Wine Review: 2012 Marabino Noto

20 01 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

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I admit: I had to do a little research for this one. But well worth it!

Sicily is hot right now (figuratively at least; literally, it’s about +8 Celsius right now, and it’s 4:00 a.m. tomorrow morning).  After a lengthy history of exporting purely bulk wines for blending and bottling wines only for domestic consumption, this large island off the toe of Italy’s boot is suddenly undergoing a rapid and massive quality transformation, showcasing its indigenous varietals to the world and beginning to show up on wine lists and in boutiques all over town.  There are wines from vines grown on the side of an active volcano (Etna) and wines so close to the ocean they can smell the salt.  More and more Sicilian wine is being targeted for import, filling a gap in our drinking experience we never knew was there.

This is the second bottle of Marabino that I’ve had the opportunity to try; the first was their fantastic Eureka Chardonnay, exactly five months ago today.  Marabino is a relative newcomer to the island, established in 2002 as a fully biodynamic winery focused on growing Moscato, Nero d’Avola and Chardonnay, the first two native to the region.  Marabino is based in the Noto DOC, a UNESCO world heritage site featuring surprising white soils in the very southeast corner of Sicily.  While the number of classified Denomination of Origin zones in Sicily is continually growing, Noto has held this designation since 1974 and has an entrenched place in Sicilian wine history.The 2012 Noto is made from 100% Nero d’Avola, which is likely the most important red grape on the island:  bold and flavourful, it appeals to New World palates without abandoning its Old World character and thrives in warmer, drier areas.  Until the last couple decades, it was mainly used to add punch to lesser bulk reds produced outside the region, but it is now starting to receive the focus and treatment it deserves and becoming a star in its own right.  The name “Nero d’Avola” literally means “black from Avola”; Avola is a town in southeast Sicily that is thought to be the birthplace of the grape.  It also happens to be located immediately beside the town of Noto, for which the DOC is named.  So when I say this is legit, old school Nero d’Avola, I mean it; the grape has been at home here a long time.

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Nero d’Avola is often compared to Syrah in terms of structure and flavour, which is apt because, like Syrah/Shiraz, it can be made in both a restrained and a full-throttle style, although it is probably best known in North America for the latter approach.  I would call the 2012 Marabino more like the former.  It was a sanguine ruby-purple colour, dark at the core but thinning noticeably at the rim.  Dusty cherry, cranberry and redcurrant aromas leapt out of the glass, ripe but earthy, streaked through with star anise and black tea highlights.  Despite being no more than medium-bodied (a relative rarity for the fuller Nero grape), it tasted dense, packed with racy acid and prominent powdery tannin.  The red fruits reappeared on the palate, joined by a persistent stoniness (lava rock?  Or maybe I just have volcanoes on the brain), coffee grounds, black pepper, roses and a touch of gamey funk.  Elegant and rustic at the same time, this Nero seemed almost Nebbiolo-like in its combination of structure and delicacy, but without the austerity its northern Italian cousin can bring to the table.

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Cork Rating: 2.5/10 (Could have been higher, but almost broke on me on extraction. Jerk.)

I would love to see this bottle again with a couple more years of age on it, once the flavours and textures have fully had the opportunity to unpack.  It comes even more alive with food, and despite being produced without the use of sulfur during winemaking or bottling, it is in pristine condition.  Beautiful bottle – keep an eye out for this one.

90+ points

$30 to $35 CDN

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