A blog devoted to exploring wines made from unusual grape varieties and/or grown in unfamiliar regions all over the world. All wines are purchased by me from shops in the Boston metro area or directly from wineries that I have visited. If a reviewed bottle is a free sample, that fact is acknowledged prior to the bottle's review. I do not receive any compensation from any of the wineries, wine shops or companies that I mention on the blog.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Frappato di Vittoria - Sicily, Italy

It's kind of hard for me to believe, but today's post marks Fringe Wine's first foray into Sicily.  It's certainly not for lack of material.  Sicily has a substantial number of indigenous grapes and a wealth of interesting topics to write about, but for some  reason, I just haven't gotten around to it.  That will change in the near future as I have several handfuls of wines made from native Sicilian grapes that I'll be posting about in short order.

Sicily is Italy's largest region and, for many centuries, has been a major source of bulk agricultural products.  This bulk product mentality wasn't (and to some extent still isn't) limited just to food products, but it extends into wine production as well.  The overwhelming majority of wine production in Sicily is devoted to bulk wine production and production of anonymous blending wine components that are trucked all over Italy (and likely elsewhere) for use in a wide variety of applications.  By area, Sicily is Italy's largest region both in total land volume and in acres devoted to the vine.  By volume, Sicily is Italy's third largest producer with over 7 million hectoliters of wine produced.  Out of all that production, though, only about 5 percent actually ends up in bottles and only 2 percent of that amount is DOC quality wine.

As in so many bulk wine regions, a handful of producers and co-ops have decided to buck the trends of history and set out to make quality wine, and, as mentioned above, they have ample natural resources at their disposal.  Not only is there a wealth of local grapes to choose from, but the Sicilian climate lends itself quite well to viticulture.  While most of the grapes grown on Sicily are white (most are used in bulk Marsala production), the red wines are really where the cool, interesting stuff is happening.  Nero d'Avola has recently burst onto the world stage and Nerello Mascalese might not be too far behind (we'll consider Nerello in a future post).

Today's post, though, is concerned with Frappato.  Frappato's origins are not entirely clear, as some people maintain that the grape is native to the area around Vittoria in southeastern Sicily, while others believe it may have brought over from Spain during one of the periods of Spanish occupation of the island.  The genetic evidence points in a different direction, however.  In a study published in 2008, the authors found that Frappato (as well as a handful of other Italian grapes) shares some genetic similarities with Sangiovese, indicating that Frappato is actually an offspring of Sangiovese and an undetermined other variety.  This certainly muddies the issue as it makes both origin hypotheses difficult to explain.  It seems likely that the grape was brought over from the Italian mainland, along with Nerello Mascalese, at some point prior to the 17th Century, as the grape has been known around Vittoria for at least that long.

I was able to get my hands on two different Frappato bottlings.  The first was the 2009 bottling from the Valle Dell'Acate co-op which I picked up from Gordon's for about $17.  In the glass, the wine had a pale ruby color.  The grape is known for the light colored wines it produces, but if you associate lightly colored wines with lightly scented and flavored wines, Frappato has a surprise for you.  The nose on this wine was very aromatic with distinctive red cherry and rose aromas.  The perfume was intoxicating and it was difficult to pull my nose out of the glass in order to take a sip.  On the palate, the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity and medium tannins.  There were delicate red cherry and strawberry fruit flavors with a flowery, rosy kind of flavor to it.  It's a delicate wine that's seemingly held together with gossamer.  The fruit is subdued and hung ever so lightly over the acid and tannin bones of this wine.  The perfume is the thing about this wine that you'll remember and trust me, you'll remember it for a long time.

The second wine I tried was the more upscale 2008 offering from Occhipinti which I picked up at Central Bottle for about $41, though I've also seen it on the shelves of my friends at the Wine Bottega.  In the glass, the wine had a medium purple-ruby color.  Beyond the color, words start to fail with this wine.  I'm going to try a tangent and see if I can get closer to what I want to say.

When I was in college, I went to a concert at one of the local venues (I attended UGA in Athens, Georgia, so there were plenty around) and a band I'd never heard of took the stage.  Standing behind the keyboard was an absolute vision that I couldn't take my eyes off of.  When the band kicked into the first song, I stood like I was nailed to the floor and felt every note ring through my body.  For some reason that night, every ion in my body was lined up in such a way that the combination of sight of and sound had me completely mesmerized and I stood there, nailed to a spot on the floor, and let it all wash over me, waiting through every moment for my heart to explode.  Life is not full enough of transcendent moments like those where every second that ticks by is both sacred in its own bliss and profane in its temporality and finitude.

This wine is one of those experiences.  The nose here is explosively aromatic with roses, violets and crushed red berry fruit.  That's the objective story of what it smells like.  The subjective story is that I fell completely in love with this wine in the way that you can fall in love with objects and unobtainable things that are marked by their temporary appearance in the timeline of your life.  It's about falling in love with something whose end is not only inevitable and near, but whose end you are in fact bringing about much more rapidly through your enjoyment.  On the palate, the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity and medium tannins.  There were ripe, rich flavors of wild blueberries and tart cherries with wild strawberry jam and a flowery kind of character.  Again, this captures only the objective experience here.  This is a breathtaking wine that was an exquisite agony to drink.  I've been moved by wines in the past, but this touched something deep and has been a haunting experience that I can't get out of my head.  I hesitate to offer this review as any kind of a call for people to run out and try this because it was a very personal reaction that I had to this wine and those rarely translate well between people.  Objectively, it is a very fine wine that is well worth the money, but subjectively, it was much more than that and I get concerned here that people will feel I've led them astray if their experience lacks the profundity that I experienced.  I don't know how to answer that.  It's worth the chance, I guess is all I can say.

Please see this more recent post for a tasting note on another 100% Frappato wine from the Lamoresca winery in the hills of central Sicily.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Fringe,
I met Arianna Occhipinti earlier this year at the Natural Wine Fair in London. Much like her wines, she's mesmerizing in her own way. She's not necessarily the most comely woman I've met but has this intense energy burning in her eyes, and impresses as she switches seamlessly from Italian to English to French. Her surname actually means 'painted eyes'. It's quite fitting!