Summer is over judging from the weather, so our extended focus on Riesling comes to a momentary end. Rieslingfans should not fear, as it is a love I will not be able to shut up about, but for the Wine of the Week I will venture into new territories for the time being. I have talked about the natural wine movement before, just take a look at my reports on Champagne or RAW, but my interest was actually piqued during a vacation in Sicily four years ago. We met the craziest Belgian winemaker I ever encountered, Frank Cornelissen on the Etna, but we also paid a visit to one of the island’s pioneers in natural wine, COS.
The estate was founded in 1980 by three friends who wanted to create wine in a more traditional style, a counterattack against the industrialization of the Sicilian wine scene that focused more on volume than quality. Biodynamic viticultural principles were adopted for all their holdings. The estate played a leading role in building the esteem of the Cerasuolo di Vittoria appellation, the only DOCG on the island in fact, since the start of the new millennium, and at the same time they started to experiment with amphorae for fermentation and aging.
Amphorae are a bit of a touchy subject as they are so closely associated with the natural wine movement these days, but they have been around quite commonly in Georgia and Spain for centuries. They do not suit all grape varieties or climate and will therefore not necessarily lead to better wines, often ending up unstructured or thin. When used for suitable wine styles however, they can add a layer of complexity that oak elevage does not necessarily offer.
The Pithos Rosso 2009 is a blend of Frappato and Nero d’Avola, two indigenous grapes of Sicily. Fermentation is done with wild yeasts in amphorae, followed by aging in the same vessels. The amphorae are actually stored in an open hall, buried in the ground to ensure temperature stability.
The wine is not off to a promising start, very closed and even a bit dumbed down, drying on the palate. I was afraid that I had waited too long and that I should have drank it sooner, but after about half an hour, subtle raspberries accompanied by a slight hint of brett showed up. The palate came across clean; tannins were all of a sudden a lot smoother, very earthy and refined. The finish was distinctively spicy with a nutmeggy flavour that lingered on and on. I think that the wine would have been more open in its youth but I really like the earthiness that you now get on the palate, which would have been hidden behind the fruit a couple of years ago. Great stuff!