Giovanni Scarfone

A Fresh Face in Ancient Faro

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Slightly over 3 miles from the rocky Calabrian coast is Messina, the gateway to Sicily.  The Greeks first founded the colony in the 8th Century BC, and the land came to be known as “Casale del Faro” because of the influx of Greeks from the town of Pharis.  In the 18th Century Faro became internationally renowned for its wines, which were even exported to France.  Unfortunately the combination of an earthquake and tsunami in 1908 devastated both the town and agriculture of Messina, and killed about 70,000 of its residents.  Those who did survive were slow to rework the ailing vineyards, and the Faro region has never recovered completely.  In the last century the town of Messina has begun to sprawl out, and suburbia is encroaching on the land that was once used for viticulture.  Houses and businesses have replaced steep ancient vineyards that no longer have willing custodians.  Today there are only 20 Hectares under vine in the entire DOC.

Enter Giovanni Scarfone, the current steward of his family’s century-old estate: Bonavita, comprising just over two hectares of organically grown Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappucio, and Nocera.  Sicilian wine buffs may recognize the first two varieties from Mount Etna to the south; Nocera is an indigenous grape valued for its acidity and freshness.  Standing in Giovanni’s beautifully manicured vineyards 250 meters above the sea, one has an unparalleled view of the Italian mainland and the hills beyond.  On our visit the strong  “Sirocca” wind from Africa was  howling in the trees which surround the property and  which help protect the vines. The site gives the visitor a real feeling of isolation and solitude, remarkable considering the city is essentially just over the hill.  The soil here is a medium weight mix of clay and limestone that Giovanni fortifies by tilling in legumes and manure.  After a hand harvest by Giovanni and some local characters, the grapes are brought to a miniature cellar in the garage of his parent’s house.  There, a “pied de cuve” is separated to start a native yeast fermentation.  This fermenting must is added to the rest of the harvest and will continue to ferment for 15 days on the grape skins in stainless steel tanks.  All three of the varieties are co-fermented.  For aging, around 60% pass through used oak barrels, and the remainder stays in steel.  Bonavita is much more full of life and much less full of toasty barrel tastes than any of the other Faros we’ve tried.  Although his Faro is by no means a light-bodied wine, with Bonavita there is underlying core of fresh earth and bright fruit that keep all of the elements balanced and delicious.  We are also pleased to have received a shipment of Giovanni’s insanely delicious Rosato.  This is a blend of the thin skinned Nerello Mascalese and Nocera varieties; it walks the line between “light red” and “dark rose,” much like a Grignolino or Poulsard.   Giovanni believes that back when the Greeks worked the hills of Faro, and maceration times were much shorter, the wines were probably very much like this.  JR

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Bonavita 2011 Rosato

Last year the Bonavita’s Rosato was a run-away hit, and sold out early in the summer.  Unfortunately, there will also be tiny quantities this year because the wild boars of Faro shared our enthusiasm for Giovanni’s delicious Nerello Mascalese grapes and decreased his production by 20%!  In 2011, Giovanni increased the period of skin maceration from 12 to around 24 hours, and as a result the wine has a much darker purple color and more bright cranberry fruit than your average Provencal Rose.  This adds an extra dimension of complexity and makes the wine a choice match for some richer summer favorites like barbecue or pastas.  JR

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  • rosé
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  • $20.99

Bonavita 2008 Faro

 

Giovanni Scarfone’s 2008 Faro is powerful, with plenty of earthy complexity for fans of wines that range from rich Burgundy to Aglianico from Campania.  As is the case with the slopes surrounding Mount Etna, the main varieties planted are Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, but here there are also old plantings of the local grape: “Nocera.”  Nocera is lighter bodied than the Nerellos, and produces less alcohol and more acidity.  Even with the Nocera’s influence, there is a chewy quality and a serious structure to the Faro that should allow it to age gracefully for several years.  To enjoy now, pair with roasted meats with rich flavors; Bonavita’s website recommends a stewed black piglet of the Nebrodes with the apples of Mount Etna, but we assume that most heartier fare will do in a pinch!  JR

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  • red
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  • $39.99