It wasn’t however terribly conducive to a visiting photographer, with a wobbly tripod, a damaged lens (my wide angle I dropped on a hard concrete floor and the auto focus stopped responding) under time pressure and with a tempting array of wines to try.
Spring has to be the best time to visit Sicily. Here at Porta del Vento the wild flowers were abundant, the grasses holding their own against the wind and the air filled with the aroma of fennel. The vineyards were well kept and ordered, they are new for the most part, with the nature-rich landscape allowed to spread right to their borders. Marco grows Catarratto, Perricone and Nero d’Avola, the normal range for this region that surrounds Camporeale, and has kept some 50 year old vines were he could. There are two clones of Catarratto at Porta del Vento: an older, 17th century ‘Comune’, or common version, whose skins are thicker and yields smaller but give richly structured wines and ‘Extra Lucido’, a more recent, 1950s clone, with thinner skins and giving slightly lighter wines with more perfume but less structure.
Ten hectares were planted to vine between 1974 and 1984 in a vineyard – the highest of the province – having a light sandy soil resting above a sandstone crust. Expert farmers aligned the vines in rows along the steep slopes, orienting them northwards, in order to protect from too much sun. The area is very windy with great day-night temperature swings.
The bottle-fermented, Mira sparkling, made from Catarratto, is a bubbly joy, made even more so when sipped in the Sicilian sun with the vines just a stones throw away. The white wines really impressed. Whoever thinks of Catarratto being hardly worth attention should really hunt down the Porta del Vento versions. It may well lie amongst those masses of Italian white grapes varieties that give light, crisp, lemony, sea-food friendly wines, ultimately bland wine but here, under skilled hands, the full-bodied, Porta del Vento Catarratto offered nuances of flavour encapsulating pear and almonds with good balance. The oaked version, Saray, shows how three years in oak can add so much character and complexity to Catarratto. I loved it.
Photo Gallery: Porta del Vento Sicily
Perricone is even more obscure than Cattaratto, but is causing great excitement amongst the wine makers of Sicily. Its potential is just beginning to show. Perricone makes full bodied, deeply coloured wines, usually with quite high alcohol levels, described as ‘hearty’ and ‘inky’.
Porta del Vento makes a glorious single varietal wine the Maque Perricone, all deep, dark fruits and strong tannins and also has a bottle where the Perricone is is blended with Nero d’Avola. The unblended version is listed in the UK by Berry Brothers. Perricone, as we discovered, is highly versatile. Porta del Vento makes a striking rosè, that had more character and flavour than many of the rosès we sampled during our tour.
I don’t think it was totally down to me that our visit overran; a sign of a great visit! OK so I was snapping photos of the wild flowers, wine bottles and trying to get a pic of Marco in focus! But then Marco cracked open one of his experimental orange wines… then there was the group photo shot… and a slurp (sorry, repeat tasting) of the Mira sparkling… etc etc
The visit to Porta del Vento was part of a wine tour of Sicily organised by Esplora Tours. Two vintages of Porta del Vento’s Perricone wines are currently listed by Berry Brothers at £17.25 a bottle – pressure them to stock others from the range! Now I’m home and writing up this report I really, desperately, wish I had purchased a couple of bottles while I was there.
Although Marco Sferlazzo – Porta del Vento’s pharmacist turned winemaker – is relatively new to the Sicilian winemaking scene, he is one of its most experimental thinkers, producing – amongst other things, niche natural wines. His mono-varietal Perricone is a fine example of this native grape, blazing a trail where other Perricones will follow.
The Porta del Vento estate is within easy travelling distance from Palermo, situated to the north of Camporeale. Pre-book a visit or, better, get on an Esplora tour.