12 Days of Vinebox: Day 6

30 12 2018

By Raymond Lamontagne

We are halfway through Vinebox. And back in Italy, albeit this time in the deep south, Sicily. Like its more northerly counterpart Puglia, Sicily grows tremendous quantities of grapes, most of which go into “IGT Terre di Sicilia” or “Terre Siciliane IGP” commodity wines. The heat and relatively flat, fertile land lend themselves to mass production of fruit-forward, easy-drinking and (most importantly) cheap wines, beverages to enjoy without need for much in the way of weighty analysis. And this is all well and good. There is a place for plonk, I suppose. Fortunately though, Sicily is like most Italian wine regions in that it is also a storehouse of unique, fascinating native grape varieties as well as some interesting terroir. In fact, Italy on the whole has more indigenous grape varieties than any other wine-producing country. The good news for wine nerds is that this heritage is being increasingly nurtured, protected, and celebrated. Enter the present grape, Frappato.

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Frappato is a Sicilian native and apparently enjoys a parent-child relationship with Sangiovese (although the specific direction of this relationship remains unknown). The grape is known for rather low acidity/high pH, low levels of delicate, soft tannins, low sugars, and (you guessed it) relatively low levels of colour compounds. This grape of diminutives was once rare as a varietal, instead used as a softening component in blends with heftier grapes such as the better-known Nero d’Avola. Although Frappato is challenging in the vineyard, it is rather forgiving in the winery. Its reductive nature does require exposure to enough oxygen during fermentation to avoid the production of sulphurous off-odors (for example, by frequently pumping of the must over the cap, a technique which also aids extraction of what few colour compounds and tannins are present in the grape). The resulting wines are typically light, fresh, aromatic, and meant to be drunk young. “Don’t expect the colour of Merlot”, says one viticulturist quoted by Ian D’Agata in his book Native Wine Grapes of Italy. (By the way, if you are any sort of wine nerd who is at all intrigued by Italy, this book is essential reading.)

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The present producer, Cantine Grasso, is now called Feudo Solaria, although in a historical nod they continue to release wines under the Cantine Grasso name. A fifth generation of Grassos now run the winery, which tells a familiar tale of reconciling tradition with modern viticultural methods. This time it is refreshingly clear which wine lives in today’s vial, the Sette Aje Frappato, and tech sheets abound on the winery website. For this the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, and the fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature of 28-29°C, including 5 or 6 days of maceration on the skins. The wine is aged for six months in stainless steel. No oak to be found.

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Occasionally I will find the initial sniff of a red wine to be less than pleasant. My suspicion is that volatile acidity is often the culprit here, something like a candied apple gone horribly wrong. Although in the present case this impression never entirely goes away, much to my delight it does recede into the background rather quickly, and I get more appealing aromas of black liquorice, blackcurrant leaf, violets, cigarillos, thyme… lots of thyme! Makes me recall the paving stones in my old backyard, which were positively carpeted with creeping versions of this fragrant herb. Lovely. The dominant fruit character is fresh juicy strawberry, start to finish, with maybe a few accents of raspberries both red and black. I feel there is a darker core lurking somewhere in this, something almost tarry, but this experience remains elusive. I do enjoy chasing such spectres in wine. Adds considerably to the interest. “Just what is that darkness?”…maybe it’s not actually there, as this does flash far more sunshine and lollipops. And some fearsomely tart wild cherries for a low acid grape. This is exactly what a workmanlike Frappato varietal should do: “pale red, explosively fragrant, medium-bodied at most, very fresh and juicy” (D’Agata again). If this is making me crave the Cos bottling in my cellar (and it most assuredly is), the fine folks at Feudo Solaria should take that as a compliment. No thyme left for you…I found myself some wings…

87+ points

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