July 2, 2013

Tenuta Rapitala, Sicily

By In Vineyard & Wine Travel
A warm welcome at Tenuta Rapitala; beaming smiles and hearty handshakes from the Comte de la Gatinais and his wife. They had been following our exploits, tastings and lunch at Donnafugata via twitter, with more than a little envy one feels.

I think they hoped our twitter reports would continue but, surprisingly for a company so focused on technology, they could offer no Wi-Fi! As Laurent Bernard, the Comte, explained “We are rather remote here… we haven’t seen a postman for five years!”

The estate lies to the south of Palermo, Palermo-Monreale being the official region, with great swathes of vineyards surrounding the winery. Through the high blue-painted metal fence these vineyards swept up the hills in clean, clearly defined blocks. The very top of those verdant hills dotted with great white bladed wind turbines.

Under the strong sun, the Comte pointed out the various blocks – “there is Chardonnay”, “that triangle block is Syrah, next to it Nero d’Avola…”

Laurent Bernard, Comte de la Gatinais, Tenuta Rapitalia

“Rapitala is an authentic name, it comes from the Arabic Rabidh-Allah, ‘river of Allah’ for the stream that flows through the vineyards and shows that this land has been cultivated since antiquity”.

Perusing the company promotional literature a certain disappointed ripple ran through the room on the realisation that the suave, terribly cool white suited gentleman pictured between the vines and the floatingly-gentle young lady, gazing wistfully over the sun-kissed vineyards and provocatively squeezing a bunch of grapes so the juice runs into her open mouth… were not members of the family. Just models hired for a day…

The estate has essentially been rebuilt from the ground-up. An earthquake 30 odd years ago levelled everything. They put technology as the focus. Mechanical harvesting, introduced yeasts for “total control” of the wine making process, fully controlled temperatures, specific selection of vine clones and so on.

And how does this emphasis on technology and the application of the most modern techniques manifest themselves in the wines?

The opening salvo of whites – a 100% Grillo (Rapitala Grillo 2012), an aperitif style Grillo/Sauvigon/Viognier blend (Bouquet 2012) and a Grillo/Catarratto/Chardonnay blend (Piano Maltese 2012) were exceptionally clean and precise. Very “easy-drinking”; the latter wine showing greater texture and better length.

This precision and focused style, a house style perhaps, came through on the reds too. Of the six reds sampled, it wasn’t just the native varieties that showed well. While the 100% Nero d’Avola (Camporeale 2012) had an amazing aroma full of cherries, red fruits and a touch of “the balsamic” plus a juicy, approachable, palate it was the Syrah’s that impressed.

First up was the Nadir 2011 with its captivating, rustic tannins and prune-to-berry led flavours, a 100% Syrah followed by the pinnacle of the estates output, the Solinero 2012 (another 100% Syrah). The Comte explained that the estates Syrah planting, while they used the exact same clone, they reveal remarkable differences from planting in three different plots.

The Tenuta Rapitala Solinero is only made in the very best years. In fact it has only been made three times over the last seven. Solinero is a highly defined 3 hectare vineyard and the companies precision (hating to use the word again but it is so apt for the overall Rapitala philosophy) results in a sapidness, a powerful, velvety wine with a polished elegance and good complexity. Peppery, raspberry flavours to the fore.

We could have lingered longer; but a tight schedule and further vinos adventures beckoned.

Unsure if Tenuta Rapitala (warning site music alert!) accepts visitors. No harm in asking I suppose…

Photo Gallery: Tenuta Rapitala, Sicily

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