In what seems like the blink of an eye, the wines of Arianna Occhipinti have evolved from pleasant surprises into tightly allocated, reference-point bottlings. Whereas Sicilian wines of a generation ago had a certain ‘international’ sheen to them—not just from the inclusion of Cabernet and Merlot alongside native Sicilian grapes, but from the full embrace of Sicily’s warm climate and propensity for richness—Occhipinti’s range was all about freshness and nerve.
Based in the village of Vittoria, namesake of Sicily’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria appellation, and working primarily with the local, indigenous grapes Nero d’Avola and Frappato, Arianna has been one of Sicily’s most visible proponents of small-scale, polycultural organic farming—this in Italy’s most productive wine region, where mass-scale agriculture (of all types) is more the norm. We can still remember when this wine, a bright and aromatic Frappato/Nero d’Avola blend called “SP68,” first started blowing people’s minds on restaurant by-the-glass lists; these days, each release takes on the feel of a lottery, with more and more buyers vying for a finite amount of the wine. Like the red-hot wines of nearby Mount Etna, Occhipinti’s Vittoria reds lead with their aromatics, aiming for seduction over saturation. This just-released 2015 is on fire right now, will be even better in a few years, and will be gone before we know it.
Arianna ("Ari" to her friends), is 31 years old and is the neice of Giusto Occhipinti (the “O” in COS, another well-known winery in Vittoria), from whom she got some of her first wine education. While still in her teens, she enrolled early at the University of Milan's school of viticulture and enology, and released her first vintage by age 22. She is focused primarily in the vineyards—a 1,000 foot high parcel of sand and calcareous earth—and has farmed all of her land biodynamically since 2009. The SP68 Rosso is a blend of two varieties native to this part of Sicily: Frappato and Nero d’Avola. Nero d’Avola provides dark fruit and brooding bass notes while Frappato imparts the lift and floral freshness that make this virtually impossible to drink slowly. The title “SP68” refers to the Strada Provinciale 68, a state route that passes by her small property.
Ari honors the ancient winemaking heritage of her region with an approach that is simple, 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, 6 months of aging in stainless steel tanks, and finally a brief rest in bottle before release. The confidence and simplicity in Ari’s 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 SP68 Rosso has a purple core moving to garnet on the rim. As always with her wines, this bottle is driven by its aromatics—in this case, bright red berry fruit, cherry kirsch, and rose petals from the Frappato juxtaposed with the meaty black fruit and wild herbs from the Nero d’Avola. These are two opposites coming together to create a coherent whole; Sicilian wine fans accustomed to richer, almost Shiraz-like expressions of Nero d’Avola should note that the Nero d’Avola component here bears more of a resemblance to lean, spicy northern Rhône Syrah. As always, this wine’s structure and texture is characterized by lively, mouthwatering acidity, and because Arianna’s mission is to use the absolute minimum levels of sulfur possible, this is not a “pop and pour” style of wine. However, you will be amazed at what happens to this wine after a rough decanting (i.e. turning the bottle upside-down and letting it glug-glug-glug into the decanter) and about an hour of air—it blossoms, like a spring flower. Serve it around 60 degrees in a Burgundy stem and enjoy its melding of florals, fresh fruit, and crushed stone with a tangy, tomato-y Sicilian baked pasta like this one.
60% Frappato / 40% Nero d’Avola
Calcareous and Sand
Organic and Biodynamic