le casematte, faro 2014 (about $34)

 

Italian Wine for december, 2017

The Le Casematte winery is located near the town of Faro Superiore, a little north of the port city of Messina in the northeastern tip of the island of Sicily. The winery is on a steep, hilly slope overlooking the Strait of Messina that separates the island from mainland Italy. The winery was founded in 2008 by Gianfranco Sabbatino in partnership with Italian soccer star and wine enthusiast, Andrea Barzagli. The renowned oenologist Carlo Ferrini serves as consulting winemaker.

It is a relatively small operation with only 18 acres under vine. The terraced vineyards are on steeply-sloped hills at about 1,000 feet above sea level. Here they grow only organically-farmed native grape varieties, primarily Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. Often blended together, these two thick-skinned, late-ripening varieties are the mainstay of quality red wines from eastern Sicily. They are, for example, the dominant varieties used in the production of the highly-regarded wines of the nearby Etna Rosso DOC.

Le Casematte is focused primarily on a single, small, quality-oriented appellation – the Faro DOC. It is a small but ancient wine producing area where grapes have been cultivated for more than 3,000 years.  It is also one of Italy’s smallest appellations with a total surface area of approximately 50 acres.  Consequently, wines from this appellation are not well known outside of Sicily although word is starting to leak out about the high-quality wines produced here.

The topography of the Faro DOC is marked with a range of steeply-sloped hills that rise dramatically from the Strait of Messina to an elevation of 1,600 feet. Because of the steeply-sloped hills, the vineyards are terraced and impossible to mechanically cultivate and harvest so everything has to be done manually.

However, the climate is ideal for grape growing with opulent sunshine and cool evening temperatures during the long growing season. The good day-to-night temperature variation enables the grapes to ripen slowly and develop aromatic complexity and retain acidity. Constant sea breezes from the Strait of Messina help moderate some of Sicily’s high summer temperatures.

2014 Le Casematte FaroFaro DOC wines are exclusively blended red wines. While Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio play starring roles, the addition of small amounts of other red varieties like Nocera, Gaglioppo or Nero d’Avola is permitted.

Le Casematte’s 2014 Faro is a blend of 55 percent Nerello Mascalese, 25 percent Nerello Cappuccio and 10 percent each Nocera and Nero d’Avola. The grapes are harvested in late September and undergo a long maceration on the skins in stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged in French oak barrels for 9 months and spends another 12 months in the bottle prior to release.

Le Casematte’s 2014 Faro opens with enticing scents of black berries and strawberry jam overlaid with hints of fresh herbs. It is richly suffused with plenty of black cherry, raspberry and currant flavors that mingle over a lively streak of acidity that is a benchmark of Faro wines. There is complexity and elegance underlying the fruit flavors and while tannins play only a minor supporting role there is plenty of depth and grip on the back end.

It is an engaging, elegant wine that ranks high on a quality-to-price basis. It is the recipient of a prestigious Tre Bicchieri (“Three Glasses”) award from Gambero Rosso and a great introduction for those not yet familiar with Faro wines.

The wine is interesting enough to be enjoyed on its own but would also go well with grilled fish and chicken dishes as well as a wide range of pastas. It is best served with a slight chill as opposed to room temperature.

©Richard Marcis
December 7, 2017

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