The first time I tasted the COS Vittoria wines, it was at a very large, very loud, very crowded industry-event. Hundreds upon hundreds of purchasers, sommeliers, writers, winemakers, merchants, etc were (by their nature) hawking their wares, politely (or not) refusing a sample they knew to be dross, smiling at everyone always, always. And in the midst of this cacophony I stumbled, quite literally, into the table of WineQuest Wine and Spirit Brokers inc.
I always try to go to these events with something of an agenda – mostly to keep myself from falling prey to every bottle that catches my fancy and every merchant who hires a beautiful young woman, mermaid-like, serenading sommeliers and writers to certain doom on the rocky shoals of inadequate production values. The WineQuest table had no such Siren, only two gentlemen enjoying a dram of their own wares and seeming quite pleased with the results. Now this peaked my interest… I simply had to taste the wine that the merchants couldn’t help but take the odd sip of.
The wine was the COS Vittoria frapatto and I was flummoxed. True enough, Italy has over 2000 cultivated varietals of grapes and I do not profess to be a Master of Italian wine. However, I had never even heard of this varietal and was intrigued on yet another level. Let’s be honest here, how exciting is it to try yet another Chardonnay or Merlot?
Frapatto I discovered is indigenous to a small area of Sicily and has a lengthy history on the island, having been written about since the 1700’s (many thanks to the iconic Jancis Robinson and staff at www.JancisRobinson.com for confirming much of my independent research). Usually blended, this grape is capable of conveying minerality with the style and elegance one would expect from Burgundy, and with some similar qualities of red berry and warm spice notes that I enjoy in craftsmen-level products.
I tasted the wine, was thoroughly impressed, and needed to move on through the throng. I gave Peter Jones of WineQuest my business card and waded through the masses to my next salubrious sampling… less then a week later, I came home from a long day to find two bottles of COS Vittoria on my veranda and their adjoining spec-sheets in my email. What I discovered in that evening’s research was that my taste-buds had steered me in the direction of true artisans in Sicily~!
COS Vittoria has been producing a level of wine far ahead of the curve since it’s inception in 1980. That was the year that a triad of wine-geeks decided that whilst pursuing their education in such lofty pursuits as Architecture and Medicine, they would spend the summer reviving an old uncle’s vineyard. We all know that students, by-and-large, have no money and none knew that better then friends Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino Strano as they did everything by hand for the meager production of 1456 bottles of Frapatto. It’s important to keep in mind that, at the time, there was only one vigneron on the island who was producing frapatto as a single varietal and, in total, there was less then 1000 acres dedicated to it’s production worldwide. To the unbeliever, this was a varietal on the brink of extinction; relegated to being turned to must to enhance the flavors of it’s more prestigious cousins in southern France (Burgundy) and northern Italy.
But Sicilians support their own, and when the triad of brave/foolish entrepreneurs went in search of sales for their hand-crafted wine, they found merchants and restaurateurs willing to give it a try (and glad that they did). The quality spoke for itself, and soon several other producers in the region started making single varietal frapatto and bottling it. In less then a decade the trio had reached a level of success that allowed expansion of the facility as well as the importing of more expensive tools such as French oak barriques. These costly developments did not have their desired effect~!
- For when the trio (soon to evolve into a duo as Strano turned his attention solely to medicine) began to open bottles of new vintages matured in the French barriques, they found that much of the clean mineral tones and warm earth notes had been replaced or covered over by buttery, leathery oak. This was not the wine that they had fallen in love with!! Giambattista and Giusto had to find a way of maturing the wine in a manner that allowed for evolution yet masked none of the characteristics that made it so unique. At first they used older barriques and larger barrels with more neutral Slavonian oak.
It was also at this time that the winemakers understood the need for the winery and the vineyard to take a holistic/natural approach to the craft. Bio-dynamics principles were applied, the use of chemicals prohibited, and the utilization of the 400 litre ancient amphorae was introduced. Here was a maturation vessel that allow for the correct amount of contact with oxygen and yet imparted no flavors that would dilute the utterly captivating qualities of the calcareous/umber sandy soils.
These endeavors, and many more, led to COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria being award the prestigious DOCg status, the first and only wine of Sicily to do so. And is this the only proof that this labor-of-love was worthy of such extreme efforts? Not at all. Not only are there over 40 new producers of the blend of Frapatto and Nero D’Avola (Cersasuolo) in 30 years, and not only have Italian and international wine press raved about the wines, but there was the proof in my glass which spoke volumes!
2010 COS frapatto
visual: clear; pale ruby core to bright cherry rim, no signs of aging
nose: clean; fully intense and youthful aromas – much like Morgon/Fleurie – bright tones of fresh/slightly candied berries, sophisticated line of keen minerality throughout the palate, Old World funk/barnyard
palate: clean; dry, medium+ to full young raspberry acid, medium tannin, medium- body, medium- alcohol, medium+ intense and very youthful flavors; the minerality that lurked beneath the surface of the bouquet jumps to the surface in the palate! Very good balance, excellent structure, medium+ length
conclusions: the organic viticulture has allowed for a transparency in the soil or, as the French would call it, climat. This type of viticulture I find also always allows for long life-spans. Enjoy 2013-2020
FOOD PAIRING: as it reminded me so much of northern Beaujolais, I would use it as such. Serve slightly chilled (14/15C) and with cold smoked duck breast on wild greens, pickled Bing cherries, Boursin cheese on warm dark rye
I adore that both of these wines are genuine, and genuinely stylized. By that I mean that the winemaker has his own sense of style and composition, and whilst following his own sensibilities has crafted wines that are still classically Italian and utterly Sicilian. Yes, I said the frapatto has Beaujolais-like qualities to the palate, but the aromas are pure Vittoria and take one instantly to an Old World way of life.
visual: clear; pale ruby core to light cherry rim, slightest signs of aging
nose: clean; medium+ intense and developing aromas of warm blackberry/raspberry compote with fresh garden herbs, more of the Old World funk/barnyard (in the best of all possible ways),
palate: clean, dry, medium+ raspberry acids, medium+ chewy tannin, medium+ body, medium- alcohol (13% ABV), medium+ developing flavors that are much in-line with the aromas; a beautiful array of warming red and dark berries, fresh garden herbs, clean earth tones. Minerality is carried by the Frapatto, but not as pronounced as when it is single-varietal. Very good to excellent balance and structure with medium+ length on the palate
conclusion: this wine as well has a prodigious life ahead of it. It will cellar easily for another 5 years or longer, but should most likely be consumed before 2018
FOOD PAIRING: if the Frapatto on it’s own is like northern Beaujolais, then blended with Nero D’Avola it becomes more like Burgundy… I would enjoy it as such: served slightly chilled with a wild mushroom risotto or even the classic beef bourguignon although the acids are not truly high enough to prepare bourguignon a la method classique (which is very high in fat)
I had my first taste of COS di Vittoria because I was intrigued by wine-merchants who needed no gimmicks, no flamboyancy, no carnival-like show to sell their wines. These gentlemen believed in their product, and that was enough for them… I had my last taste of their wine and wondered how it was that I had never heard of it before.
Organics, bio-dynamics, ancestral-farming, sustainable-viticulture… all of these terms mean more then the sum of their parts: it is a journey, not a destination. It is my distinct privilege to have been here to witness this young winery, in this ancient place, which is reviving the most ancestral of wine-making practices to build a brighter future. With a glass of wine, and a hefty portion of Belief I have been encouraged to see that to some winemakers, personal satisfaction means more then any score in a magazine. In the 1990’s, when only a handful of wine-critics seemed to control what wines sold and which did not, these newcomers decided that the trend of oak, oak and yet more oak was – to them – an injustice to their wine. They risked offending the gods of oenology and did what they felt was right, what was best for their wines.
I hope that I have the good fortune to taste many more wines made with such fortitude.
As always, I welcome your comments either here or on Twitter @AStudentofWine
CINCIN~!!! SLAINTE~!!! CHEERS~!!!