Sicilia En Primeur: Celebrating 25 Years of Assovini Sicilia’s Unified Vision for Sicilian Producers – Filippo Magnani

May 9th and 10th, the Sicilian wine community achieved a new milestone in Cefalù, Sicily with over 100 wine journalists and 59 wineries who convened to explore and evaluate over 300 labels, participate in five masterclasses, and embark on ten curated wine tours.

For over 25 years Sicilia En Primeur has been celebrating the evolution of a diverse wine region on the Mediterranean’s largest island – Its history, culture, traditions and food are as rich as they are diverse.

Some History
Assovini Sicilia was founded 25 years ago by Diego Planeta, Lucio Tasca d’Almerita and Giacomo Rallo who launched an association and has since grown in membership and international success due to their visionary and collaborative approach. The theme of this year’s event was “ Cultivating The Future” which focused on the evolution of Sicilian wine, its cultural value, wine tourism, and future prospects, with participation from journalists, producers, and industry representatives. Mariangela Cambria, President of Assovini Sicilia, emphasized how the association has promoted a contemporary and dynamic image of Sicily, making it a brand of significant cultural value and international appeal. The association’s success is based on innovation and adaptability, integrating new generations into company management roles and focusing on sustainability and wine tourism. Particular emphasis was on the role of the new generation of wine production in Sicily and illustrated with the poignant video entitled “Next Generation”.

The event was moderated by the prestigious journalist Gioacchino Bonsignore (TG5 Mediaset) and featured presentations from an all-star cast such as the one of Monica Larner, Italian reviewer, Robert Parker Wine Advocate who presented the Trends and Perception of Sicilian Wine in the US Market; a glance at the Past to Imagine the Future in the vineyard by Alessio Planeta, CEO Planeta winery; The Story of a Thriving Partnership by Antonio Rallo, President of the Consortium for the Protection of Sicilia DOC; The New Frontiers of Green and the Experience of the SOStain Sicilia Foundation with Alberto Tasca, President of the SOStain Sicilia Foundation and even more including the ambassador of Sicilian culture Regoli, Director of WineNews.

In addition to the conference, Sicilia En Primeur organized their yearly wine tours of the territory which gives participants a chance to delve deeper into the multitude of Sicily’s wine zones, discovering their evolution and the new frontiers of each area. I have had the chance to explore the central-southern part of the island. So, along with the prominent Nero d’Avola, the identity of Sicily in red in different versions (rosé, sparkling, fruity and light or more structured reds); there were also the whites especially Catarratto in which many producers of the area specifically believe in for the production of wonderful Classic Method Sparkling wine especially at high altitude; I could taste different versions of my beloved Frappato with its versatility and captivating juicy character also able to produce rosé, delicious bubbles or it is blended with the generally more concentrated Nero d’Avola for a perfect balance.

A Culinary Journey Through Basilicata by Chefs Davide Ciavattella and Ernesto Iaccarino at Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890

On Monday, June 17th, 2024, I had the profound pleasure of indulging in a meticulously curated menu by Chefs Davide Ciavattella and Ernesto Iaccarino at Michelin-starred Don Alfonso 1890, Toronto.

The restaurant’s design and ambiance were nothing short of exquisite, setting the stage for an unforgettable culinary experience for the invitation-only guests. The evening featured an eight-course dinner paired with exceptional Basilicata wines, all orchestrated by the talented Executive Chef Davide Ciavattella.

The dishes and wines highlighted products from the Basilicata (Vulture-Alto Bradano) region, highlighting exceptional olive oils, wines, cheeses, and the famous peperone crusco all introduced to Canada for the first time by the Local Action Group LUCUS and Citta Del’ Olio. These two esteemed associations, founded in 1994, are dedicated to uniting local producers who uphold the historical, cultural, and environmental values and traditional production methods of the region. The harmonious blend of flavors and the carefully selected wine pairings elevated the dining experience to new heights, celebrating the rich heritage and gastronomic excellence of Basilicata.

For further details: Città dell’Olio (Trmtv.it) (Associazione Nazionale Città dell’Olio) (Associazione Nazionale Città dell’Olio).

Exploring Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Wines – Toronto

I spend this afternoon tasting and exploring Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at the historic Carlu, Toronto.

Participating wineries included:

Cirelli – Azienda Tilli – Tenuta Micoli – Ausonia – Caprera – Castorani– Colle Moro – Nicodemi – Cantina Tollo – San Lorenzo – Stefania Pepe – Valle Martello

Did you know?
That Abruzzo has been dubbed Europe’s greenest region. Approximately half of this area has been being designated a national parkland and habitat for endangered species as part of a massive “rewilding” project.

Despite its natural beauty and bounty, as well as a 2,500-year-long history of winemaking, this region in Southern Italy is still under-the-radar.

Let’s Discover the Wines of Barbera d’Asti & Monferrato – Part l

This jewel of Piedmont became part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2014.  It is interesting to note, that this was the first time an Italian vineyard landscape “Monferrato, Piedmont” was recognized as having exceptional value by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, and these landscapes were listed as such.

UNESCO states:

“are an exceptional living testimony to the historical tradition of grape cultivation, the processes for wine-making, a rural social context, and an economic fabric based on the culture of wine.”

I was thrilled to learn more about this exceptional area. I attended a Masterclass, a few weeks ago, which was conducted by the very knowledgeable Andrea Dani, at Palazzo Crova. For history buffs, Palazzo Crova, is a stunning example of an 18th-century noble residence in this region.

Andrea, a member of Associazione Italiana Sommelier, conducted an overview on Barbera D’asti DOCG, Nizza DOCG and Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG.

The Consortium

The Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato Wines Consortium was founded in 1946 to protect and promote its denominations, and their image, on national and international markets. Currently, the Consortium has more than 404 membered- companies and 13 protected denominations.

Filippo Mobrici, Vice President of Barbera d’Asti and Monferrato Wines Consortium, says:

“There are many wine souls that find expression in Monferrato, and the Consortium has had the objective, since its inception, precisely to act as a bond to keep these multiplicities united, to promote the entire territory and its excellence in a unitary and uniform way.”

Barbera

Barbera is a northern Italian grape that produces fresh, light-bodied red wines with low tannins. Like so many Italian wine grape varieties, Barbera has ancient origins that traces back to the 17th Century. Barbera was first cited in 1798, in a document, by Count Giuseppe Nuvolone-Pergamo of Scandaluzzo.

With this history, Barbera likely originated in Piedmont, the region for which it is well known. Alongside Barbera d’Alba DOC and Barbera d’Asti DOCG, the grape also gives its name to the Barbera del Monferrato DOC and Barbera del Monferrato Superiore DOCG titles – all in the Piedmont region.

The “Barbera” grape variety is also referred to as ‘La Barbera’, treating it in the feminine context. This variety is challenging to cultivate as it produces many shoots, therefore requiring regular pruning and low yields. Century-old vines still exist in many regional vineyards. It ripens relatively late, has a unique balance between sugar and acidity, and is a deep ruby colour.

General tasting notes include:
Lively and bright colours, intense fruit aromas, spicey notes, some toasted and balsamic notes, crunchy acidity, low tannins and excellent food pairing options

Barbera can also be found outside Piedmont: Oltrepò Pavese, Colli Piacentini, Franciacorta, Umbria, Campania, Puglia, Sicilia, and has been adopted by winegrowers around the world: California and South America.

The Soils of Monferrato

The soils on which Barbera and the other Monferrato grape varieties are grown date back to 2 million years ago.  The sea began to leave the current Po Valley, initiating a process of landscape shaping that has characterized the change and the present-day conformation of the hills.

The soils, generally poor in organic matter, and often dry in summer, can be divided into two main types: white soils and Asti sands. White soils are more ancient and widespread in the Canelli area, southern Asti area, Alessandria area and the Casale area. The wines produced from these grapes are often full-bodied, rich in color, and are suitable for long aging. The sands of Asti soils spread mainly in the center of the Asti Monferrato area to the right and left of the Tanaro River and are found on much steeper hills. The wines produced from these grapes here are characterized by lower acidity,  ripen faster, and are more for immediate consumption.

                    Climate

The Climate in this area is Continental with hot summers (+/- 35 degrees), some drought and cold winters ( -/+15 degrees).  Rainfall between May and November is 700-800 mm/year.

Barbera D’Asti DOCG

Ancient farming traditions are representative in this area, which forms 116 municipalities in the province of Asti, and 51 municipalities in the province of Alessandria. 90% of Barbera is produced on the best-exposed hills of Asti and Monferrato. Barbera DOCG is usually harvested in the second half of September. Vinification is usually in steel, which produces fresher and more immediate wines, the use of barriques and barrels has developed, aimed at producing the Superiore which, tends to be more complex, and long-aging.

With respect to the organoleptic characteristics, the color is ruby-red, particularly intense in Superiore, tending towards garnet with aging. The aromas are intense: cherry, plum, dark berries prevail, which evolve into hints of jam, some balsamic, spicy, and floral notes. The taste is full, with great harmony. Aging often gives complexity and richness of velvet tannins and long taste-olfactory persistence.

Barbera D’Asti DOCG Timeline

1970 – Acquired DOC Barbera d’Asti
2008 – DOC Barbera d’Asti DOCG Barbera d’Asti. 3 subzones:

    1. Nizza
    2. Tinella
    3. Colli Astiani

2016 – Nizza DOCG (18 municipalities – Nizza Monferrato)

Production specifications include:

Territory: 167 municipalities in the province of Asti and Alessandria

Ampelography: min.90% Barbera grapes + 10% max other non-aromatic red grapes allowed in Piedmont

Yield: 9 ton/ha

Minimum natural alcohol content: 12%vol., 12.5%vol. Superiore

Minimum aging: 4 months – 14 months (Superiore, with min.6 in wood)

Nizza DOCG

Produced with only Barbera grapes, Nizza DOCG comes to life in the heart of Monferrato, in a production area that includes 18 municipalities. Nizza DOCG was in fact initially recognized as a sub-area of Barbera d’Asti and obtained its DOCG recognition in 2014.

These wines are usually aged for 18 months, of which 6 months in wooden barrels. Nizza DOCG is a wine characterized by intense aromas of cherry, plum and dark berries, which evolve into hints of jam, with some balsamic, spicy and floral notes. If aged in wood, the wine develops notes of cinnamon, cocoa and licorice. The taste is full, with great harmony. Aging gives complexity and richness of sweet and velvety tannins and long taste-olfactory persistence.

Nizza DOCG Timeline

1970 – DOC Barbera d’Asti

2000 – (vintage) Nizza as a subzone of the Barbera d’Asti Superiore Nizza

2008 – DOCG Barbera d’Asti

2014 – (vintage) Nizza DOCG (18 municipalities – Nizza Monferrato)

Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG

It’s interesting to note, that the origin of the Ruchè varietal cannot be confirmed. Its history can be reconstructed of verbal traditions passed on from generation to generation.

Ruchè is one of the rarest native vines grown in the Asti Monferrato area, in calcareous, dry soils subject to great exposure to the sun. It obtained DOCG status in 2010 and its production now reaches one million bottles. Made with 90 to 100% Ruchè grapes (with Barbera and/or Brachetto grapes permitted up to a maximum of 10%), Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG is distinguished by an intense and original bouquet, with floral and spicy notes, sometimes combined with hints of mixed berries and morello cherries. The flavor is dry, harmonious and pleasantly soft, with good aromatic persistence.

Wines of Barbera d’Asti & Monferrato
By the Numbers

404 associated companies

13 Protected designations

4 DOCGs:
Barbera d’Asti, Nizza, Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato and Terre Alfieri

 9 DOCs:
Albugnano, Cortese dell’Alto Monferrato, Dolcetto d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Loazzolo, Malvasia di Castelnuovo Don Bosco, Monferrato, Piemonte

In the Vineyard

The area claimed by all the Designations of the Consortium in 2021 was equal to 10,430 hectares.

4,142 hectares claimed to Barbera d’Asti DOCG

3,827 hectares claimed to Piedmont DOC

In the Wine Cellar

As of 2021, the total amount of bottled wine registered by all protected Designations was equal to 492,986.21 hl for 65,731,495 bottles.

Barbera d’Asti DOCG: 149,689.70 hectoliters and 19,958,627 bottles

Piemonte DOC: 275,696.83 hectoliters and 36,759,577 bottles

Anteprima Sagrantino 2023 – Exploring the wonderful wine escape of Umbria more seriously, Filippo Magnani

One of Italy’s most unique native varieties, and Umbria’s flagship grape “Sagrantino” was showcased on April 19th and 20th in the charming town of Montefalco at the 2023 Anteprima Sagrantino. The Anteprima Sagrantino is an opportunity each year for wine professionals to rediscover this symbol of Umbria’s heritage. This year was the release of the 2019 vintage of Montefalco di Sagrantino DOCG which requires 3 years+ of aging before it can be released onto the market. Although it always takes centre stage, it is surrounded by the reputed neighbours: Montefalco Bianco DOC, Montefalco Grechetto DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino DOC, Spoleto Trebbiano Spoletino Superiore DOC, Montefalco Rosso DOC, and Montefalco
Rosso Riserva DOC.

The town hall of Montefalco, also known as “Ringhiera dell’Umbria” or railings of Umbria for its perched position overlooking the countryside, was transformed into a magnificent tasting room that welcomed Italian and international press. Since 2015 the Consorzio Tutela Vini Montefalco has organized this event in the village of Montefalco.

A New Vision for Montefalco

This year the Consortium presented a new initiative that shifts the focus from “Anteprima Sagrantino” to “A Montefalco”. This new name represents a change in perspective that offers a more holistic expression of Montefalco as a “Land of Wine”. No longer just Sangrantino or an Anteprima event, “A Montefalco” is meant to show visitors the evolution of the numerous native varieties in addition to Sagrantino that the region expresses today.

Sustainability is another important theme of the event. The Consortium launched its “Sangreentino” initiative that provides electric cars and bikes to transport visitors to the wineries and on other tours. The project plans for 30 charging points to be available at different wineries. In addition, 31% of wineries have received or are transitioning to organic and biodynamic certifications. Their sustainability practices also include solar systems, biomass boilers, botanical gardens and ecological corridors to protect bees and promote biodiversity.

Montefalco – Land of Wine

Montefalco lies in the heart of Italy surrounded by hilltop vineyards and historic villages. Its character is defined by its authenticity and unique terroir. As a part of the country’s only landlocked region its rivers, lakes and hills provide a variety of elevations and soils. Add to that its Mediterranean climate, and the result is wine with balance, depth and complexity. Most of the grapes grown here are native and have been thriving for over a thousand years. And of course, one grape has become a symbolic expression of the Montefalco terroir “Sagrantino”.

Sagrantino and the other grape varieties of Montefalco

Sagrantino is inextricably linked to Montefalco’s past and future. The name is said to be derived from ‘falco sagro” or ‘sacred falcon’. Legend recounts that in the 13th century Sagrantino wine was used to cure the dying falcons in the area much adored by the emperor Federico. Perhaps not a coincidence then that this would become the most famous wine from Montefalco or “Falcon’s Mountain’. In 1992 Montefalco Sagrantino was
awarded DOCG status. Sagrantino was traditionally made in a sweet ‘passito’ style but its dry version has now earned it a place among Italy’s best red wines. This thick-skinned grape is low yielding with a lot of tannin, structure and intensity which also gives it excellent aging potential. This tannic power is harnessed through the required aging process for DOCG certification.

But as the Montefalco wine producer’s Consortium demonstrates in its inclusive approach to promoting the wines of Montefalco, Sangrantino is just one of several local grape varieties to be discovered. For example, Trebbiano Spoletino and Grechetto are among the white wines that should not be missed. Trebbiano Spoletino can be surprisingly rich and structured with both fruity and savoury elements that are delivered with refreshing
acidity. There are also Sangiovese-based reds produced under the Montefalco Rosso DOC. These can vary from fresh and fruity with herbaceous undertones to more structured wines aged in barrique. You can find reds and whites alike in a dry style or sweet made in
the ‘passito’ method.

The Epicentre of wine tourism in Umbria

Montefalco has been known as the “Land of Wine” since the Middle Ages.
Evidence that vines were present in the area date back to 1088. These native grape varieties have evolved in harmony with local traditions and culture making this land of wine an incredible place for wine enthusiasts to visit. The region has seen rapid growth of small, dynamic estates over the past decade. They are supported by the Consortium and the combined determination of the local hospitality, restaurants, heritage sites and fellow
wineries to promote the area and its great qualities, especially after the pandemic.

The ‘Associazione Strada del Sagrantino’ is one of the main bodies promoting tourism along the wine road to these five towns: Montefalco, Bevagna, Castel Ritaldi, Giano dell’Umbria and Gualdo Cattaneo. Not only do they all have deep rooted wine traditions, but they also offer rich history, beautiful architecture, and tasty local specialties. For example, the
Museum of Montefalco is a treasure trove of art and a reference point for Umbrian history, tradition and painting. The Rocca Sonora is a fortress that stands in the main square of Gualdo Cattaneo as an emblem of the territory’s fortified defence system. San Francesco Church in Giano dell’Umbria has some incredible frescoes by the reputed painter
Giovanni di Corraduccio. And the uniquely shaped Piazza Filippo Silvestri in Bevagna is one of Umbria’s most attractive medieval squares.

Here is a selection of wineries to visit with memorable tasting experiences and many lodging options:

Scacciadiavoli
A landmark estate in Montefalco, Azienda Agraria Scacciadiavoli has been producing wine since 1884 and was bought by the Pambuffetti family in 1954. The name means “cast out the devils”, taken from a local 19th century exorcist who was known to use wine while mperforming his rituals. Today the winery is a state-of-the-art four-level facility allowing for gravity flow throughout the entire production. Winery visits consist of a guided tour and
different tastings to choose from paired with Pambufetti family products or even lunch.

Scacciadiavoli – Montefalco Grechetto Doc 2022
Brilliant, yellow colour. Intense flavour of ginger with a scent of apricot.
Fresh, balanced palate with good persistence. The acidity matches well with the fruit. I enjoyed it!

Pard
Founded in 1919 by three brothers, Alfredo, Francesco, and Alberto. The brothers commenced making wine in the local hospital in Montefalco. Eventually, their wines were exported throughout Italy, including the Vatican. Today their great-grandsons Gianluca Rio and Alberto
Mario kept the family tradition alive. With their 11 hectares of vines, they grow the local varieties Sagrantino, Sangiovese, Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino, but also international grapes like Merlot, Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Le Cimate
Le Cimate winery is the culmination of over 200 years of dedication to agriculture by the Bartolini family. From farming in the 1800’s to viticulture in the 1960’s and then the strategic purchase of land in 1992, the family started to build their winery in 2011. Three generations contributed to its construction, including Grandfather Paolo who was President of the local community winery Colli Spolentini for more than 20 years. The
location at 400m nestled against the Martani Mountains provides an excellent diurnal shift in temperatures with regular winds to keep the vines healthy. Surrounding their 23 hectares of vineyards are 33 hectares of olive groves and 15 hectares of hazelnut orchards. The winery benefits from the latest technology and produces wines from an impressive array of grapes, both native varieties and international favourites such as Chardonnay, Viognier, Vermentino, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Tabarrini
Giampalo Tabarrini is the fourth generation who took control of his family’s agricultural estate in the late 1990’s and transformed it into the winery that it is today. His vision is thoroughly focused on terroir. Three of their bottlings are selected from distinct parcels among the vineyards to highlight their unique expression. In addition to their 15 hectares of vineyards they have olive groves and wheat fields from which they produce their own stone-ground flour perfect for making pizza, pasta, and desserts.

Cantine Lungarotti
Founded in the 1960’s by Giorgio Lungarotti, the family has an estate in Montefalco and Torgiano, just 30 minutes northwest of Montefalco towards Perugia. The winery is a family affair with Giorgio’s two daughters Chiara and Teresa now running the family business. Their mother Maria Grazia was a pioneer in wine tourism creating the region’s first wine museum in the 1970’s and more recently an olive and oil museum. Teresa herself was one of Italy’s first female oenologists and her children Francesco and Gemma manage the estate’s sales and events. All their wines have been organic since 2010 wine with good acidity.

Arnaldo Caprai
Founded in 1971 by Marco’s father Arnaldo Caprai who was a textile entrepreneur. In 1988 Arnaldo passed the reins to Marco when he was only 21. He has grown the winey from just 12 acres to a thriving 370-acre estate. Early on he made the choice to drastically reducing the quantity of grapes to focus on quality. Believing in Sagrantino’s full potential he began exporting dry Montefalco Sagrantino to the U.S. even before its DOCG status, paving the way for an international revival of Sagrantino. The state-of-the-art winery in Montefalco offers multiple tours and tastings on their panoramic terrace or in the vineyards.

Antonelli
Originally owned by the bishop of Spoleto for over 600 years, the property was bought by Francesco Antonelli in 1883. Today the Antonelli estate is spread out over 430 acres in the heart of the Montefalco territory. The variety of terrain from rich clay deposits to rocky limestone results in several microclimates with each plot expressing its own nuances. The
cellars are completely underground allowing for the use of gravity flow during production. The grapes, mostly Sagrantino and Sangiovese for reds, and Grechetto and Trebbiano Spoletino for whites, are all organic. Visitors are welcomed in the beautifully restored antique farmhouse called Casale Satriano which includes 6 apartments and a swimming
pool.

Devis Romanelli
Perched on San Clemente hill in Montefalco the Romanelli estate has been cultivating wine, olive oil, walnuts, and grains completely organically for over 40 years. Their love for this special terroir can be seen in everything they do from the Romanelli Nature Project which promotes sustainability and biodiversity to their eco-friendly approach to tourism. The winery is run today by the young and dynamic Devis Romanelli. He produces three special Cru wines that are a result of decades of research into the unique qualities of the different plots on the estate.

Tenuta Bellafonte
Located just outside of Bevagna, Tenuta Bellafonte was started by a successful businessman from Milan, Peter Heilbron, who fell in love with Umbria and the unique terroir of Montefalco. A good example of a winery dedicated to sustainability and biodiversity. They use solar panels and a biomass boiler to avoid any environmental damage or waste. The wine production and cellar are both underground to blend in with the landscape. The vineyards are surrounded by forests and a massive olive grove of
2500 trees which they use to produce their own olive oil. Their vines include Sagrantino, Sangiovese and Trebbiano Spoletino grapes. A large country estate was built to welcome visitors with 7 charming bedrooms, a lush garden and an indoor pool.

Cantina Tudernum
Established in 1958 by a group of vineyard owners who decided to join forces to market their wines as a cooperative group. They grew from only a few hectares of vines to the 400 hectares they have today. Since the 90’s they have invested in quality and technological improvements to make an impressive variety of wines from both modern and classic
styles, also using rare native varietals.