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Sicily Day 4 - Porta Del Vento

A dry, but cloudy start to Thursday morning, we set off to visit our most bijoux winery of the week. Porta del Vento in Camporeale is the pride of its owner, Marco Sferlazzo. At 600m above sea level, with a north facing aspect and a northwest breeze, the 10 hectares planted in 1974 through to 1984, Marco conforms to both organic and bio-dynamic practices, to produce only 60,000 bottles per year across his range of 7 wines.

His three native grape varieties are Catarratto, Perricone (another new one for me) and Nero d'Avola. Interestingly he revealed the order in which he harvests his grapes: to begin with during the first week of September he harvests some of the Catarratto to use in his sparkling wine. Next he picks some Perricone (all by hand of course) to use in his Rosé wine. Following that the main crop of Cataratto, then the Nero d'Avola and finally during the second week in October, the remainder of the Perricone. With no pesticides or sulphides used, only natural fertiliser is allowed and spread twice per year - the '500' mix in Springtime and the '501' mix one month prior to harvest. As to what these mixes were, it seems Marco didn't want to give away all his secrets! Following the harvest and a cutback of the vines, the vineyard is left to grow grass over the winter months to maintain the balance of the soil.

The Catarratto for use in his sparkling wine (named Mira) is fermented in stainless steel at 20 degrees for 8-10 months before the addition of fresh juice from the following harvest is added to begin the second fermentation in bottles lasting 18 months. This is only his fifth vintage and he only produces 3,000 bottles per year in this way, as for such a small producer this method is time consuming and expensive.

As a contrast, his other Cataratto varieties go through vastly different methods of production. His Porta del Vento signature wine is aged in stainless steel tanks for only 5 months before bottling whereas the Saray wine is fermented on the skins for 30 days before being aged for 2 years in barrels made of Slovenian oak.

Our first wine to taste was the 2014 Porta del Vento. The signature wine named for the winery is made with 100% Catarratto, and aged for 5 months in Stainless steel tanks at a controlled temperature. It is a very aromatic wine drawing in notes of the wild fennel and mint from around the vineyard. Good acidity with a creamyness in the mouth, a touch of minerality and lime citrus flavours before a long finish. An excellent wine to start off with.

Next was the sparkling Mira wine. Catarratto from the 2011 vintage with added juice from the first of the 2012 harvest is bottled with the yeast for 18 months before disgorging. A very dry, very light wine with high floral notes and camomile. Certainly one to try if it can be found!

Next came the 2012 Saray. Known as "the Orange wine" for it's colour and flavour, this wine is again 100% Catarratto but spends 30 days on the skins in an open, stainless steel vats without sulphides and selected yeasts. The cap (skins and pulp which rise to the top) is punched down by hand three times a day before the must undergoes a soft pressing in a manual press. The wine is then aged in 25Hl oak barrels for 2 years. A very long and intensive process still gives the characteristic acidity and dryness of most Sicilian wines, and particularly Marco's aim, but this wine is remarkable for the difference to the first wine we tasted as through the process and ageing this wine has strong orange and toffee flavours and a very clean finish. A good example of the difference that the winemaker can achieve with the same material to work with!

On to the reds (as all his Rosé is sold out!). Our first was the 2013 Maquè, a blend of Nero d'Avola and Perricone. The grapes are fermented together in large, open Slovenian oak vats for 20 days again without addition yeasts or sulphides for a lengthy maceration period, followed by a soft pressing in a hydraulic press, giving lovely red jammy flavours but again with good acidity. Next, the 2013 Ishac is the 100% Nero d'Avola. The grapes are fermented on their skins for 12 months in oak vats with the cap punched down by hand. Then aged in large barrels for a year before bottling. The extra time is oak has softened this wine somewhat and it is slightly less dry but the aromas of sour cherries and ripe red fruits come through. Perhaps it was the lower acidity in this wine that made it stand out so much to me.

For our final two wines Marco produced his Maquè Perricone from two different vintages to demonstrate the difference the climate (and ageing) can have on wine. Both wines are 100% Perricone and produced the same way - 30 days fermentation in their skins in small oak barrels, punched down by hand three times a day with the juice pumped back over the top frequently. Firstly we tasted the 2013 vintage, a harvest which suffered from rain in September. Again the dryness of the wine comes through with floral and cherry notes and a hint of spice. By contrast the 2011 harvest after a warm, dry summer produced a wine with much more red fruits, giving better balance and complexity making this wine more drinkable.

We were then treated to a delicious light lunch while the sun came out to reveal the true beauty of the surrounding hills and valleys.

On our return to Palermo, some of the party took the opportunity for a guided tour of the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. Renowned for it's perfect acoustics and Echo Room, we were treated to wine and nibbles in the Royal Box while rehearsals for La Boheme took place on the stage in front of us!

With a relaxing dinner that evening, our time in Sicily's capital came to a close and the following morning we were bound for the eastern coast and the shadow of the volcano.


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