a wine producer as late as in 1985 with the attempt to produce high-quality wine from indigenous grapes. It has to be said that this is not your small,charming and romantic wine producer but an industrial plant which pumps out 4,5 million bottles of wine each years. The facilities are spick and span and with industrial robots participating in the production. So don’t expect to meet up with your average small-scale Burgundian grape farmer when visiting the premises.
Nevertheless, Firriato makes some good wine, there is no doubt about that. They also get consistently good reviews in Vini d’Italia, and even the Mighty Parker is not unimpressed.
Unfortunately, at Firriato, tastings could only be offered to parties of 10 people or more, meaning that I had to buy all the wines I wanted to taste, which certainly made for a severe restriction on the wines I could review. Nevertheless, I bought some of the medium-priced wines such as Santagostino, Quater and the Cavanera Bianco. Of these wines, I would particularly recommend the red Quarter and the white Santagostino.
Further, I bought a couple of bottles of the top-end bottlings as well. These include the Ribeca, the Harmonium, the Camelot and the Etna Rosso Cavanera. Of these four top-end wines, the Cavanera may be the best. I did not take any tasting notes when trying it out, but I fortunately have a couple of bottles left, so I may return to it later. One of the very reasons I chose to visit Firriato is that they are one of few (the only?) west-Sicily growers that also has vineyards at Etna and consequently makes Etna wines.
The 2009 Harmonium (€19) being a monovarietal Nero d’Avola is deep, deep red, almost inky with a nose of black-berries and plums. Slightly hollow in its centre part. Full bodied. Big and powerful with a slight bitterness at the end. 14.5 % ABV. In my opinion, this could have traded some power against balance to perform better. This is a tad too powerful to me. Gets the Three Glass award in Vini d’Italia more often than not. 85p.
The 2009 Camelot (€22) is a classic Bordeaux blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Merlot. Black currant, autumn leaves, fleshy, animalic with a slight sensation of fresh herbs. Great and classic Bordeaux nose, in particular after having spent some time out in the air. 14.5 % ABV. Nice length, decent balance and good power, albeit not top-heavy. Medium to full bodied. 87p.
Finally, the 2008 Ribeca (€19) is the finest of the bunch. Exclusively from the indigenous Perricone grape, which you certainly don’t have everyday outside of Sicily. Blackberries, spices, cured meat. Lots of character. Intense yet balanced and with a nice length and smooth finish. It lacks the slightly bitter finish which is present in both the Harmonium and the Camelot. Not completely different from a souther Rhône wine. Well-built with a good structure. 89p.