Boy was I jealous when Ian Cauble texted me photos from his recent visit with Arianna Occhipinti—the wunderkind Sicilian winemaker whose small, much-lauded property in Vittoria I have yet to visit myself. Not surprisingly, Ian gushed about the wines and the place, and he reminded me that we snagged a small allocation of Arianna’s 2015 “Il Frappato” a while back; it has been resting in a dark corner of our warehouse for a few months now. I still remember tasting Occhipinti’s first US releases back in my restaurant days—and particularly this bottling, a game-changing take on the Frappato grape—and marvel at the super-stardom she’s achieved since.
Her wines went from ‘promising newcomers’ to ‘allocated cult wines’ in what seems like overnight. Based in the village of Vittoria, namesake of southeast Sicily’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, and working primarily with local, indigenous grapes, Arianna has been one of Sicily’s most visible proponents of small-scale, polycultural organic farming—this in one of Italy’s most productive regions, where mass-scale agriculture (of all types) is more the norm. Today’s 2015 is the most vibrant, wildly aromatic, well-structured version of this wine I’ve had to date—deserving indeed of its rabid cult following and sure to disappear quickly. We can offer up to six bottles per customer today until our stock runs out.
I’m re-tasting the 2015 wine as I write this (yes, nice work if you can get it), and, like the reds of Mount Etna, it manages to be exceptionally ripe and fresh at the same time. The big-time Sicilian reds of a generation ago had a heavily extracted, ‘international’ sheen to them, and often incorporated international grapes to achieve that; this wine, contrarily, is crafted only from the local Frappato and most resembles a top-tier cru Beaujolais. When I first started exploring the world of Italian wine, I didn’t think a Sicilian red like this was possible, but now that I’ve learned otherwise, I can’t get enough. And I’m not alone!
This wine redefined Frappato for me. Occhipinti is a native of Vittoria, not far from Ragusa on the southeast coast of Sicily, and is the niece of Giusto Occhipinti—he’s the “O” in COS, one of the benchmark wineries in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG. This appellation is famous for wines that blend the lighter-colored, soft-textured, strawberry-scented Frappato with the darker, richer, Syrah-like Nero d’Avola in a marriage of opposites. And while this works—quite well in some instances—many producers in Vittoria have also vinified Frappato on its own, wanting to showcase its ethereal weightlessness and perfume. The classic ‘varietal’ Frappato wine has a very light cherry-red color (just north of rosé, really), super-soft tannins, and lots of wild, brambly red fruit—a delicious, chillable, light-bodied quaffer. Occhipinti’s “Il Frappato” is something else: a more structured, mineral, tensile expression. It is bright, and refreshing, but also lingers and intrigues in a way most Frappato wines are not designed to do.
Arianna has become a darling of the natural wine world with an approach that is traditional and extremely straightforward. There are never any fancy cellar tricks at Occhipinti. She introduces very little, if any, sulfur in the wine, uses no filtration, and follows an extremely simple vinification process: wild fermentations from native airborne yeasts, 30 days’ maceration on skins, six months of aging in stainless steel tanks, and finally, a brief rest in bottle before release. The confidence and simplicity in her work in the cellar creates a wine that is complex in its aromatic depth and soil character, but simultaneously a delicious, simple pleasure to drink.
The 2015 “Il Frappato” has a medium ruby-red core moving to garnet on the rim. As always with her wines, this bottle is driven by its aromatics—in this case, a dripping-ripe basket full of red, black, and blue fruits: wild strawberry; bing cherry; blueberry; and red and black raspberries. Medium-bodied and more firmly tannic than any other Frappato I’ve tried, it also delivers its flavors with an electric jolt of acidity (many Frappatos need a bit of a chill to prevent them from feeling flabby and a little sweet). The palate is a delicious, energetic melding of primary fruit and savory notes of dried flowers, warm spices, and crushed stones. Decant this delicious red about 30 minutes before serving at 60 degrees in Burgundy stems, and do not hesitate to lay some down for 3-5 years—it has the freshness and backbone to evolve beautifully. This will most definitely be on my table during tomato season, which is fast approaching: try the attached focaccia recipe with a cool glass of this red. Perfection!
Vittoria (Province of Ragusa)
Sand & Limestone Marl
Organic & Biodynamic