By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 8 January 2022
I have long been fascinated by the beautiful island of Sicily and after a dozen trips there in the last thirty years, I have watched its wine scene revive itself from big bulk supplier to a serious fine wine hub attracting passionate dedicated winemakers.
One wine I have always admired is Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the island’s only DOCG. Every time I put this red wine into a tasting – not just from one producer, but several different producers from Donnafugata, Tenuta Santa Tresa to Planeta - it often comes out as the winning wine.
I think the reason for this is that Cerasuolo di Vittoria, made from 50-70% Nero d’Avola grape with the remainder made up of the Frappato grape, is often more approachable, texturally soft and appealing than Sicily’s famously minerally earthier reds made from Nerello Mascalese on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna.
Cerasuolo is named after the Sicilian word for ‘like cherries’. It is made far south of Mount Etna, down in the island’s south-east corner just across the peninsula from the ancient city of Syracuse – between the towns of Vittoria and Ragusa. Here soils are sandier with some clay – very different from Etna’s volcanic lava flows. [Pictured above is Terre di Giurfo's vineyard].
Another distinction in this small region, just 141 hectares with 25 producers, is that it has some of the lowest yields of any Italian DOCG - so quality is consistently high. The Cerasuolo name became legally recognised in 1973, but only in the last 15 years has it proved itself to be a serious fine wine. It is also worth noting that Cerasuolo di Vittoria is in no way connected to the spicy dry Italian rosato Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo which is made from a different grape (Montepulciano) in eastern Italy.
According to winemaker and winery owner Stefano Girelli (pictured above with his sister Marina), who actually comes from Trentino in northern Italy but fell in love with the island and moved to south-east Sicily twenty years ago, the key to Cerasuolo di Vittoria’s style is the soils - and organic viticulture.
“Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes perform very differently on the red sandy soils of Vittoria – in comparison to elsewhere on the island”, says Girelli.
According to Girelli, Nero d’Avola grape (known locally as Calabrese) is well-known for its black fruit and mouthwatering acidity, but in Vittoria is it gentler with softer tannins. Frappato is quite a lightweight humble grape, but it performs at its best on the sandy peninsula. Frappato has a delightful freshness, similar to Gamay; it acts as an aromatic softener in the blend.
Girelli and his sister Marina own both 50 hectare Tenuta Santa Tresa, one of first estates to produce Cerasuolo back in 1950, and Azienda Agricola Cortese nearby (which he bought in 2018) – they run both estates organically. As on Etna, the focus in Vittoria is moving to more to organic viticulture and more natural non-interventionist wines.
At a recent tasting, it was fascinating to see the diversity of styles. With such a variety of different microclimates – altitudes ranging from down to sea level up to 600 metres - some wines we tasted like Tenuta Santa Tresa, Horus and Donnafugata’s examples were beautifully soft, whilst others more robust, powerful and structured with firm tannins like Terre di Giurfo’s Maskaria and Cortese’s Sabuci.
Some were unoaked, others just softly oaked, often using large format Slavonian oak – and with almost all of them alcohol seemed moderate considering the warm climate.
Some examples could age quite well, developing more savoury characters, but Cerasuolo di Vittoria is usually at its best with about 5 years maturity. Foodwise many would match well with a warming winter spicy lamb tagine, game dishes or earthy mushroom risotto.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA ‘FLORAMUNDI’ 2018 Donnafugata (13%)
£25 Fine Wine Musselburgh; North & South Wines
Delicate refined red fruits, hints of floral with fine grained tannins – very approachable unoaked style.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA ‘LA SELEZIONE SABUCI’ 2017 Azienda Agricola Cortese (13.5%)
£20 Aitken Wines, Dundee; Jeroboams; The Vineking; Topsham Wines
Aged in terracotta amphora; spicy developed aromas, rich black cherry fruit, quite robust masculine and intense on the palate, moderate length.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA 2019 Planeta (13%)
£16.79 Valvona & Crolla, Edinburgh; Luvians, St Andrews; Fareham Wine Cellar
Attractive light unoaked style with savoury red fruits, meaty & peppery – pure cherry fruits, hints of pomegranate, soft and appealing from Planeta’s historic low-lying Dorilli vineyards.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA 2018 Santa Tresa (14%) ***GREAT VALUE***
£10-99-£11.99 Costo, Ocado, Bottleneck; North South Wines; The Wine Society
One of my favourites in the tasting – beautifully aromatic, soft red fruits, slightly peppery with a vibrant freshness, fruit purity, carrying its 14% alcohol ver well. A remarkably well-priced wine.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA CLASSICO 2017 Azienda Agricola COS (13%)
£24 Buon Vino; Exel Wines; Noble Green Wines; The Sourcing Table
Beautifully scented, rich dense dark cassis and plum fruits, quite structure style with earthy notes from a blend of oaked Nero d’Avola and tank aged Frappato. Cos is a leading producer set up by three schoolfriends.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA 2017 Tenuta Valle delle Ferle (13%)
£20 not currently available in UK
Lifted cherry fruits, soft rounded palate, smooth tannins – but acid quite prominent.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA PITTORE CONDADINO 2018 Cantina Horus (13.5%) ***STAR BUY***
£23 not currently available in UK
Another favourite – very attractive, deliciously spicy, bright cherry fruits, earthy notes, soft and approachable – a beautiful labelled organic example made by the Giudice family. Let’s hope it is available soon with UK merchants.
CERASUOLO DI VITTORIA MASKARIA 2017 Terre di Giurfo (13%)
£13 not currently available in UK
Rich cherry fruits, initially fruit forward, firm tannins and a little austere on the finish.
Join Rose’s Southern Italian wine & charcuterie masterclass in Edinburgh on 7 July www.rosemurraybrown.com