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Nero d’Avola is the most widely planted red grape in Sicily; it ranges from light and tart to heavy and roasted, the latter type a style that often comes with lots of new oak on top – not something that enhances the wine. There are quite a lot of pleasant and easy drinking Nero d’Avolas, but very few distinguished examples; it’s fitting that these two great wines come from Pachino, just a few miles south of the town of Avola, which give its name to the grape (the other great Nero d’Avola that we know is Feudo Montoni’s Vrucara from inland Sicily, near Palermo).
Pachino is a village in the very southeast tip of Sicily; the closest most tourists get is the architectural marvel of Noto, not far to the north, but if you ever have time it’s worth going south to Pachino and the lovely little fishing port of Marzememi (which has a fantastic restaurant); the whole area feels like stepping back in time – it’s a magical place. South of Noto, on your way to the tip of the island, the land flattens out and is given over to agriculture; for the last couple of decades, cherry tomatoes from Pachino have been considered the best in Italy, thanks to the limestone-rich soil of the peninsula which gives anything grown there an intense mineral tang (these tomatoes are so highly regarded that they are frequently faked, with tomatoes from other places being labeled as Pachino – the same happens for the famous San Marzano plum tomato from Mt. Vesuvius). Up until about 1970, wine was the most important product of Pachino, but the market collapsed, vines were torn up, and the cherry tomato took over. Some vines remain – Gulfi is the producer of wine from Pachino that we know best; the Nero d’Avola “San Lore” from their single vineyard closest to the sea, has been our favorite and most esteemed expression of Nero d’Avola, offering proof that the grape can make a truly great wine. Now we’ve found another remarkable wine from Pachino, made from a tiny vineyard inside a nature preserve called Vendicari, not far from San Lore (or more properly, San Lorenzo). The restoration of the vines and the winemaking was undertaken by Salvo Foti, the person most responsible for the revival of winemaking on Etna and a crucial spokesperson for the preservation of traditional wines in Sicily; Foti has also been the winemaker at Gulfi for many years.
A seasonal note: Some of my all-time favorite meals have been in Sicily, where the food is incredibly varied, and usually quite intensely flavored, with distinct influences from Spain and North Africa; Nero d’Avola has proven to be a surprising good match, even for fish (which is a good thing because Sicily has some of the best fish in the world). It occurs to me now that these wines will make excellent Thanksgiving bottles, as the sweet-sour-savory character of that meal mirrors many classic Sicilian dishes. Jamie Wolff
Vittorio Savino, owner of Fenicotteri, joined Foti’s small association of producers called i Vigneri (some of whose wines from Mt. Etna we always have on our shelves). I Vigneri offers unparalleled expertise in every aspect of viticulture and production (including the services of Ciccio, the group’s mule). Foti’s work at Gulfi, and his knowledge derived from the vines in Pachino must have been very valuable when trying to restore a vineyard that’s virtually on the shore of the lagoon. The farming is impeccable (only copper and sulfur and sheep manure are used on the bush-trained vines) but it’s the location that brings an incredibly compelling mineral and saline lift to the wine. It’s perhaps on the light side of medium-bodied, savory aromatics with typical plummy Nero d’Avola fruit, and in a perfectly balanced state for current drinking – fresh, with great cut and moderately tannic structure – entirely satisfying. Called Fenicotteri (flamingo, in Italian) after the migratory flamingoes who visit the lagoon next to the vineyard, this is one special wine. Jamie Wolff Eighty percent of the clusters are destemmed and crushed. It’s macerated for 14 days in steel vats, matures in used barriques for at least six months, and then spends six months in bottle before it’s released. The result is a beautiful Nero d’Avola, deep and dark. Tart red cherries and ripe blackberries, violets and earth with leather and spice on the finish. With medium high acid and medium tannins, this will be perfect to pair with gamey meats, BBQ, a hearty beef stew, roast turkey or even tuna steak. If you're a vegetarian, try it with lentils and shitake mushrooms. Christine Manula
Gulfi owns four separate vineyards in Pacchino; tasted together the wines show distinct differences due to slight changes in soils, which offers a clear lesson in terroir. We really like all of them, but San Lore, from old bush-trained vines, and the closest to the sea, is our favorite of the group for its finesse in combining disparate characteristics into a compelling whole: rich dark fruit and savory aromas and flavors; plenty of presence in the mouth but energetic and lifted, and underneath all of this a connecting cord of marine salinity that ties the wine together. Jamie Wolff Nerosanlore is the most elegant and floral of Gulfi's Nero d’Avolas. Deep rich black fruit and berries, leather, good tannins and sharp acidity. Would be perfect with a fish stew or risotto, lamb, or even a simple pasta with capers and olives. Christine Manula