Marco Sferlazzo's 2019 Porta del Vento Catarratto ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle
Marco Sferlazzo's 2019 Porta del Vento Catarratto ©Kevin Day/Opening a Bottle

A Catarratto to Conjure Synesthesia

650 Words (Or So) on a White Wine That Will Have You Seeing Colors

4 min read

Imagine for a moment that there is an actor who has starred in 33 of the last 100 movies you saw, and yet you never really noticed him before. In fact, you don’t even know his name. There are a few wine grapes out there that fit this description: “workhorses” that account for astonishing vineyard acreage worldwide, yet they never seem to get their name on the front side of a wine label.

Catarratto is one such grape. It accounts for roughly one-third of Sicily’s vineyard acreage, yet consult educational texts on what it tastes like, and descriptors are generally vague and unhelpful. “Delicious, soft, dry wines” says one. The “best examples have weight and refreshing acidity,” says the Wine Scholar Guild. (Excited yet?)

This is what true Sicilian wine is all about: distinctive grapes, individual personalities, and vivid flavors that could inject synesthesia into a black-and-white weeknight.

Some of this lack of specificity comes down to Catarratto’s use in blends, both of the dry, table wine sort and in the fortified wines of Marsala. But its abundance has also led to underwhelming results as a solo act. I have encountered single-varietal Catarratto a bunch of times but it has never left much of an indelible mark.

That is, until we opened Porta del Vento’s benchmark Catarratto a few weeks ago. With one wine, I boarded the Catarratto bandwagon. I want to see and taste more.

One of Sicily’s Top Wineries

Marco Sferlazzo’s Porta del Vento first came to my attention when I was last in Sicily. I bought his Perricone as a souvenir at a wine shop in Marsala, and was thrilled with its performance when I got home. Regrettably, I didn’t get a chance to visit (though his estate is high on my list for next time). With that wine, I wanted something that I couldn’t buy back home, and it ticked all the boxes: it was unique, it was delicious, it felt fiercely Sicilian.

Winemaker Marco Sferlazzo of Porta del Vento.
Winemaker Marco Sferlazzo in his vineyard at Porta del Vento. ©Porta del Vento

Shortly after tasting that wine, I started seeing Porta del Vento in newsletters from New York City wine shops, and now, these wines are starting to have wider representation around the U.S. I couldn’t be more excited, because this is what true Sicilian wine is all about: distinctive grapes, individual personalities, and vivid flavors that could inject synesthesia into a black-and-white weeknight. The fact that Sferlazzo is able to coax such a colorful spectrum of flavors and texture from the most widely planted grape variety on the island (and let’s be honest, one of the most widely panned) is a sign of his talent.

Combining tones reminiscent of citrus, stone fruit and most notably herbal tea, Porta del Vento’s Catarratto soothed rather than sliced, and was a welcome antidote to the usual parade of Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay wannabes we get inundated with this time of year.

So What Accounts for This Wine’s Magic?

Certainly, the vineyard has something to do with it. Porta del Vento is located in Camporeale, which sits just outside the Marsala zone. The high-altitude of Sferlazzo’s vineyards (roughly 2,000 feet above sea level, despite being a mere 12 miles from the Gulf of Castellammare) help to preserve the grape’s acidity and aromas, respectively. They also face north, which in a hot climate like Western Sicily, doesn’t hurt one bit.

According to Porta del Vento’s importer, Sferlazzo’s journey as a winemaker began when a large corporate winery drew up plans to uproot an old-vine vineyard of Catarratto and Perricone on the outskirts of town. He stepped in and purchased the plot. Previously, he was a pharmacist in Camporeale, a profession curiously shared by several other great Italian winemakers and their families (for instance: Giuseppe Benanti on Etna, and members of the Oddero and Salvioni families in Barolo and Montalcino, respectively).

His old-vine Catarratto is a dazzling master class in how generous and comforting a white wine can be. But it is also a statement of caution against anyone who derides a workhorse grape. Give it the right conditions in the vineyard and a steady hand in the winery, and nearly any grape can dazzle.

2019 Porta del Vento Catarratto Sicilia

2019 Porta del Vento Catarratto by Marco Sferlazzo / ©Kevin Day/Opening a BottleSicilia DOC (Sicily) 
Grapes: Catarratto (100%)
Alcohol: 12.5%
Opinion: ★★★★★ (out of five)
Food-friendliness: Impeccable
Value: Very Good

       

A beginner might like … those hints of herbal tea that make the wine’s flavors memorable. Yes, taste is personal and subjective, but there is an undeniable botanical streak through this wine that is lovely and pure. For me, it recalled tea. For you, it might conjure something else. But it is there, and it makes this Catarratto indelible.

A wine obsessive might like … the textural richness of this Catarratto. It spends four months on the lees, and shows plenty of silkiness on the palate as a result.

Note: This is an older vintage, and in 2020, it appears this wine shifted to the Terre Sicilian IGT appellation. That’s a technicality you need not worry about.

Also, this wine was purchased with funds from our editorial budget.

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