October 1, 2010 Azienda Agricola Gulfi
Azienda Agricola Gulfi Nerosanlore’
Island to island. Sicily to Fogo Island, Newfoundland. This dramatic knob of headland, called Brimstone Head, is one of the four corners of the earth! As designated by the Flat Earth Society, of course. (Non-believers, note the official sign below.) The birthplace of Gulfi wine is relatively close to Hydra in Greece, another of the four corners, and in the 8th century BC Sicily was host to the Greek civilization, as the famous temples of Agrigento attest. So a link… of a sort. Not that we need such a tenuous link to enjoy a good bottle of wine, but it does add a certain edge to the experience.
Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean, and until recent times was mired in a reputation as a producer of bulk wine of minimal quality. It delivers almost as much wine as Australia (no mean island itself). But in recent decades a diverse group of independent producers has stepped forward and is turning the island into one of the most exciting wine regions of Italy.
Among them is VITO CATANIA, a highly successful businessman in Milan who returned to his family’s vineyards on the southern tip of Sicily in 1995. He gave the new enterprise the estate name Gulfi, and sought the advice of Salvo Foti, oenologist and leading expert on Sicilian varietals. A first step was to bring back the traditional alberello (head-trained, bush-like) approach to vines, and to stop irrigation. The result was fewer, but more concentrated grapes of higher quality. The classic nero d’Avola is king here, producing smooth yet robust wine, with the ability to age.
Vito Catania now has 70 hectares under organic cultivation. It is the four crus of nero d’Avola in vineyards near the town of Noto that are the centrepiece of the estate. Here the latitude is below that of North Africa. The daytime heat is intense, the nights are cooled by winds from the sea, rainfall is the lowest in Sicily. The native varietal thrives.
Asked to characterize his wines, Catania has compared his foremost crus to fine chateauneuf du pape, drinking well when young, but which only comes into its own with time. The bottle on hand is somewhere in between in age.
Azienda Agricola Gulfi Nerosanlore’ 2004
So this is where we begin — an image of the sun beating down on the 40-year old vineyards in southern Sicily, just 700 metres from the sea. It is in terroir such as this that nero d’Avola finds its best expression. The nose is fresh, but deep and earth-driven, richly pastoral, herbal. Instant transport to rural mediterranean climes. Provocative. As for the taste — spiced ink, black fruit edged in minerals and smoke. Yes, it is very good wine still relatively young, but the tannins suggest it could evolve to something even more special. Something even more worth the trip to one of the four corners of the earth. $