Western Sicily grows a lot of OK wine, but the wines from Centopassi are different. They come from various vineyards in the high Belice Corleonese, a plateau at over 500 meters (1800 feet) above sea level, near the town of Corleone, south of Palermo. The soils are clay of various kinds, at an altitude that gives cool nights and fresh acidity at harvest; the vineyards are cultivated organically; the varieties are indigenous to Sicily, which is to say adapted to the conditions found here; the winemaking allows the native character of the fruit to shine, and is not at all intrusive; and the results range from excellent everyday drinking (Giato Rosso and Bianco) to the best Sicilian single-vineyard wines I’ve had outside of Etna. The whites are particularly striking, vivid and mouthwatering, but the whole range is consistently excellent.
That’s the vinous story, but there is another side to this estate. ‘I Cento Passi,’ the Hundred Steps, is an anti-Mafia film made in 2000, and Centopassi wines are grown in vineyards confiscated from convicted Mafiosi, some of them notorious (such as Salvatore ’Toto’ Riina). In other words the mere existence of this estate is a renunciation of the Mafia, and of the terrible effect that the Mafia has had on the people of Sicily for generations. We are proud to support Centopassi and Libera Terra, the organization behind it.
For an excellent article on Centopassi by Walter Speller, see https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/centopassi-breaking-the-silence
‘Giato’ is the name of the area around the ancient Greek theatre on Mount Jato, and these first two wines are the everyday bottlings from Centopassi. They are both dry, very well made, and delicious, very different in style and quality from most of the commercial examples from this area.
60% Grillo, 40% Catarratto
From the Giabbascio Pietralunga and Verzanica vineyards, planted in 2004 on the Belice Corleonese plateau. The soils are clay; altitude is relatively high, 400-500 meters (1,300-1,600 feet) above sea level.
Harvest normally takes place at the end of August or the beginning of September. The grapes are pressed immediately, and fermentation is carried out with neutral selected yeasts. The wine is bottled after about 6 months aging in stainless steel tanks on the fine lees. The wine is bone dry (less than 1 g/L residual sugar), and about 3,000 cases are produced.
These two grape varieties are widely grown in western Sicily, and used to be mostly used to make Marsala. They make very good white wine too; this shows none of the vague soft character of bad commercial examples, but is brisk, flavorful (hints of herbs, apple and mandarin orange) and delicious. Shockingly good for the money.
70% Nero d’Avola, 30% Perricone
This traditional blend of indigenous varieties is grown in the Taggia Via, Verzanica and Don Tommaso vineyards, all on the Belice Corleonese plateau. The grapes are harvested at the beginning of September; after de-stemming and crushing, fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts. The wine is pressed off after about a week, then aged in tank for about 6 months. The wine is dry (less than 1 g/L of residual sugar); about 3,000 cases are produced.
Fairly deep red with violet rim; smells and tastes like sour plums with a faint hint of rose-petal; very drinkable but also very fresh and properly dry (which a lot of commercial Nero d’Avola is not). Delicious red wine with pizza and all kind of substantial pasta dishes.
Catarratto Terre Rose di Giabbascio, Sicilia DOC
100% Catarratto, planted in 1989 near San Giuseppe Jato.
Exact position: 37° 57' 15.66" N 13° 8' 41.42" E
The Giabbascio vineyard is at 350m (1150 feet) above sea level. Soil is alkaline, clay with sand, rich in iron oxides (hence the ‘red earth’ of the name). Drains freely.
Grapes are harvested in the second half of September, pressed immediately, fermented with selected neutral yeast and then aged for 9 months in 90% stainless steel, 10% stoneware ceramic (‘Clayver’) on the fine lees. Less than 1g/L residual sugar.
Pale straw color with a greenish glint; lovely fresh inviting aroma, citrus (mandarin orange), herbs, wet stones, very expressive; somewhat reminiscent of Fiano,
Same on palate, excellent acidity, palate-staining concentration, excellent white wine but particularly striking for Sicily. Age a few bottles of this if you have the self-control, otherwise outstanding drinking now with seafood or roast chicken.
Grillo ‘Rocce di Pietra Longa,’ Sicilia DOC
100% GRILLO from the Pietralunga vineyard, located at 1,800 feet above sea level near Corleone. The vineyard can be recognized by a tall stone (the Pietra Lunga), about 100 feet high, nearby.
Exact position: 37° 54' 21.65" N 13° 13' 3.09" E
Vines planted in 2004, in stony alkaline clay soil with many rocky outcroppings.
Grapes are picked in early September and immediately pressed; fermentation with neutral selected yeasts; wine is aged on the fine lees for about 9 months. Bone-dry.
1,200 cases produced.
Pale straw yellow. Gorgeous intense mouthwatering aroma, lemon, marzipan, wet stones. Outstanding lively fresh palate impression, by far the best example of the variety I’ve had, very long, very concentrated, delicious mineral serious white wine from an unexpected source. Maybe even age-worthy. This Grillo can stand with some of Italy’s best white wines.
Nero d’Avola ‘Argille di Tagghia Via,’ DOC Sicilia
100% Nero d’Avola, from a vineyard planted in 2004 at 550 meters (1800 feet) above sea level, between Corleone and San Giuseppe Jato. Soil is impermeable clay with some sand, poor in organic matter and limestone, alkaline. Exact location: 37° 53' 31.93" N 13° 17' 20.95" E
The grapes are harvested during the first half of September; they are destemmed, crushed, and fermented on their own yeasts. The wine is pressed off after about 8 days, then aged in stainless steel tanks for about 6 months before bottling. Dry (less than 1 g/L of residual sugar.) 600 cases annual production. The wine takes its name from the church of the Madonna di Tagliavia, a few hundred yards away.
Fairly dark violet-tinged red. Berryish, spicy aroma (hint of black pepper); lead pencil; somewhat reminiscent of Syrah.
Very concentrated palate, fresh acidity, very clear berryish flavor, long, delicious. Finish honestly tastes like blackberry, with a faint hint of coconut, a common Nero d’Avola note. Much better, fresher wine than most Nero d’Avola but still forward and drinkable. Try it with red meats, flavorful pasta dishes.
Cimento di Perricone
100% Perricone from the Don Tomasi vineyard, planted in 2007 near San Cipirello, at 400 meters (1,300 feet) above sea level. Soil is impermeable clay with sand, alkaline, poor in limestone and organic material.
Exact position: 37° 55' 22.17" N 13° 11' 29.71" E
Harvest is in mid-September; the grapes are de-stemmed and crushed, fermentation is carried out with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks, the wine is macerated on the skins for about 12 days total. The wine is aged in used puncheons, then bottled without filtration, and is bone-dry (less than 1g/L RS). About 300 cases produced.
The Perricone variety comes from north-western Sicily, where it was once planted widely; now it is relatively rare because it is hard to manage, but it can express the beauty of this soil like few others grapes. The wine is deep purple in color, distinctive in aroma and flavor (berries, a hint of rose-petal), and shows striking earthy minerality.
Pietre a Purtedda da Ginestra
A blend of 70% Nerello Mascalese and 30% Nocera, both varieties typical of north-eastern Sicily, grown at 950 meters (3,100 feet) in the Portella della Ginestra vineyard, on the Belice Corleonese plateau. (The winery describes the vineyard as ‘a pile of stones at 1,000 meters in altitude.’) Planted in 2011. Exact position: 37° 58' 19.96" N 13° 14' 17.96" E.
The soil type is known as ‘regosuolo’, a reddish-brown, calcareous soil that is stony and full of rocky outcroppings. Alkaline pH. The grapes are harvested in late September or early October, de-stemmed and crushed, and fermented on their own yeasts. The wine is pressed off after about 12 days on the skins, then aged for 18 months in Taransaud puncheons, both new and used. The wine is bottled without filtration, and is quite dry. About 175 cases are produced each year.
The blend here is the same as for Faro, a tiny appellation near Messina in north-eastern Sicily, but transplanted to the western end of the island. Very high altitude, very distinctive rocky soil, late harvest for the region and this distinctive blend of varieties make for a deep, complex red wine, the flagship of the estate.