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