I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. Sicily’s official appellations are just short of a joke. Sicily is Italy’s largest region geographically, and the biggest island in the Mediterranean (it’s the size of mainland Massachusetts, by comparison) but it has only 23 D.O.C.s, and just one D.O.C.G., and when this older wine was made, the final whats and wherefors of many of these appellations hadn’t yet been hammered out, so producers making everything from simple, fruity jug wine, to really serious, place-driven wines (like this maker) unfortunately were all compelled to be bottled under the same, very permissive “Sicilia I.G.T.” designation. Not hard to see the sparks there…
And this wine is made from what has become the entire island’s best known if not signature red grape variety, Nero d’Avola. This is a vine variety that is fairly easy to cultivate, which is both a blessing and a curse. It’s also a vine that produces good to excellent wine, so farmers grow it…EVERYWHERE…so when it’s planted any old place, not and not properly tended, it still can yield decent, saleable wine. But, on the right sites, and with wise farming, Nero d’Avola can make world-class wine too.
This particular wine is made from vineyards planted on the lower slopes of one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mount Etna, but being that summit of Etna is pushing 11,000 feet in elevation (at least as of this writing) these lower slopes often exceed 3,ooo feet. So, volcano obviously means volcanic soil which means well-draining and complex, mineral-rich soils that are also very low in organic matter. This is the grape vine’s dream soil, and when you add in cooler, more northerly-facing vineyard sites to help tame the fierce Sicilian sun, Nero d’Avola sheds a lot of its chubby, fruit-punchy, tendencies to reveal a sharp, sleek, wine that in its youth shows all of the elegant smokiness seen in all volcanic-soil wines wrapped in a rich robe of dark fruit. In its later years (this is a 2004 vintage) the wines fade to a velvety-textured, but still juicy, ultra-complex and warm drinks. Frankly, many Nero d’Avola wines, drunk 8+ years from the vintage date would be shot, but ones like this alas all too seldom seen bottling points the way from the past to the future.
I made penne with broccoli, garlic, anchovies, raisins, toasted almonds, ricotta and pecorino for the primo, and then an elaborate, but traditional Sicilian dish called farsumagru, which are large, very thin beef slices rolled into logs with chopped beef, eggs, cheese, herbs, pancetta, and prosciutto, browned, then braised in red wine and onions, sliced and served hot with a tomato sauce. I put some buttered peas out with it.
Azienda Vinicola Calabretta Nero d’Avola Sicilia I.G.T. 2004
Lightly foggy, brownish deep ruby color. Complex and noble nose of leather, dried berries, fresh prune plum, walnuts, toasted grains, white truffles, wet clay pots, toffee, and sea spray. The medium body is very smooth, with soft but still grippy tannins, and a sweet, juicy acidity, and beautifully light-footed but solid, textured flavors of roasted fennel seeds, candied watermelon, black cherry skin, blackberry, and smoked meat. Delicate but very long, warm, and savory softly dry finish.