On Sicilian Time, Part 2: Terre di Giurfo

Earth, wind and getting higher

Continuing our circumnavigation of Sicily this summer, the Woodman family moved on from Castellammare del Golfo, through Agrigento, to Ortygia. Not far away, high up on a windy ripple of hills on the southeastern side of the island, along the Dirillo River valley, on the borderline between the town of Licodia Eubea and the Iblea province sits Terre di Giurfo vineyards and winery. There, on a sunny afternoon, I completed a quest that began much earlier this year.

I first encountered this winery while researching a story about today’s higher quality boxed wines for Vegas Seven’s inaugural wine issue (“It’s in the Bag,” March 31). An increasing number of wineries are seeking ecologically responsible alternatives to the traditional bottle-n-cork scenario, but one name in particular kept popping up: A Mo Pá, a sleek bag-in-box setup created by Sicily’s Terre di Giurfo for the Scandinavian market.

You can find co-owner Achille Alessi’s A Mo Pá insolia and nero d’Avola by the glass in the secret pizzeria at the Cosmopolitan and at Due Forni Pizza & Wine on the west side. While I absolutely adore those two wines (and have a box of each in my fridge at all times to prove it), I was curious to try Terre di Giurfo’s higher-end line.

The company puts out more than 140,000 bottles per year, 90,000 under the tony Terre di Giurfo label, 50,000 via the more affordable Dimore di Giurfo label, and that’s not counting another 60,000 equivalent bottles of A Mo Pá. I sampled every last wine but predictably preferred the high-end juice, most of which goes into stainless steel, preserving the wine’s unique characteristics—more nature than winemaker.

To whet our road-weary whistles, Terre di Giurfo’s Francesca la Marca started us off with Suliccènti, meaning “Sun from the West.” This 100 percent insolia carries a softer acidity than the more racy A Mo Pá. Drinking an insolia or wine from some other indigenous grape, la Marca said, “I think that you are drinking a little part of Sicily.” A very nice welcome!

Immediately we moved on to the reds: Belsito is a 100 percent frappato, yet another native grape and one that is virtually unheard of in Las Vegas. So moved was my father by his first encounter with the easy-drinking but powerfully fragrant stuff that he e-mailed me the details at once. “It is the pinot noir of Sicily,” la Marca said, which explains my subsequent swoon. This was followed by Kudyah, a 100 percent nero d’Avola named for the Arabic word for this area. With deep, dark flavors of black cherry and some appreciable earthiness, Kudyah was Terre di Giurfo’s first wine.

If it was nero d’Avola that inspired our trip to Sicily in the first place, it was frappato that insured a detour to this specific area, where the two are married together in Sicily’s only D.O.C.G. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or highest quality wine-producing area) rated wine: Cerasuolo di Vittoria.

Maskarìa finally introduced me to this wondrous 60:40 nero d’Avola/frappato blend. Cerasuolo means cherry-red, and the color confirms it. This one is offered in two styles: barricato (barrel-aged) and un-oaked, the latter of which allows greater access to the fruit. It is bright and lively, food-friendly and flexible. Frappato lends this wine its persistent aroma and flavor of fresh red berries while the nero d’Avola gives it some spine and an endless finish. So long in fact, it might even stick around to help out with the dishes.