Salt and pepper. Ham and cheese. Peanut butter and jelly. Some couples were meant for each other, and in the case of Sicilian wine, the union of Nero d’Avola and Frappato is among the happiest of marriages. They thrive on the island’s southern corner, in the Vittoria region, and combine for Sicily’s only DOCG-level wine, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. Nero d’Avola lends the depth and weight to the blend’s harmony — a proverbial bass line and timpani drum that keeps the song grounded; Frappato contributes a jolly falsetto decked in strawberry tones and an herbal crunch. To qualify for Cerasuolo di Vittoria, the wine must be constituted of 50 to 70% Nero d’Avola, 30 to 50% Frappato, all from within the boundaries of Vittoria. Some producers — mostly famously Arianna Occhipinti — prefer to blend more Frappato than Nero d’Avola, and use the Terre Siciliane IGT designation. But the results of blending these two grapes anywhere on the spectrum usually delights my palate.
This week, I want to shine a light on Nero d’Avola and Frappato’s most sophisticated performance, the Cerasuolo di Vittoria from Gurrieri, particularly the 2017 vintage. It’s purity and balance are a “know it when you taste it” kind of perfection — everything is in its proper place, from the blood orange-like acidity to its aromas recalling black cherry, violets and cinnamon stick, right down to the mouthwatering finish that refuses to let go. I detected the faintest trace of barnyard on the nose, but not enough to interfere. Whether vintages are highly variable with Gurrieri or not — particularly on the “brett” front — I have not established yet. But so far, I’ve loved what I’ve tasted from them.
Gurrieri is a small producer, who made a big splash with me at last year’s fateful Slow Wine tasting in Denver (five days before the news broke that Italy had a major COVID-19 outbreak on its hands). Production is limited to around 3,000 bottles per wine — a fabulous Grillo, as well as a varietal Nero d’Avola and varietal Frappato — but fortunately they are imported to the West Coast by Oliver McCrum Wines and Spirits. The Grillo and Cerasuolo di Vittoria are absolute standouts, and proof that there’s more to Vittoria than just the big three of COS, Occhipinti and Gulfi. Keep this region on your radar.
2017 Gurrieri Cerasuolo di Vittoria
Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG (Sicily)
Grapes: Nero d’Avola (55%), Frappato (45%)
Opinion: ★★★★★ (out of five)
• Food-friendliness: Highly Versatile
• Value: Excellent Buy
A beginner might like … Beyond its undeniable beauty on the nose and palate, Gurrieri’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria is highly versatile for food pairings. It is substantial enough to drink on its own, modest enough to play off of seared tuna or sushi, and yet light enough to go with Pasta Bolognese, my favorite match.
A wine obsessive might like … The give and take between Nero d’Avola and Frappato. Those of you who’ve tasted Gulfi’s outstanding, terroir-centric Nero d’Avola as well as Occhipinti’s fresh-and-vital Frappato, will recognize a bit of both in this blend. For lover’s of Sicilian wine, it’s a thrilling reminder that this region has so much upside at the moment.
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