Friday, 16 March 2012

Corte Ibla Nero D’Avola di Sicilia IGT (2006)

Given that Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, one would be forgiven for thinking that the very sea that surrounds it offers the largest influence to its vines and wines. However, for Sicilia’s most important red grape variety (Nero D’Avola) it is not so much the sea that is the defining influence on the climate, more the incredible heat. Holder of the record for the highest recorded temperature ever seen in Europe (48.5 degrees Celsius), summer days in Sicilia are regularly over 40 degrees Celsius. These repeatedly high temperatures see high sugars levels develop in the wines of Sicilia and typically results in powerful and alcoholic expressions of Nero D’Avola and other red grapes that are grown here.

That is not to say that the summer temperatures are the only influence on viticulture in Sicilia though. Most important in defining the topography of the island is Mount Etna in the north east of the island. The highest peak in Italy south of the Alps, this active Volcano is two and a half times taller than the next highest volcano in Italy (Mount Vesuvius). Almost 11,000ft (3,329 metres) high, not only is Etna an obvious landmark that is visible from across the island, but it’s continued eruptions for the past half a million years have laid down the rich and fertile volcanic soils within which the Nero D’Avola vine thrives.

Having originally become known for its sweet and fortified dessert-style wines, such as Marsala, Sicilian wine has seen a decrease in popularity as global tastes have moved away from these sweeter wines over the last fifty years or so. The producers of dry “table” wines that did exist in Sicily, had traditionally focussed on quantity rather than quality and there was a period of time in which, with demand for sweet styles falling and dry wines failing to meet international tastes, when Sicilian winemaking was considered to be somewhat backward and it was more or less ignored internationally.

Sicilian wine however is back! Quality orientated producers such as Donnafugata and Planeta have drawn international attention to the excellent indigenous Sicilian grapes used in dry wines (such as Nero D’Avola, but also Frappato and Catarratto) and many of the co-operative producers who traditionally produced nearly all of Sicilia’s wine have also upped their game with a view to exports.

Often compared to riper and “New World” styles of Shiraz, the Nero D’Avola grape that makes up all of this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola di Sicilia is mostly planted in the southern half of the island and is in fact believed to have originated from near to the small coastal town of Avola, within the province of Syracuse. The name of this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola is probably linked to the ancient name of the city that stood in the same area prior to Avola that was named “Hybla”.

Whilst the Nero D’Avola grapes that make up this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola di Sicilia are grown on the southern half of Sicilia, bottling seems to have been carried out by Casa Girelli, a bulk wine producer located in Trento (Northern Italy). Whilst not an unusual practice in modern winemaking, this transportation of the produce before bottling does take something of the romance away from this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola and is generally a practice only utilised for cheaper and lower quality wines.

The bottle of this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola belies its bulk wine style of production though. It is high shouldered and weighty, with a foil that is metal (increasingly unusual, with plastic “foils” now being used on many supermarket wines). The cork appears to be made of one piece of real cork that is tightly grained and of good quality.

In the glass, this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola is an intense ruby red colour with a degree of rustic discolouration to the rim of the wine. This is likely to have resulted from the 12 months oak aging that winemaker Alessandro Michelon applied to this wine before release. On swirling, significant alcohol is visible in this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola, with a declared abv value of 14%. This sits towards the upper end of a range of alcoholic contents for Nero D’Avola, which regularly sees wines produced from 12.5% abv right through to 14.5%.

On the nose, this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola is pronounced and hotly spiced. Whilst black fruit (blackberries and soft plums) provides the basis of the bouquet of this wine, it is really a backdrop for caustic black pepper and anise once you get within six inches of the glass. Almost smouldering in the glass with the same prickle in your nose as wood smoke in your eyes, this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola is a real noseful!

Once in the mouth, this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola becomes a little less wild, although comparisons to full-bodied new world Shiraz would not be too far from the mark. Dry and full bodied, the palate is long with thick and ripe black fruit in copious evidence before thinning a little and allowing a note of liquorice to appear. Spice prickles around the gums and the back of the throat throughout the palate, with a tannin-led dryness effect becoming quite pronounced as the wine is swallowed. Acidity is high, but this is in balance in keeping all of the flavour sensations flowing as the palate develops.

Not a wine for those who prefer classically styled and smooth wines, this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola is a caustic and mouth-filling challenge of a wine. Out of character with the traditional Sicilian representation of the Nero D’Avola grape (which typically sees wines of around 13% in alcohol and a medium body produced) this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola is nevertheless a wine that would be in tune with Britain’s current love of fully bodied and heavily peppered reds. For most people’s taste we would suggest that this is best paired with any robust meat dish – a heavy cut of beef or pork that has been braised and can soak up some of this “Corte Ibla” Nero D’Avola’s wildness.

This is a wine with the warmth of the Sicilian sun and but also a wild and caustic spice.
Corte Ibla Nero D’Avola di Sicilia IGT (2006)

Score: 83/100 – An almost “new world” “old world” wine

Value for Money: 6/10 – Tough to justify at £12 per bottle