Stefano Girelli champions organics and rare varieties in new Sicily venture

Jacopo Mazzeo

Jacopo Mazzeo

22 October 2018

Azienda Agricola Cortese, Stefano Girelli’s new Sicilian venture, is to focus on the production of organic wines from noble regional grapes such as Carricante and Nerello Mascalese. But, intriguingly, lesser-known indigenous varieties are also in the pipeline, and could soon hit wine lists across the UK.

Girelli’s experiments on the dark-skinned Orisi grape, conducted in partnership with the University of Marsala, are particularly promising.

Originally from northern Italy, Stefano Girelli started investing in the south-eastern corner of Sicily because of its opportunities for organic agriculture. ‘Traditional vinegrowing is like giving medicines to a child,’ said Girelli. ‘They won’t get sick, but won’t grow strong either.’

Imbibe caught up with Girelli in London last week when he was over to launch his Cortese wines. La Selezione is the top range, made with grapes whose cuttings are sourced directly from the estate’s oldest vines. ‘Because,’ said Girelli, ‘no other clones would be better suited to that land.’

Sabuci is a Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico DOCG made with 60% Nero D’Avola fermented and aged in open top barriques and 40% amphora-aged Frappato. All its elements combine gracefully, delivering a nose of astonishing complexity and a rich, velvety palate.  

Senia, a varietal Nero D’Avola also fermented in open top barriques, is an elegant, spicy interpretation of the trademark Sicilian grape; its acidity makes for a perfect pairing with fatty meat dishes.

Vanedda, a blend of Grillo and Catarratto Lucido, is the ideal meat-friendly white; its crisp lemon acidity provides structure while a prolonged skin-contact confers bold, fruity aromas. The use of Catarratto Lucido, a lower-yielding and rarer clone of the more popular Catarratto Normale, benefits body and concentration.

A second label, Nostru, consists of three varietal wines, whose grapes - Catarratto Lucido, Carricante and Nerello Mascalese - are bought in from vineyards near Trapani, in the Sicilian north-west - though the plan is eventually to grow all grapes on the estate.

Cortese wines will be available to the on-trade in November through North South Wines.

Click here to read imbibe editor Chris Losh’s take on the rebirth of Nero d’Avola on Sicily

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