Some producers define a region, and others transcend it. Arianna Occhipinti, the niece of Giusto Occhipinti of COS, is the latter. Since her teens she closely spent time with her uncle who had put Vittoria and its Cerasuolo blend of Frappato and Nero d'Avola on the worldwide map. In 2004 with just one hectare she produced her first wine, and every day since it's more or less been a battle of allocations. Today we focus on two blends of Vittoria's most prized varietals, the SP68 and her top wine, Grotte Alte, only produced in exceptional vintages.
Arianna's close bond with Giusto sent her to Milan to study oenology. There she was surprised and disheartened to find the more chemical and industrial focus on winemaking taking precedent over the natural vineyard-first emphasis she grew up around. When she returned to Vittoria she slowly began to make plans to cultivate her own land, growing vines and more. The one hectare she started with has now grown into 28. Organic farming is strictly followed on all parcels.
I had always loved Arianna's wines and her approach from what understood. But, I wasn't prepared for what I saw at her newly constructed Vittoria estate. Every step has been taken to ensure the most clean and precise wines are produced. Much of Italy still sees temperatures for aging much higher than ideal. Arianna's top wine, Grotte Alte spends extended time in botti and it's marvelous balance of deep textured fruit with bright piercing clarity is incumbent upon pristine conditions.
However, as much as I want to wax poetic about the underground cellar, Arianna would point out that it's all very much second to the work that occurs in the vineyard. The parcels are immaculate, as you'd imagine with her background and terroir-focused sensibility. The rocky limestone makes itself evident with patches on the top of the soil as well as deep below where her cellar is built with exposed walls (picture below).
We touched on the unique terroir of Vittoria on Monday, but it bears repeating. The reason these wines are so elegant and balanced in Sicily's hot interior is due to constant wind, sandy topsoil, and the limestone mother rock that brings marked acidity to the wines.
Grace is a characteristic that may be overused at times (guilty as charged), but there's no better apt identifier for Arianna's wines. They have a seamless, velvet texture, finely-etched minerality, and concentration that lets it be known power shouldn't be mutually exclusive with elegance.
SP68 is a blend of 70% Frappato and 30% Nero d'Avola. It's fermented and aged entirely in concrete. This preserves the fresh red and blue fruit notes, and crisp minerality streak that Vittoria captures so well.
Grotte Alte is produced only in exceptional vintages and is a blend of equal parts Frappato and Nero d'Avola, sourced from estate's oldest vines. It's fermented for at least 35 days on skins and then aged in large Slavonian botti (pictured below). If at any point in its evolution Arianna feels it's not up to the highest standard it will be blended into SP68.
2015 Occhipinti SP68 Rosso
$27 per bottle.
2012 Occhipinti Grotte Alte
$99 per bottle.
My time on Mt. Etna has come to a conclusion and now sights are set further inland due west. The drive to Vittoria is a great reminder as to just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicliy is. Temperatures rise and the climate turns dry and arid. It's hard to believe this place I'm headed is beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines.There's no better introduction to the wines of Vittoria then through the 1980-founded dream project brewed up three young friends.
Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) chose as young men to produce 1,470 bottles of wine in October 1980. Cilia's father had a winery, and 3 hectares of nearby bush-trained vines were sourced. It was simply intended as a fun project. After showing the wine to a renowned sommelier in Palermo the trio received a much surprised enthusiastic response, and were told they needed to follow down this path.
The magic of Vittoria, one that took some time to make itself evident to the naked eye, is the soil and wind. There's a constant breeze coming from the Hyblaean mountains sweeping through these vines resting on red sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate these inland temperatures preserving acidity, the red sand cools immediately after the sun sets, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine - giving high acidity and nervy minerality. Organic and biodynamic viticulture here are implemented on all parcels.
Putting all this together it's clear why the red wines coming from COS resemble traditional Burgundy and Northern Rhone in their brightness, energy, and spice. Frappato and Nero d'Avola are the two main red varieties. An over-generalization can me made to the former resembling Pinot Noir, with the latter resembling Syrah. Blended together the most recognized of the wines of Vittoria is produced, called Cerasuolo.
COS has put these two obscure varieties on the worldwide map. Over the years the small region of Vittoria has garnered more attention, and rightfully so. The three friends are the ultimate ambassadors and are constantly pushing the envelope in maximizing the potential for their wines, never resting on their laurels.
I met with Giusto Occhipinti just as they were starting to bottle the new vintage of Frappato. Both wines are fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to what is used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This is certainly one of the most important choices made to ensure the wines are accentuated by crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink, and just as importantly pair well at the dinner table with a wide range.
The Frappato is very much in the red-fruited category and has an intense perfume of roses, and white pepper spice. The Cerasuolo is dark-fruited, led by plum and darker spice elements. If pairing, the Frappato is ideal with a roast chicken, whereas the Cerasuolo excels with roasted red meats and stews.
Each year these two COS red wines are the among the first in Sicily I want to introduce people to. The approach from farming to bottling is a model for all of Sicily, and it's exciting to see their reach spread further and further each year from this small village tucked into central Sicily.
2013 COS Frappato
$38 per bottle.
2014 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria
$45 per bottle.
60% Nero d'Avola, 40% Frappato