For everybody that follows my twitter feed… and if you don’t why not? @pietrosd You will have seen this bottle, (in the header of this blog) a good few times over the last few vintages. I have been a huge fan for the last 5 years of the Rapitala Grand Cru Chardonnay. So when I saw that the winery was on my Sicilian Itinerary I couldn’t wait to visit.
On arrival the sun was finally shining and the views over the vineyard were stunning, we were on a tight schedule so it was straight into the winery for the tasting.
So within 2 minutes I found out why they made Burgundian style chardonnay when we were all introduced to the CONTE. (COUNT) Laurent Bernard de la Gatinais.
Laurent’s father was French, He was Count Hugues Bernard de la Gatinais, and his mother was Gigi Guarrasi from Palermo who inherited the current estate after it was destroyed in the 1968 earthquake.
Note: In 1968 Sicily there was a large earthquake between 14 and 15 January. The largest shock measured 5.5, with five others of magnitude 5+. It centered around the towns of Gibellina, Salaparuta and Poggioreale killing at least 231 people and leaving 100,000 homeless. It is known in Italy as Terremoto del Belice.
This is where the story starts as Laurent’s parents decided to move back to Camporeale after the earthquake and rebuild the estate with a view to bottle their own wines which at the time was rare as most people just made bulk wine. Their first vintage was 1975 and they were one of the first five wineries in Sicily to bottle under their own label.
Tenuta Rapitala produce about 3 million bottles per annum, with 1 million bottles production which are there own Rapitala key lines and then 2 million bottles of the pret-a-porter lines for major super markets in Europe. The fruit is bought in for this, however no less acre is taken with making these great value wines. I know Waitrose (supermarket) in the UK stock has two of these lines, and bang for your buck …… Fantastic! They have some great advertising too.
So onto the wines!
First starting with Viviri 2018 100% Grillo
This 2018 vintage is super fresh Grillo, white fruits, minerality and salinity on the back palate on the finish. If you have never had Grillo it feels like a cross between Albarino ( The citrus fresh and salinity) and a NZ Sauvignon Blanc. (big fruit with tropical notes)
Alcomo “Vigna Casaji” Bianco Classico DOC 2018
This wine is the forgotten grape of Sicilia which is now making a huge come back… What is the grape….CATARRATTO, to be designated “Classico” in the DOC Alcomo the vines need to be at 250m above sea level minimum, these are from a single vineyard at 600 metres, now it makes sense why this why reminds me of freshness of an Etna style wine even though its on the other side of Sicilia.
CATARRATTO is a difficult grape to work with which is why it was almost forgotten. Modern winemaking has allowed the controlled process to be so much more precise than years ago which is why its making a come back. It was difficult as if not made precisely then the wines end up bitter and rustic.
Its vinified in stainless steel as was the Grillo above, with no wood involved at all, yet it has a honeyed creamy smokiness note… which can only come from the grape itself.
I just want to pair this wine with capers, tomatoes, olive oil and fresh bread!. I’m sure olives would be perfect too….. although I hate them…haha….even though I Love olive oil.. OK I’M ODD!
It definitely evolves in the bottle, so my suggestion is buy a case (12) an drink one starting in a years time every 3 months. I’m guessing that when you get to 3 years… its amazing.
Next… Rapitala Grand Cru 2016
I have been drinking this wine for the last five vintages as stated at the start and I absolutely love this wine.
This is where the history of the family and vineyard really comes into play with the roots from France deeply imbedded into their ethos.
The first time I was introduced to this wine by my friend who is a wine merchant…. he made me taste it blind. I was convinced it was Burgundy! what a muppet!. When my friend Richard told me it was from Sicily frankly my answer to him was BULL SHxT! NO xxxxing way! then he produces the bottle and the rest is history!
This wine was based purely on Laurent’s fathers taste, even with the crest of the family on the bottle too. The Chardonnay vineyard was planted in 1980, they found the vines take at least 15 years to develop this high quality. If you see this wine folks ( or any the others actually) buy it!. Every vintage of this wine sells out in less than eight months of release and the production is 60,000 bottles per year with 3/4 of production staying in Italy.
They start the fermentation in stainless steel tanks and then move over to barriques, 30% new oak and the rest in older multiple vintage barrels, where it stays for 9 or 10 months. They have a clear toasting profile for their barriques which they tell me is key to the flavour profile. Laurent made it clear that WOOD (barriques) is an instrument for tertiary flavours only and not to be the used as the key element for taste ….. even though it obviously has key input to the overall wine.
Its instantly Chardonnay!, the joy of the balance of acidity, fruit and although 14.5% alcohol…. its doesn’t taste alcoholic, of course the key to great wine making is balance!. Although this wine can be drunk and delicious on release of new vintages its fab after 3-4 years and amazing at 5-7 years. Then the development of caramel into the bright fruit appears, yet still never losing the balance and its just so rich and rounded at this point. A pure pleasure! I found this 2016 vintage to have a lovely spicy note too.
Laurent told us that they also produce a maximum 1000 magnums only per year or this heaveny nectar …. I am yet to seek some out…. I’m sure they only stay in Italy….. I am working hard to change this. WINK WINK Laurent haha.
Next onto the reds … ALTO, 100% Nero D’Avola
Well this certainly is not your standard type of Nero D! After malolactic fermentation this wine spends 5 months in barriques then on to larger tonneau barrels. Its a single vineyard, smoky on the nose, spices, cherries, huge fruit balanced by acidity, dances like a classical symphony across your palate. This is made in very much more of a French style giving it an air of refinement and a pure elegance.
Now for the next red, a strange beasty…. albeit just an odd blend…. But how it works is dynamite!
Nuhar 2016 Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) & Nero D’Avola
Blending anything with Pinot Noir apparently is bloody hard. This is a super unusual blend not just for Italy but anywhere in the world. What you get is pure joyous blending giving the big bold fruit from the Nero D, and then spicy, mineral and elegance of the Pinot Nero.
Next Red. Nadir. 100% Syrah
My eyes were now wide with excitement as I was not expecting to see much Syrah in Sicily, however its planted widely and the wines are stunning. It feels like a Syrah from a very warm climate, even though its not. Again there is obviously a key French style here, its Rich like a new world wine, yet its elegant like French Syrah. Its like diving into the Syrah with so many layers, of berries, spices, chocolate and a touch of coffee and the finish frankly just keeps on going! I absolutely loved this wine and cant wait to get my hands on some for home.
Last but by no means least for the reds is the wonderful HUGONIS 2016. A Cabernet Sauvignon/ Nero D’Avola blend. Again this is, like the Grand Cru Chardonnay, one of their flagship wines and has the crest again on the bottle. This wine has massive structure, rich ripe juicy fruit is complimented by acidity and smooth but bold tannins.
What shines through all of the wines is that they all have a similar elegance, style and sophistication about them. They all have wonderful fruit no matter what the grape variety, all have minerality, a salinity and all have huge personality to each wine.
Terroir plays a huge part here, the vineyards are from 300m to 600m altitude, they harvest from 10th August all the way through to the start of October, (if they are making their late harvest wine in this vintage). They have 120 parcels of vines within the 225 hectare estate and all these parcels are individually vinified giving them a huge range, even the same varieties, to blend into the final wines. They do this because of their terroir. The Chardonnay at 300m is completely different to that at 600m. There best elevation is smack in the middle at 450m, with their best Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Nero all here.
CIELO ALCOMO 2017 (Late Harvest Wine)
Now onto another strange wine to finish, a desert wine. Whats strange about it? Well no one makes a Passito in ALCOMO… and in fact neither do Rapitala… This is 100% Sauvignon Blanc and made like Sauternes…. back to the French roots again. This wine cannot be made in every vintage as its not harvested until early October, as the grapes have to dry out on the vines. If there is then too much rain then the crop is lost. When they do make the wine its a maximum of 2000 bottles only.
The wine is glorious, only 12.5% abv. It has enough sweetness but not cloyingly so. Its super fresh and has enough acidity to cut through the sugar to give perfect balance. Although this wine is a desert wine, its fresh enough for a really rich entrée dish too.
A huge thank you to Laurent Bernard for a great tasting.
I will leave you now, the next coming soon.