Frapatto part two … the ultimate summertime red

Jason introduced Frappato in a posting last week, but I want to expand on the story (it’s a good one!)…

I visited Sicily ten years ago, and was the fortunate guest of a winemaking family on the Western side of the island, in a former tuna fishing town called Trapani. The warmth and passion of these people made an indelible impression and it remains one of the most exotic and romantic places I have been in my wine travels. I have been so in love with Sicily that I couldn’t possibly say no when my friend and Italian wine agent, Colleen McKettrick asked me to meet her friend and wine producer, Gaetana Jacono of Valle dell’Acate. Gaetana reinforced everything that I had always associated with Sicily; she was exotic and beautiful, had a devotion to family, a passion for her home, history, and traditions, celebrates life with food and wine, her business relationships are usually woven into personal ones, life is embraced everyday.  A wine selector would rarely admit this but, I was charmed by Gaetana even before I had even tasted her wines.

The first time I tasted the wines of Valle dell’Acate was many years ago, not long after Gaetana had left her profession as a pharmacologist, to return home and take over the family business from her father.  She was showing off her first vintage of Tané ( I think it was the 2001). It was a wine she inspired and the label carried her own nickname, Tané, which was short for Gaetana.  It was very dark colored, with lavender and blackberry scents, thick, sappy and powerful on the palate.  It was the indicator of what was to come at Valle dell’Acate under her guidance.

Fast forward to the present, I am the import director at World Class Wines, and we are once again re-acquainted by our mutual friend Colleen McKettrick. This time, Gaetana has made her influence with much broader brush strokes at Valle dell’Acate.  The wines are vibrant, fruity and modern and yet traditional in their varieties and blends. In particular, the Frappato is so much fun to drink; light, fragrantly fruity and spicy, succulent and juicy on the palate with very light tannins.  My first thought was “Why would anyone buy a less-expensive wanna-be Pinot Noir when they could buy this!”  It has the palate weight, fruit and spice they are seeking and the food compatibility factor is very high.  Now, I am NOT saying this IS Pinot Noir, but one might drink it for the same effect! You have red fruits instead of black, a lighter palate impression, you can chill it, it’s a traditional choice for fish (drunk locally with blue fin tuna), less tannin, and so forth.  They say timing is everything. Thanks to the recent Pinot Noir craze and the new lighter red wine profile evolving, consumers just may “get” the appeal of this wine.  Ten years ago, we would have sold this wine to only a select few.

So what is Frappato?

It is a variety that has been in Sicily for centuries but has unknown origins.  It is genetically similar to Gagliopo which is grown in Calabria.  It is a part of the blend for Sicily’s only DOCG : Cerasuolo di Vittoria, located near Ragusa in the southeastern part of Sicily.The vines experience warm days, cooler nights and also a very hot, dry wind that sweeps across from Africa known as the Sirroco. The soil is primarily composed of calcium rich sandstone and clay. The wine produced from Frappato is generally lighter with red fruit notes and spicy undertones.

Valle dell’Acate is located in the town of Acate near Ragusa.  The estate is known as CASE BIDINI (Case is dialect for “house”)  Gaetana is the 6th generation of the Jacono family to make wine at this estate.  The family produces the following wines: the celebrated Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG; the IGTs Moro, Frappato, Insolia, and Bidis, and the most recent, Tané, made by selecting the best bunches of Nero d’Avola and Syrah.

Memories of accalimed Veneto producer Sergio Zenato

We’ve lost one of the greats.  Sergio Zenato passed away July 11th after a long battle with leukemia (age 73).

I spent a fantastic afternoon at a luncheon with him, on the banks of Lago di Garda, in May of 2003.  Wild white hair, hands flying in every direction, and not a lick of English coming from him.  The server handed me a menu, which he grabbed out of my hands while he proceeded to order the entire meal.  He knew the chef well, and indicated that he wanted me to have a ‘true Veneto experience’.  It was one of the best meals of my life.

The fire and the passion this man had for his wine, his region, and his family was second to none. I had never been in the presence of such a wine personality.  Truly unforgettable.

The next bottle of Zenato Pinot Grigio, Lugana, Valpolicella, Ripassa, or Amarone you pop, be sure to raise a glass to this icon.

You say tomato, I say Frappato!

Photo by Flickr user Giampaolo

Photo of a Sicilian sunset by Flickr user Giampaolo

In the constant quest to find the ultimate summertime red, Annette has out done herself and brought in a fantastic Frappato.  More on the specific producer and the story of how she found the wine later.  For now, let’s concentrate on this grape, and even more importantly Sicily as a place.

Sicily, like any traditional European wine region, can trace its vinous history back to the Romans, and in the case of Sicily, the Greeks.  That’s a 2000+ year head start on California!  Anyway, like Burgundy, Chianti, Piedmonte, etc., Sicily developed their local varietals that paired well with the local circumstance and cuisine.  (Ed Behr of the Art of Eating — you HAVE TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS MAGAZINE —  did a fantastic issue about Sicily a number of years ago and mentioned “Outside of Tokyo, this is one of the only places on earth to sit down to a fifteen course meal in which every plate is seafood.”)  The local cuisine is fish, and the local circumstance is intense summertime heat.  Thus, the local grapes go best with anything Sicilian, including a 95 degree summertime afternoon.  No surprise there.

Fast forward to the mid 1990’s and big wine companies noticed that on the island there are enough micro-climates to grow just about ANYTHING.  A land rush began, and has resulted in bigger, newer, internationally styled wines from large multi-national corporations.  At many wine shops in Minnesota, even in the small towns on the prairie, you can now find Sicilian Merlot, Chardonnay, and Cabernet.  There is even a Pinot Noir out there.

Poor Frappato.  Pushed to the side by the Cabernet bully.  Intimidated by the Chardonnay.  Poor Frappato.

And that, friends, is why you should seek it out.  It’s an individualistic statement.  It’s perfect for summertime.  Less and less of it is planted.

Nothing, and I mean nothing, goes better with grilled burgers or ribs than Frappato.

Here are a couple of great articles on this grape, and another post in the future will talk about this latest producer (Valle dell’Acate).

David Rosengarten on the ‘mob mentality’ of the Sicilian wine business.

Chowhound post on ‘What is Frappato.’

Vin Italy 2008: a few quick observations

I just got back from a wonderful week at VinItaly 2008. A few observations (more details at a later post):

VinItaly was better run than ever this year. Less chaotic and easier to get to on the business days.

The buzz around 2004 Barolo was evident (even Gary Vaynerchuk is in on the action). The consorzio for Barolo was swarming everyday. Also lots of talk about the 2007 white wines in Northern Italy. 2007 whites are built more about texture, ripeness and structure, perhaps slightly less aromatic than 2006, but much more rich, and serious.

Also in plain view, was an emerging new profile for red wines. The taste for brighter, fresher fruit, less extracted styles, perhaps driven by the Pinot Noir craze and recent popularity of cuisines that emphasize lighter flavors. Even the wines from warmer places like Puglia and Sicily were less prune and more red juicy fruits.

The pendulum is also swinging back to more traditional winemaking methods, especially at the high end of the price spectrum. Overall, it was clear that the new generation of winemakers in Italy are well-educated, savvy, and making some of the best wines ever. It was also a year for tougher negotiation in light of the weak dollar.

As mentioned, more later. For now, a little jet lag recovery…

Choosing a screwcap over a DOC

Allegrini, one of our favorite Italian producers, has decided to leave the Valpolicella Classico DOC, chosing instead to label their wine with simply the ‘Valpolicella’ label. This is not a casual move … the ‘classico’ designation carries weight and defines the wine as being from a far better region. So why did they do this?

It all has to do with the Stelvin, or screw-top, closure. In the Italian wine laws, it is stated that the wines from Valpolicella Classico DOC must be finished with a cork. “We’ve been waiting for regulations to be amended in this DOC so we could use the screwcap finish. But they haven’t, so we pulled out of the DOC. The closure is more important to us than the denomination.” says winemaker Franco Allegrini.

This is another example of archaic European wine laws stifling progress in important areas. Congrats to our friends at Allegrini for having the guts to stand up to it! We look forward to seeing the Stelvin closed Valpolicella.

A fine article on the Screwcap v. Cork debate can be found here at the Avenue Vine website.

The amazing 2006 central Italy vintage is starting to arrive

Sanigiovese in Chianti ClassicoThe wines from the 2006 vintage in Tuscany and Umbria are now starting to arrive in Minnesota (Badia a Coltibuono Cetamura, Falesco Vitiano, and others) … and this is a vintage to take special note of. Awarded five stars (highest rating) by Decanter Magazine, this might very well be a central Italy vintage to rival the amazing 2001 and 1999 bottlings. The photo on the left is Sangiovese from the heart of Chianti Classico on the first week on September 2006. Notice the even ripening and great color … and the grapes tasted great!

Initial tastes of the 2006 wines from Tuscany, Umbria, and Molise are showing dark fruit, strong structure, and pretty intense personality when they first arrived. After a small bit of time they are harmonizing into lush wines, the quintessential ‘iron fist in a velvet glove’.

On a future post: why you should buy as much 2004 Barolo and Barbaresco as you can possibly afford.