A wine that costs £11 and has won the Tre Bicchieri award six times – sound too good to be true? That’s what Geoffrey Dean thought until he tried the Nero d’Avola Cartagho from Mandrarossa in a 6-strong wine tasting. A collaboration between Alberto Antonini, Mimmo De Gregorio and Pedro Parra, this Sicilian estate is just about to open its own winery 22 years after its first wine, as it moves from its cooperative origins to a wine producer focussed on single-site cuvées.
“The so-called ‘Innovation’ wines are named after different ‘contrada’, small districts within a commune whose wines have shown clear individuality,” writes Dean.
On-trade establishments wanting to pep up their wine lists in the face of soaring demand from previously cooped-up consumers would do well to consider Mandrarossa’s excellent series of labels, available through their UK distributor, Liberty Wines. The Sicilian producer unfurled half a dozen of them at a recent tasting, which underlined not only their drinkability but also what good value they are. More on the wines later but first a look at how Mandrarossa came into being and its philosophy.
Mandrarossa’s wines are produced from some of the best sites in the south-west of Sicily. The vineyards belong to 2,000 members of the Cantine Settesoli co-operative, and are grouped around Selinunte, an archaeological site whose beautiful old ruins date back 2,600 years.
First produced in 1999, Mandrarossa is about to open its own winery as it becomes increasingly focused on single-site wines. The celebrated oenology consultant, Alberto Antonini, working in conjunction with leading micro-terroir specialist, Pedro Parra, and head winemaker, Mimmo De Gregorio, selected 500 hectares of vineyard, farmed by some 160 growers, for the production of the Mandrarossa wines. These vineyards are situated close to the sea, where intense sunlight, moderating sea breezes, mild temperatures, elevated hillsides and a myriad of different soil types, notably limestone, combine to give high quality fruit.
Given the wealth of sites and varieties at their disposal, it isn’t surprising that they have several different styles of wines. The native varieties focus on Sicilian grapes such as Nero d’Avola, Grillo, Grecanico and dry Zibibbo, while the non-indigenous varieties include Syrah, Chardonnay and Fiano. The so-called ‘Innovation’ wines are named after different ‘contrada’, small districts within a commune whose wines have shown clear individuality.
Top of the tree are the wines made from single sites, 75 hectares from 37 growers that have been selected by Parra’s vineyard mapping. The Cartagho label, from a sandy vineyard in the Torrenova contrada that is regarded as the best source of Nero d’Avola, is the iconic Mandrarossa wine, having won a Tre Bicchieri award as many as six times at the annual Italian event organised by food and wine magazine, Gambero Rosso. Tre Bicchieri (‘three glasses’) are awarded to extraordinary wines, with ‘two glasses’ to very good wines and ‘one glass’ to good ones. The Timperosse (made solely from Petit Verdot) has also been awarded Tre Bicchieri.
So how were the wines tasting?
Urra di Mare 2020, Sauvignon Blanc, Sicilia DOC, 12% abv, RRP £16.99
Nearby sea breezes help give freshness and delicate vegetal notes to this Sauvignon Blanc, grown on south/south-west facing sites at 80-350m. Refreshing acidity and citrus peach notes, with some texture from several months on the lees.
Bertolino Soprano 2018, Bianco Sicilia DOC, 13% abv, RRP £29.99
An appealing full-bodied Grillo with some herbaceous, flint and floral notes. On the palate, hints of citrus, pear and loquat. This vineyard, with its very good limestone soils, was identified by Parra as a top site. Lots of vitality and energy in this wine, which has beautiful integrity and length.
Timperosse 2019, Petit Verdot, Terre Siciliane IGT, 13% abv, RRP £16.99
From limestone and sandy soils at 100-250m, this has ample acidity, soft tannins, juicy red fruit with mulberry and plum notes as well as aromatic herbs on the nose. Maturation in large casks of 3000-5000 litres with untoasted oak preserves the character of the wine. “We like drinkability, but it is too long associated with simplicity, which is a mistake,” De Gregorio said. “Mouthfeel is very important for us, as is complexity and elegance.”
Bonera 2019, Sicilia DOC, 13.5% abv, RRP £18.99
This blend of Cabernet Franc and Nero d’Avola works very well, with red fruit from the latter merging nicely with the blueberries and blackberries from the latter. Balsamic and slightly vegetal notes from the Cabernet Franc give the wine some complexity and elegance. Approachable tannins and fresh acidity help provide good balance.
Terre del Sommaco 2017, Nero D’Avola, Rosso Sicilia DOC, 14% abv, RRP £33.99
From the best limestone soils in the Santa Margarita region, this has never-ending reserves of fresh acidity with beautiful fruit and spices. “A very nervous wine and a very pure and authentic expression of real Sicilian Nero D’Avola,” De Gregorio purred. “Take it or leave it as we say! The wine has experienced an amazing improvement in bottle ageing, and is starting now to express its character, although it will last for decades.” A terrific food wine.
Cartagho 2019, Nero D’Avola, Sicilia DOC, 14% abv, RRP £24.99
The most famous wine from the Mandrarossa range, and the most popular from this grape on the Italian market. Classic, spicy, peppery Nero D’Avola with blackberry and red cherry fruit. Blended from three different vineyards, with clay soils offering roundness and softness. Some structure from large, old oak casks, with vibrant acidity, gentle tannins and a velvety finish. A pleasure to drink now, but will keep for a few years yet.