Gulfi Nero d’Avola Nerosanloré: 2001-2015


The Gulfi Estate

Gulfi was founded by Raffaele Catania (grandfather of the current owners, siblings Matteo and Raffaele Catania) when he made his first wine, the Nero d’Avola Nerojbleo. Although the family shares its name with Sicily’s second-biggest city - essentially the epicenter of the Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio and Etna production zones -  the estate takes its name from the town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, close to where the winery is located.

Gulfi co-owner, Matteo Catania amidst his vines

The Gulfi estate lies in the southeastern tip of Sicily and owns vineyards in Pachino, which is world-famous for its tomatoes but is also a true grand cru for Nero d’Avola. Originally, Gulfi had just three hectares of vineyards, but it grew steadily under the stewardship of Raffaele’s son Vito. Unfortunately, Vito is no longer living, but his two children have continued his work, and have propelled Gulfi into the upper echelon of Italy’s finest wine estates.

A view from the beautiful San Lorenzo vineyard

Gulfi is justly renowned for having been the first estate to launch single-contrada Nero d’Avolas in Italy in 2000 and 2001, when nobody else on the island believed in the potential of site-specific Nero d’Avola. (A contrada is an approximate equivalent to Menzione in Barolo and Barbaresco, which is to say an area deemed to have unique attributes, but not necessarily as small a single vineyard or true cru.) By and large, in rather astoundingly short-sighted fashion, that is still true today. In fact, at that time all the big estates in Sicily were pushing for a region-wide “Sicily” appellation, in the belief that it was best to bring forward the name of Sicily without wasting time on the creation and promotion of subzones. The Catanias at Gulfi felt otherwise. They believed it was far more logical to underscore just how differently Nero d’Avola behaves in various parts of Sicily. (If you think about it, this is what happens in Burgundy or Barolo, and you’d imagine other people in Sicily besides the Catania family would have seen the light. But it is what it is.) And so the winery set out to highlight the diversity of the Pachino area by bottling four different single-contrada wines. It is likely that they were spurred to take such a bold step by their longtime star winemaking consultant, Salvo Foti, who is the greatest living expert on Etna wines and understands a thing or two (or three) about single-contrada wines.

Nero d’Avola grapes at harvest

Exploring Pachino and Its Contradas

Pachino, which is in the province of Syracuse, is characterized by absolutely unique terroirs. It is no accident that many other famous Sicilian estates have also bought land here over the years. According to Raffaele Catania, Pachino is the driest commune in all of Europe and boasts the most sunlight hours per year of any European denomination. Nero d’Avola gives completely different wines in Pachino than it does in the rest of Sicily; in fact, there are noteworthy differences within and between the many contradas of the area, too (Pachino is not immediately recognized as a source of high-quality Nero d’Avolas, outside of Italy at least, because the local denominations are Noto and Eloro). The Nerosanlorè is made from grapes that are organically grown in the San Lorenzo contrada, but Gulfi understandably opted to call the wine by a slightly different name in order to avoid confusion with the many other San Lorenzo wines and vineyards of Italy. The San Lorenzo contrada is only 10 meters above sea level (that’s not a typo: ten meters) and is located right next to the sea (which is only 700 meters, or a short walk away). Not surprisingly, given the vineyard’s position, it is characterized by mostly sandy soil with underlying pockets of brown clay rich in iron oxide. Moving inland, the percentage of soil clay increases noticeably, and so Gulfi’s vineyards in other Pachino contradas have soils with varying but always much higher percentages of clay than that of San Lorenzo, a fact that is easily discernible in the estate’s different wines.

Prickly pears guard the Nero d'Avola found in the famous San Lorenzo vineyard

The San Lorenzo vineyard covers 2.5 hectares and it possesses very homogenous soil throughout. The 40-year-old head-trained vines are planted at about 7,000 plants per hectare and not irrigated at all. Because it is so close to the sea, San Lorenzo has lowish diurnal temperature variations and an especially hot mesoclimate. While Nerosanlorè, (which is made excusively from grapes grown in San Lorenzo), can be quite raisiny in some of the hottest vintages, it most often falls somewhere in-between Gulfi’s other single-contrada wines in style. For example, it exhibits neither the luscious, velvety Amarone-like quality of the Nerobufaleffj (made with grapes grown in the Bufaleffi contrada) nor the freshness and acidity of the Nerobaronj (made with grapes grown in the Baroni contrada on high-limestone soil). It also lacks the extreme savoriness of the Neromaccarj (made with grapes grown in the Maccari contrada, on ferrous calcareous-clay soils).

On Winemaking…

Winemaking has hardly changed over the years. Just about the only big difference between the early vintages of Nerosanlorè and the more recent releases has been a move away from 225-liter barriques towards the 500-liter tonneaux that are now favored at the estate.

I conducted two complete verticals of the Nerosanlorè, the first in May and the second in August 2019, in Barolo and Rome, respectively. The second tasting featured bottles culled from my own cellar and bought upon release and is the vertical chronicled in this report. With the exception of the 2015, which performed very differently in the two tastings, there was little if any difference in the bottles tasted.

See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest

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