If there was ever an unofficial ambassador for Sicilian wines, he is Corrado Maurigi. Although he is the brand manager of just Tenuta Regaleali, Corrado is a booster for all Sicilian wines.
However short in stature, he stands tall in waxing enthusiasm for the underrated wines of this Mediterranean island. He talks about the beautiful hills and mountains, the coast and an island that is more like a mini-continent than an extension of Italy. He inspires you to travel to Sicily and experience the vineyards first-hand.
Since Roman times, vineyards have flourished on Sicily. It has a perfect climate with cooling offshore winds, lots of sun and just the right amount of rain. Its hills and mountains provide a variety of micro-climates and the soil ranges from limestone to clay. The variety of wines has grown as grape growers adjust to changing pockets of terroir and weather.
We met up with Corrado for an Italian lunch where he poured Tenuta Regaleali’s most prestigious wines. Some of them were made from native grapes, but one was made from traditional cabernet sauvignon. The introduction of international grape varieties has brought world attention to this otherwise forgotten region.
Quality-minded winemakers here have been fighting an uphill battle to overcome Sicily’s reputation for marsala and sweet muscats. Up until the late 1980s, most of Sicily’s grape production was sold off as bulk wines. Older generations of winemakers were more interested in quantity than establishing Sicily as a premier wine-growing region.
Not so today. A younger generation of winemakers are leading a new frontier that includes international grape varieties and modern wine-making techniques. Siciily is still digging its way out of a scarred reputation, but clearly the wines we’ve tasted from this property show no convincing is necessary.
Corrado says to build the brand and equate his country’s wines with those of France, “we always need to be honest and go deep in the vineyards to find quality.”
Regaleali is just one of several properties owned by Tasca d’Almerita. While Regaleali is located near the center of the island, there are other family vineyards in Etna and Salina.
Tenuta Regaleali was one of the earliest producers to focus on improvement. It was the first to introduce chardonnay, for instance. It emphasized low yield in the vineyards and paid particular attention to grape variety. Winemakers are still experimenting with different clones and yeasts. Most recently, it is focused on sustainable farming practices.
Regaleali’s grapes benefit from the clay soil and an elevation that ranges between 1,500 feet to 2,600 feet. The white wines, in particular, reveal the freshness and bright acidity that comes from higher elevations. Grapes grown at these heights need longer ripening times and aren’t harvested until October. Day and night temperatures vacillate by 22 degrees, which means the grapes enjoy the blazing sun during the day but cool off at night. The hot sirocco wind keeps mold-producing moisture off the grapes at the most important times.
The indigenous nero d’avola is Sicily’s most prestigious red grape variety, but not the only one used to make great wines. We have been impressed with many grillos and, most recently, an exuberant perricone made by Regaleali. Those looking for something different in wine need to look no further.
Tenuta Regaleali Catarratto 2017 ($20). Corrado says the “strong skin” of catarratto grapes provides good acidity that makes this white wine so refreshing. Made only in stainless-steel tanks, it has grapefruit and citrus flavors.
Tenuta Regaleali Vigna San Francesco Chardonnay 2015 ($70). The first to produce chardonnay in Sicily, Regaleali has one of the most unusual chardonnays we’ve tasted. The limestone soil, the climate and the limited exposure to oak provide character and depth, but balance too. But at this price, a Sicilian chardonnay is a hard sell.
Tenuta Regaleali Perricone 2016 ($20). An old grape nicknamed “Guarnaccio” in 1735, perricone is just sheer fun to drink. Medium in body, it has deep color, bright red fruit flavors and a dash of spice. It is Sicily’s version of pinot noir – a versatile wine that would do well with pizza or pasta. Although enjoyable now, this wine could age for 3-5 years.
Tenuta Regaleali Vigna San Francesco Cabernet Sauvignon ($70). It would be an understatement to say that we were shocked that a cabernet sauvignon this good could from a country hardly known for its international grape varieties. Corrado attributes its rich, complex quality to the clay soil and the “best vintage in the last 11 years.” The wine spends 18 months in new oak and more than 18 months in the bottle before it is released in small quantities. The first release was in 1989. Made from grapes grown more than 1,500-feet in elevation, this cab doesn’t have the harsh tannins of, say, a mountain-grown wine from California. It is an iron fist in a velvet glove: ripe and hedonistic with soft tannins but hinting of longevity.
Tenuta Regaleali Rosso del Conte 2012 ($70). Made only in good vintages, this revered flagship wine abounds in complexity and depth. Perricone provides color and structure to the nero d’avola portion that makes up 62 percent of this blend. Like the chardonnay, the wine spends 18 months in large oak barrels and even longer in the bottle before it is released. Blackberries, cherries and herbs mingle with vanilla, tobacco and a dash of licorice.
Sarah’s Vineyard Santa Clara Valley Pinot Noir 2016 ($25). This entry level wine from Sarah’s Vineyard exceeds its price in quality. Medium body, balanced and chock full of red berry fruit.
Gehricke Knight’s Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 ($35). A good value, this cab has intense black cherry and nutmeg aromas with dark berry flavors and a hint of cocoa powder. Malbec and petite verdot are part of the blend.
Jamieson Ranch Vineyards Double Lariat Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($55). This is a terrific wine designed to represent the best Napa Valley can offer in the vintage. Fortunately, 2015 was a good vintage and the wine reflects that. Complex with firm tannins and excellent balance, it will last years in the cellar. The fruit is not too forward, reminding us of some of the great cabernet sauvignons of yore.