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The wines of Casa Vinicola Calatrasi: Sicily, Puglia and Tunisia

Southern Italy produces a remarkable amount of wine. Sicily alone produces more wine than Australia, and Puglia a similar amount. So how come we don’t see more of it in the UK? Well, there’s a problem. Almost all of these wines are crap. They are wine-lake plonk, unloved and unlovely. But think of the potential. Sicily and Puglia are blessed with lots of suitable ‘terroirs’ and a climate that makes growing ripe grapes relatively straightforward. And companies like Calatrasi, based in San Ciparello (near Palermo), are leading the quality revolution. It’s hardly rocket science. You just need to concentrate on making affordable wines that people want to drink. Simple enough, but it’s a goal that has consistently eluded most of the plonk-producing centres of European wine production thus far.

Calatrasi have a three-pronged approach. Back in July 2000 they hired three Australians, Brian Fletcher (of Evans & Tate fame, among others), Lisa Gilbee and Linda Domas. As well as their Sicilian operation (headed up by Brian), Calatrasi are also making wines from Puglia (that’s Lisa’s job; she’s been making wines in Italy on and off since 1992) and Tunisia (Linda’s domain). They made the wines in 2000, but 2001 was the first vintage they had full control over. By the way, did you realise that Tunisia had as much as 17 000 ha of vines? Nor did I.

I first got switched on to the Calatrasi wines by tasting an impressive example at a Majestic press tasting about 18 months ago. Later, I tried some more at last year’s ‘Definitive Italian Tasting’, and then caught up with Brian for a curry last September. Most of the wines described below were tasted with Lisa in January 2002 at the Bibendum press tasting, but I’ve added in some extra notes from wines tasted at the London Trade Fair in May 2002 (again with Lisa), and a few cask samples consumed at home in late 2001 (these are indicated where appropriate).

What are the wines like? The UK trade has made a lot of fuss about the Inycon wines (made by Sicilian company Settesoli), and UK critics have been (over?) generous in their ratings of them. Well, these Calatrasi wines are similarly priced, but in my view they are streets ahead of the Inycon wines in terms of quality. I’m actually quite excited by the Calatrasi wines. They’re not geek wines demanding lengthy contemplation, but they achieve what they set out to do admirably: these are brilliant commercial wines. The world needs good cheap wine. While they are made in a modern, fruit-forward style, they retain some regional character. Expect to see them improve yet more as Brian, Lisa and Linda get more familiar with their territories.

Terrale Chardonnay 2001 IGT Puglia
Rich tropical fruit nose with a citrussy edge. Crisp and fresh on the palate with spicy, citrussy flavours preventing the wine from becoming at all blowsy and fat. Impressive commercial winemaking. Very good (price around £4.30)

Terrale Cattarato 2000 IGT Sicilia
There’s an attractive nutty edge to the youthful, boiled sweets nose. The palate is fresh and spicy with more boiled sweets character. There’s some interest here; a very modern style. Very good (£4.30)

Terrale Primitivo 2001 IGT Puglia (tank sample)
Tank fermented, but with some oaking (barrel staves). Bright purple colour. Rich and quite concentrated, there’s a roasted, meaty edge to the rich fruit on the nose. The attractive savoury, fruity palate shows good density and a touch of spicy complexity. Tasty stuff. Very good+ (£4.30)

Terre di Ginestra Cattarato 2001 IGT Sicilia (tank sample)
Spicy boiled sweets nose leads to a palate showing a good concentration of fruit. Really too youthful to assess properly and still pretty ‘tanky’.

Terre di Ginestra Nero d’Avola 2000 IGT Sicilia
Lots of sweet fruit on the nose: there’s a bit of alcohol evident, but there’s a nice savoury, herby, slightly spicy character too. The palate shows a good density of herby fruit. Quite characterful, and works really well despite the slightly hot finish. But that’s just being a bit picky…. Very good+

Accademia del Sole Cattarato/Viognier 2001 IGT Sicilia (tank sample)
Fresh, spicy palate with a boiled sweets edge: youthful, with some attractive citrussy character. There’s a good density of nutty, spicy fruit here. Very good+ (Safeway £4.99)
(my note on this wine from a bottled version, tasted May 2002: Fresh and aromatic with a boiled sweets/pear drop edge. Lots of fruit here. Very good)

Accademia del Sole  Nero d’Avola/Cabernet 2001 IGT Sicilia
Bright red/purple colour. This is a little bit shy on the nose, with some liquoricey sweetness to the dark fruit. Lovely density of savoury, spicy berry fruit on the palate with some tannic structure. Quite serious for the price. Very good+ (Majestic £4.99)
(my note on this wine from a bottled version, tasted May 2002: Quite a roasted nose, with nice dense spicy plumy fruit. Ripe and easy, but there are some tannins here. Very good+)

Accademia del Sole Sangiovese/Negroamaro 2000, IGT Puglia
There’s a pronounced spicy/roasted character to the nose. Palate shows a good density of rich, savoury, spicy fruit. Quite a dry finish: very savoury. Very good (Safeway £4.99)

Accademia del Sole Sangiovese/Negroamaro 2001, IGT Puglia
(tasted May 2002) The Sangiovese component is higher this vintage because it did better than the Negroamaro. Very rich liqouricey fruit on the nose. Rich and sweetly fruited on the palate, with good density and a spicy edge. Very attractive. Very good+ (Safeway £4.99)

Accademia del Sole Syrah 2000 Tunisia
Quite light in  colour with attractive, accessible sweet fruit on the nose. The palate is medium bodied with lots of juicy, sweet fruit and plenty of southern character. Delicious, if a little unusual. Very good+ (£6.07 Bibendum)

Accademia del Sole Carignan 2001, Tunisia
(tasted May 2002) Lisa says that this is a variety that copes well with the heat in Tunisia. Quite a deep colour, this has a nice spicy nose with a roasted coffee edge. Concentrated and juicy on the palate with savoury fruit and a spicy edge. Impressive effort. Very good+ (Sainsbury £5.49)

Selian 2000 Tunisia
The pick of the 2000 vintage in Tunisia, some 3000 cases were made. Expressive, tight spicy nose with some sweet fruit. Palate is quite dense and displays rich, herb-tinged fruit. Lots of character. Very good+

Allora Primitivo 2001 IGT Puglia (tank sample)
Made from contracted ‘bush vine’ fruit, this is the first year that Lisa has had full control over both the viticulture and winemaking. The result is very impressive. Deep red/purple in colour. The nose shows deep liquoricey, dark fruit with some spicy, roasted character. Lovely rich spicy palate with great concentration and depth, and some sweetness to the fruit. Delicious stuff. Very good+

Allora Primitivo 2001 IGT Puglia
(Bottled wine tasted in May 2002) This is a rich, herby, complex wine with lots of richness. Quite powerful and fleshy with a great density of sweet fruit. Perhaps just a touch muted when compared with the cask sample tried a few months earlier. Very good+

Superpremium 2000 IGT Sicilia
There’s a lovely rich spiciness to the nose, which displays dark fruit. The palate is rich with some spicy oak and a lovely density of rich dark fruit. Aussie style with a lovely savoury edge, and showing good density. Very good+

Superpremium 2001 IGT Sicilia
Lovely rich nose showing exotic berry fruits, with a roast coffee edge. Concentrated, richly fruited palate with lots of spicy, savoury oak and some tannin. Very rich, and quite showy. This is impressive stuff: nicely savoury, and not just big and overripe. Very good/excellent

Terre di Ginestre Nero d'Avola 2000, Casa Vinicola Calatrasi, Sicilia
Initially muted nose opens out to show some sweet, herby cherry fruit. The fruity, herby palate shows a tea leaf and tobbacco edge with some hints of undergrowth and spice. Medium bodied, with good acidity, but just a touch alcoholic. Interesting stuff. Very good  (cask sample tasted 09/01)

Terre di Ginestre Superprimium 2000, Casa Vinicola Calatrasi, Sicilia
A youthful dense purple/red colour. Warm, roasted nose with dominant smoky, roast coffee elements, and spicy, ripe berry fruit; after a while in the glass, lush vanilla-laced fruit comes to the fore. The palate is intensely savoury, showing ripe cherry and raspberry fruit, dry, dusty tannins and quite high alcohol. It's completely clean, without the rusticity evident in many southern Italian wines. Very good+ (cask sample tasted 09/01)

UK agent: Bibendum

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