Sicily – Part 9 – The Ageing of Sicilian Red wines – Masterclass with Martin Hudson MW

Hi Again.

Just rewinding a few days of my Sicilia Press trip…..

Sunday evening on arrival in Sicily I was met by a representative of Assovini Sicilia and told we had to wait a few minutes as there were two others on my flight. Andrew Catchpole – Editor of Harpers wine spirits and also Martin Hudson MW. Arriving at the hotel we dumped our bags and the three of us met up for dinner and a couple of bottles of Vini. Martin told us that he was hosting a Masterclass on the Ageing of Sicilian red wines, this sounded too good to miss, so I made sure I was signed up for it on the Thursday morning.

9am Thursday morning started with a grand tasting of all the 2018 Sicilia en Primuer wines… all 350+ of them. I started the first class at 9:30 but the palate was suffering within an hour, as it was flight after flight delivered by sommeliers to your table, so I needed to take a break and wait for the Masterclass to start.

Martin Hudson MW – Bio

A long time avid consumer of wine, he passed the WSET Dip whilst still a technical director designing computer cables. When that career ended in 2002, he decided on a new direction…..WINE, joining Oddbins and then Berry Bros and Rudd (BBR) in 2003. BBR supported Martin through the MW process which he passed in 2008. Martin specialised in wine education and also buying from some of the more esoteric regions of the wine world. He retired in 2015 to set up a WSET wine school in Bournemouth (South Coast of England). He is also a global judge for many of the worlds biggest wine competitions including Decanter.

I’m first at the door of the Masterclass and managed to bag a front row seat. I had heard from Antonio Rallo, (Donnafugata) the evening before, that they have a pretty old wine in this tasting, certainly not to be missed.

The sommelier poured each of the ten wines, so they had time to open up. It’s then I started seeing the labels on the bottles and their vintages!…. Boy oh boy we were in for some real wine treats.


No spittoons were touched in this Masterclass! The spittoon on my table was definitely not getting a look in! Just sometimes…. IT WOULD BE RUDE TO SPIT!


What actually makes wine age worthy in the first place. That was our starting point, with five key points of winemaking which we went into in some detail, I have surmised here as to not bore you all to tears. Even though I loved every second of it!







What is “Structure” – key elements to this are acidity and tannins.

Acidity and PH are not the same thing. Total acidity or “titratable acidity” is the concentration of acids in the wine and PH is how intense they are. Most wines will have a PH of 2.9 – 3.9 , the lower the PH then the more acidity in the wine. Despite being so far south in the Mediterranean, Sicilian wines have a low PH.

Tannins (in basic terms – polyphenols) These come from the grapes skin and pips during the maceration process. Good strong tannins at release with good alcohol level are a sound building block for wines potential ageing.

Chemistry / chemical makeup of wines is super complicated, if it was easy then surely everyone would take a 1947 Cheval Blanc , analyse it and make a copy… alas its not just about trying to copy an exact recipe.

Concentration & Balance

Martin said “Age of the vines, they are like people…. as vines get older they are certainly less vigorous but definitely get more interesting!”

Concentration, “is this based on how greedy the vineyard owners/winemakers are? – wanting maximum volume of grapes”, No!, this would generally be for more bulk style wines that are not designed for ageing – Or by limiting the grapes per vine/hectare, this will certainly increase concentration and quality of the fruit. Planting density of the vines, this is not an absolute science, but as a general rule the lower the vine density per hectare, the better concentration of the grapes. So planting at low density per hectare “Can” give more concentration of flavour and complexity to the wine.

Terroir, although a French word for the land which vines are planted in, this word is used universally within vineyards of the world.

On a very basic level, the key to terroir is how much heat and water will the soil type retain. What makes one patch of earth so different with the same grape variety planted in another different patch of earth? Vines need to have enough water to get going but then at the point of Veraison (onset of the grapes ripening) you need some water stress to the vine. You want the vine to put maximum effort into ripening the fruit and not into growing foliage. This can be the difference between poor-average-or great crops. Although you don’t want it too hot as the vines will literally shut down to preserve their wellbeing. Enough water, enough heat but not too much of either! Complicated eh? Terroir then certainly adds to flavour profiles, Volcanic soil, as some of the wines are below definitely have a mineral streak, 100% from the soil.

Its a balancing act for each vineyard, you need ripeness – for sugars and acidity, aromatics and physiological ripeness (which is a change in the tannins that occur in seeds, pulp and skins – differs from sugar ripeness – which describes the breakdown of acids and build up of sugars that happens prior to Physiological ripeness)

So balancing the right terroir, grape variety, sugar & physiological ripeness and at that point you have sufficient retained aromatic intensity and tannins too!… Piece of cake this winemaking lark….. It’s so not!

Have I bored you to tears yet? I hope not. Lets take a break from the technical winemaking and taste some wines, however you don’t get off that easily, we have aromatics and winemaking practices to cover yet.

The first 5 wines, we start with:

Cottanera, “Zottorinoto” Etna Rosso 2013 Riserva, 5yrs old.

On the north east side of Mt. Enta at 750-800m ALT, made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, with 24mths in large oak then 4 months in the btl before release. So fresh and vibrant in the glass, on the nose some tertiary notes, yet very fruit expressive. Lively acidity keeping this wine fresh, a reasonable amount of tannic structure, juicy red fruits, but unlike the tertiary on the nose there is none on the palate as yet. Has a mineral twist right through the finish. (due to volcanic soils) Super fresh and just getting into its stride, has many more years of ageing. Potential Ageing stated by Cottanera is 15 years.


Tenute Nicosia, “Contrada Monte Gorna” Etna Rosso 2012 Riserva, 6yrs old. 14%

On the south-eastern side of Mt. Etna at 750m ALT. 90% Nerello Mascalese – 10% Nerello Cappuccio. On volcanic soil and aged 24mths in 2nd/3rd use French oak barrels. This looks more youthful, even though a year older than above. 2012 was a dry summer and warmer vintage, although the vines were refreshed on the 4th September with a downpour of rain which completed the ripening for a good vintage. Looks very youthful in the glass, no tertiary notes on the nose just youthful fruit and quite strong minerality. On the palate the structure is well balanced with acidity, fruit intensity, overall freshness and fine tannins. Beautifully made and has many more years to go. Potential Ageing stated by Nicosia is 10-12 years.


Benanti, “Serra della Contessa” Etna Rosso 2011 , 7yrs old. 14%

Again on the south-eastern side of Mt. Etna at 500m ALT. 85% Nerello Mascalese – 15% Nerello Cappuccio. Ruby in the glass, apperance is more evolved than the Etna’s above, with slightest tinges of brown edges. On the nose this wine is not as fruit expressive but gives you more complexity of savory, earthiness and minerality. On the palate there is a significant transformation from primary fruits characteristics to a stunning evolution of tertiary and fruit aged character. At 14% alcohol you don’t feel any of it at all, the wine has brilliant balance. Freshness of acidity and fruit concentration balances the alcohol level that makes this wine harmonious. Again a brilliant wine, I have had many Benanti wines over the years and they are always stunning. Potential Ageing stated by Benanti is 20-25 years.


Principi Di Butera, “Deliella” 2013 , 5yrs old. 14%

Located north of Gela on the southern coast of Sicily in a unique mircoclimate at 350m ALT. 100% Nero D’Avola. Nero D’Avola quite often when young is usually bright bluey purple in the glass, this however at 5 years old is deep red with violet edges. On the nose this feels pretty tight with restrained ripe dark fruits. The palate its a concentration of blackberry, blackcherry, vibrant acidity with fine textured tannins. Its aged in OLD oak, and this gives a wonderful almond note to the finish. Feels so youthful – GREAT STRUCTURE and FRUIT INTENSITY. Potential Ageing stated by Butera is 30 years.


Feudo Montoni, “Vrucara” 2010 , 9yrs old. 14%

Located almost right in the middle of Sicily with vineyards at 500m ALT. 100% Nero D’Avola.

A PREPHYLLOXERA vineyard, giving deep root structures for these thick trunked old gnarly, low lying, bush vines. This wine spends 25 days of maceration in cement tanks. Then spends 45 months in concrete tanks, 6mths in oak before a further 6mths in bottle before release. Dark ruby/purple in the glass, on the nose it’s an aromatic festival!. Black fruits laced with spice, minty, menthol & eucalyptus oils. These notes are due to the VRUCA (note the name of the wine). Vruca are the herb bushes that grow all over the vineyard, adding aromatic oils into the soil, leaves, roots and grapes. On the palate its core black fruit, with a savoury complexity with the tannins starting to resolve. Potential Ageing stated by Montoni is 15 years.


Aromatic Profile & Winemaking Practices.


Are quite a difficult one, start with a large array of aromatic compounds and intensity, together with alcohol, acidity – the wine has ageing capability… HOWEVER

Its not that easy. We discussed this in detail but I will give you the very abridged version.

Look at Sauvignon Blanc (NZ) and Riesling (Alsace) both have huge aromatic profiles and high acidities….. now that’s where it gets complicated!.

We all know Riesling ages beautifully, with the profile of the wines as they age becoming toasty and honeyed and are a pure seductive joy. Sauvignon Blanc however, generally, (I KNOW THERE ARE EXCEPTIONS !!-I have Cloudy Bay 01 & 05 in my cellar and its stunning) turns to cabbage leaves and does not age in anyway the same way. There are a few varieties that just don’t age well and are stunning wines to be drunk within the first few years after release. So why age wines….. Well that’s at the end of the blog.

Winemaking Practices.

Terroir, concentration, balance, and structure are all so important when it comes down to the magic in the winery.

So Tannin extraction is going to be needed for age worthy wines, so the options are pump over, punch down, delestage (rack and return) complicated eh?

Tannins are more soluble in alcohol than in water, so if you want to extract lots of tannins then you need to do more tannin extraction at the end of fermentation when you have maximum amount of alcohol. Flavour and colour both of these are less soluble in alcohol than water too. So simply put do your extraction carefully at the beginning of fermentation and the less colour, flavour and Tannins you will extract. Best to go late then!

Maceration, to use Oak S/S or cement? Then do you age in Oak, Cement or stainless steel. Most wines made to age are in Oak. This is because it allows the wine exposure to oxygen giving it some age worthiness again. However one of the wines above was in cement and I’ve had an 18yr old white wine from Baglio di Pianetto in previous blog which was in S/S…. As a rule of thumb OAK…. but it certainly is not a definitive rule.

Filtration of the wines – to do or not…..

Martin told us of two of the worlds best wine makers, one from France and another from Australia, who if both put in a room to talk about filtration may kill each other…HAHA. So the Frenchman says filtration strips out the character of the wine but the Aussie says why have a BIO ticking time bomb in the bottle. However most of the wines designed for ageing will have aged, for sufficient time, prior to release they wouldnt need any filtration and would be stable after this time.

Before we go on to the last five wines, a question brought up was discussed. Why do the French generally sell En Primuer for wines that will need decades to age as opposed to the Spanish who release more aged wines. SIMPLE…. MONEY!. Financing in your own cellar before release takes lots of money, the Spanish have done for years so they are always releasing the old ones financing the new ones. The French will sell you wine that has to be in your cellar for ten years and the Spanish say here you go its ten years old drink today its been in our cellar… and it has years to go too. AGAIN a generalisation, before I am put on the FRENCH most wanted list…

Duca di Salaparuta, “Duca Enrico” 2009 , 10yrs old. 13.82%

Located slightly south of central Sicily with the vineyards at 300-350m ALT. 100% Nero D’Avola.

Starting to look and smell much more involved, with tertiary notes on the nose. On the palate it still has lively acidity, fresh red fruits, savory tertiary notes but not too savory, more tobacco leaf and leather shining through. Not all the tannins are resolved and it has a wonderful persistent length on the finish that lingers for minutes! Great wine. Potential ageing – their response – È un vino longevo! “It is a long life wine!


Dei Principi di Spadafora, “Schietto” 2009 , 10yrs old. 14.5%

Located in north-west Sicily with vineyards at 300m ALT. 100% Nero D’Avola.

Whats interesting is that its the same vintage as the Duca Enrico and grape variety, but they are very different in many ways. The fruit concentration here is much more bold on the nose, it has more alcohol too (slightly riper, later harvest). On the palate it feels so much more youthful. Aged in Cement, then split 50/50 oak and S/S. This wine has a superb structure, good tannin levels but what’s interesting is the finish is much shorter. Very different styles but both epic wines. Potential for ageing they say 10+ years (well this is ten and still a baby!)


Gulfi, “Nerosanlorenzj” 2001 , 18yrs old. 14%

Located in South eastern Sicily, vineyards at 10m ALT! 100% Nero D’Avola.

2001 was a warm vintage with spring rains, overall a good vintage. The wine spends 24 months in barrique and Tonneau barrels. This is a big wine, must have been a long maceration on the skins for this much extraction, if drunk young i’m sure would have been a joy but oh boy would it have been tannic. On the nose its balsamic, old leather (someone suggested “a MARMITE note”… NOOOO! – I hate Marmite) Incredible concentration of black evolved fruit on the palate with layer after layer of pure joy. Smoky, leathery, tobacco… the finish literally never stops. No oak present now at all, its fully integrated in the wine. SUPERB wine. Potential ageing-they say “This was the first vintage in 2001 and its still holding up well with years ahead of it”.


TASCA Conti D’Almerita, “Rosso del Conte” 1998 , 21yrs old. 13.5%

Located in central northern Sicily, with vineyards 470-498m ALT. Nero D’Avola & some Perricone (small amount 10% max, I am guessing)

Oh boy! 1998 was a hot and dry vintage with half the annual rainfall expected. This wine is quite evolved in the glass, ruby with a old brick edge to the wine. The nose is savoury all the way. Mid palate has again so many layers, but its the finish with the violet floral fruit that really hits you. Unusual to have more fruit on the finish?? Another absolute GEM OF A WINE. Potential ageing – they say 30 years…. I have NO DOUBT!


Donnafugata, “Mille e una Notte” 1996 , 23yrs old. 13.1%

Located south of Palermo quite central in western Sicily, with vineyards at 200-600m ALT. 100% Nero D’Avola.

I’ve had quite a few vintages of this wine over the years and the oldest before was about 10!, still a baby and a pure joy.

On the Nose this wine is very complex, we were laughing, in non wine terms you felt comfortable, like a piece of family antique furniture, OLD WORLD CHARM. On the palate the fruit is integrated with savoury, leather, balsamic, tobacco and violets. This is an aromatic masterpiece. Still there is acidity and tannin. Can it go on… probably but I would want to drink this wine everyday!. Potential ageing, Donnafugata say 20+ yrs. YES IT DOES.

But really is patience rewarded”, from this tasting, my results from these ageing beauties below in 5 simple points.

  1. Less fruit the older they become, but in a harmonious integrated way.
  2. Much more savoury and tertiary savoury complexity.
  3. Better oak integration.
  4. Subtle, softer resolved tannins.
  5. Certainly better food integration, Young wine is generally more fruity and sweeter, yet we actually eat more Umami / savoury foods. So with these wines, patience is rewarded, as now the savoury food will match and perfectly compliment the savoury notes in these aged beauties.

So I think this proves….

Huge thank you to Martin for the Masterclass and also to Assovini Sicilia for organising the event.

See you soon, Please find all the wineries details below, for their websites, twitter & Instagram.

Ciao, and CHEERS!



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