Thursday, 29 May 2014

A Tasting with Alexandra Curatolo from Curatolo Arini Part 1 - Marsala

After calling in on Provence for a bit of Hollywood Glam, we head south east and to the Italian island of Sicily. Possibly the work horse of Italian wine production and the home of Marsala, another wine for me that I knew very little about but is amazing.

Marsala's history dates back to 1773, when John Woodhouse, a trader from Liverpool who during a violent storm was forced to take shelter in Marsala, where he discovered the local wine 'Perpetuum' and decided to take some home with him. Concerned that it may not last the journey he added alcohol to fortify it, and the first Marsala had been born. Such was it's popularity by the end of the century it had replaced Rum on board the British Royal Navy ships and had become Lord Nelson's victory wine. With the rise in popularity of Marsala, Woodhouse went back to Sicily in 1796 to start mass production of Marsala wine.

The other week I had the opportunity to meet Alexandra Curatolo from Curatolo Arini, who's only production till the 70's was Marsala, when they then introduced a range of still wines from indigenous Sicilian varieties. Founded in 1875 by Vito Curatolo Arini, he focussed on producing high quality Marsala, while opening up new overseas markets with the use of clever, eye catching labels and packaging. After the introduction in the 70's of a range of still wines, the 90's saw more innovation from them with introduction of a range of mono-varietal wines, showcasing the very best of the indigenous grapes, expressing the unique character and flavours of the Sicilian terroir.

Curatolo Arini produce a range of five Marsala's, however I'm only going to look at two of them, a sweet and a dry Marsala. They are both non vintage wines and are produced, as is all Marsala from Grillo, Catarratto and Inzolia grapes, with the addition of grape alcohol and 'Mosto Cotto', which is a cooked must that has been cooked over a direct fire for 36 hours to produce the required colour and concentrated sweetness. Finally 'Mistella' or 'Sifone', which is made from fresh must with added grape alcohol or wine acquavitae to halt the fermentation and add complex aromas and balance to the wine. Marsala can be classified in a number of ways, by it's sugar content (Dry, Off-Dry or Sweet), colour (Gold, Amber or Ruby) or ageing time (Fine-1 year, Superiore-2 years or Superiore Riserva-4+ years).

The first one I want to taste is the Superiore Dolci, the base wine for this Marsala has a residual sugar level of 22 grams per litre and an alcohol level of 12%. To this they add the 'Mistella' and 'Mosto Cotto', giving it a final alcohol level of 17% and the desired sweetness (110 grams per litre). They then age it for over five years (minimum two years by law) in 150 hectolitre Slovenian oak casks.

In the glass it had a lovely bright dark gold/amber colour, with pronounced aromas of dried fruit and molasses, on the palate you got dried fruit, Figs and Sultanas with Caramel coating them. It had a lovely sweetness to it that was cut through by a perfectly balanced acidity and a length of flavour that just kept ongoing.

The Superiore Riserva goes the same process as the Dolci with the main differences being the residual sugar level of 28 grams per litre (nearly a quarter of the Dolci) producing a much drier style and that it is aged for about 10 years ( minimum four years by law) in Slovenian oak.

This wine had a pale amber colour with wonderfully pronounced aromas of dried fruit, spice and almonds, it also has an oxidised/sherry character, not surprising really having spent 10 years in oak. On the palate you the oxidation with the dried fruits of Dates and Sultanas, Almonds and then gently from the background you got a touch of Cinnamon and Caramel. Again you got a perfectly balanced amount of acidity helping the length of flavours just keep going.

I have to say I was hugely impressed with these wines, even more when I saw the price of them (between £12 - £17) when you think the Superiore Riserva is aged for 10 years before release. Both wines were stunning, showing great flavours and complexity, for me though I did prefer the dryer style personally, I'd  definitely recommend trying one if not both, they work fantastically with Italian deserts and cheese, I'll definitely have a bottle at home.

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