The road less travelled

This has been a long time coming

Ever since I launched the business, our members have been nudging me to find a deliciously big red from the south of Italy.

So I couldn't wait any longer to tell you about the result of my trip to Sicily.

To hell with chance

It hasn’t been for lack of trying - places like Puglia, Abruzzo and Calabria have been on my radar for a long time.

I’d tasted countless wines made by friends of friends, and kissed far too many frogs at wine fairs in Italy.

Whenever I did come across a gem - I found out they were already in Ireland. Sigh.

And at standard wine retail markups. Even bigger sigh.

So I dialled up one of the best in the business

I explained my conundrum to Federico Cerelli.

Federico’s a good friend of mine and one of Italy’s finest winemakers, having built a big reputation at the world-famous Marchesi Antinori in Tuscany.

He explained that the challenge with the south is that it’s so hot these days. You can find good cheap wines, but when it comes to the highest quality - it's very difficult.

You need freshness in the wines to give them complexity and ageability - and in hot places that usually comes from higher altitude vineyards. Not easily found in wine regions in the south.

But he then told me where it was definitely possible - Sicily.

Embrace the chaos!

Sicily is a big island at the foot of Italy, right in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
It’s been a crossroads of trade and immigration for centuries, with strong influences from mainland Italy, north Africa, Turkey, Greece, Spain and France.

And islanders being islanders, they tend to have that bit of inferiority complex.

A day in Palermo is an assault on the senses - if you’ve been, you’ll know what I mean.

Walking down the average street you can experience everything from street food vendors shouting at you, to nearly getting wiped out by a motorbike, and fish stalls, fresh juice stands, calls to the mosque, crumbling buildings, and north African spices wafting through the air.

I’ve always found that trying to understand the people and the culture is a great start to figuring out the wines.

The road less travelled

When most people think of wine from Sicily, they think of Etna.

It’s very trendy and there are some amazing bottles, but I’ve often found them disappointing, especially as they tend to be pretty expensive.

(But hey, a volcano is great for marketing).

So when I met Federico at Palermo airport, we headed south on the road less travelled, to a place called Salaparuta.

And to a winery called Vini Vaccaro, one of his consulting clients for years.

The longest aftershock

The winery was built in 1970, two years after the infamous 1968 earthquake on the island, where over 200 people lost their lives.

On the way to see the vineyards, we drove past the old village, which was completely flattened by the earthquake.

At the time the Italian government promised to rebuild the area, and the locals moved into temporary housing and tents nearby.

But the funds never arrived, and the village remains completely abandoned and in ruins to this day.

It’s spooky and sobering, and another plot in the story of how we got here.

This is just the place

We eventually make it up a series of narrow and slightly terrifying lanes up to the vineyards, and wow, what a place!

There are rolling lush green hills as far as the eye can see, dotted with vineyards and olive groves, and with breathtaking views down to the sea.

The vineyards have been farmed organically for over 20 years, and with strong winds blowing through all year round, the grapes are kept cool, fresh and healthy despite the heat.

Federico explains that this is exactly what you need to achieve that balance of ripeness and freshness to make truly great red wines.

The greatest gift of them all

Federico also tells me that despite the amazing raw material, the locals really lack the conviction to make really top wines from their fruit.

Which is why they brought in Federico to help them.

Having made some of Italy’s most famous and iconic wines in Tuscany, such as Tignanello and Solaia, he knows exactly how to do it.

But I realise that he’s done something far more valuable here.

Which is that he’s made the Vaccaro family believe in themselves.

As a member of WineSpark, you’re part of this too.

Knowing there would be a market of discerning customers in Ireland for it, Federico went ahead and made an amazing red, to show them what was possible.

I Filari Sicilia Nero d’Avola 2020 is almost here

Federico’s brand new Nero D’Avola is just a couple of weeks away from landing in Ireland.

Think luscious black cherries and blackberries, bright florals and those lovely tea leaf flavours you get in Italian reds. It’s spicy, powerful and smooth, but with a delicious elegance and freshness to it too.

I poured a sneak preview at our Spring tastings, and people loved it.

John Wilson of The Irish Times was seriously impressed, highlighting it as one of his wines of the tasting and adding: 'big and full-bodied with masses of dark fruits and a core of soft tannins; it still has a certain elegance. One for the hedonists amongst us'.

And because this is Salaparuta, and not Etna or even Tuscany, at €28.54 a bottle it will be just amazing value for a wine of this quality.

By the way, this wine completes the I Filari range! Federico brings you the best of Tuscany, Veneto and now Sicily - exclusively for our members.

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