The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: COS 2012 Frappato

A juicy, floral, under $30 alternative to Pinot Noir

RD8501-2The popularity of Sicilian wines has been on the rise in recent years and Azienda COS is one of the benchmark estates that is leading this movement, consistently producing quality wines. Before this relatively recent surge in quality wine production, Sicily was known for producing wines en masse, due in part, to regions like Marsala that pumped out its fortified wines for world consumption. Today, Sicily is producing the best wines they’ve ever offered to Italy and to the world. Sicilian producers are proud of their indigenous varietals–many faced extinction not too long ago–and estates like COS are doing their parts to present these wines to the international market. This effort keeps these unique varietals from being lost to the world and presents diversity to wine consumers who are all too familiar with mainstream varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay.

The wine being featured today is the COS 2012 Frappato. If you enjoy California Pinot Noir or you’re looking for a deliciously juicy and fruit-driven red wine this is the way to go. Made from 100% Frappato, one of the indigenous varietals found in their Cerasuolo di Vittoria bottling (along with Nero d’Avola), this is a medium-bodied wine possessing a gorgeous dark ruby hue. The nose is reminiscent of cherries, raspberries, and floral components with the berry flavors following through on the palate. The tannins are fine and elegant, making this a perfectly approachable springtime red, especially priced at under $30.

COS is acronym representing the winemakers’ last names–Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, Cirino Strano; this trio became the youngest winemakers in Italy back in 1980. The house makes a variety of different bottlings–their flagship wine is the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG–using the principles of biodynamic viticulture to craft wines that truly represent place and terroir. The estate even begun utilizing an ancient Greek method of fermenting in clay amphora resulting in the creation of their Pithos bottling. It’s worthkeeping an eye on COS in specific and Sicilian wines in general as we roll out the new vintages from the region. These are value conscious, high quality bottlings that are perfect complements to summertime drinking.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday: COS 2009 Cerasuolo di Vittoria

A summery Sicilian red that’s perfect for right now

RD7972-2In the heat of the midsummer, the go-to wines tend to be your crisp refreshing whites or rosés brimming with fresh acidity. But what about those days when you really have a hankering for red? Yes, you could go for a Pinot Noir, or perhaps a Dolcetto or Refosco. But there are other options.

A red was exactly what I was looking for this past weekend. With Sunday supper, I served a bottle that is a bit off-the-beaten track, from farther south down the Boot: the 2009 Cerasuolo di Vittoria by Arzienda Agricola COS, a Nero d’Avola, Frappato blend from Vittoria on the Southernmost tip of Sicily. COS was founded in 1980 by Giambattista (Titta), Giusto Occhipinti and Cirino (Rino) Strano, three friends whose vineyard name comes from the acronym (Cilia-Occhipinti-Strano). Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a DOCG unique to the Province of Ragusa that has been producing wine since the third century, BC. It is also the only DOCG in Sicily.  COS vineyards uses certain techniques that are age-old, time-tested and true methods. Their wines present you with some of the best expressions of Sicily.

The 2009 Cerasuolo is just what you want in a summery red; it’s full of peppery notes provided by the Nero d’Avola, coupled with tart cherry and finishing with medium tannins and refreshing acidity. The nose is a surprise of earth, tobacco and spice that is a fabulous counterpart for the fruit and spice on the palate. This red is a beautiful expression of the heat of Southern Sicilian terroir and it’ll give you a solid understanding of the most ancient and traditional vinification practices. I love this wine for its elegance and simplicity and I certainly hope that you come to enjoy it too. At just under $40 a bottle, it is such a treat when what you are looking for is a fresh and vibrant summer red.

Expert Picks: COS and Bruno Giacosa

Two expert selections from Perry Porricelli

PerryDifferent things influence me in choosing a wine. Sometimes it’s the mood I’m in. Sometimes it’s the producer or the grape. Other times, it’s a little more abstract, like the bottle’s shape. I don’t need a specific reason to try a wine, but I do need a specific reason to keep on drinking it: it’s got to be delicious. Here are two wines I’ve chosen recently for different reasons, and both tasted so good I was immediately reminded why I liked them the first time I ever drank them.


Cos Pithos 2010 $39.50

I was first drawn to this Sicilian beauty because I really liked the shape of the bottle. It looked like a bottle my grandfather used to use to bottle his wine–short and stout-shaped (kind of like my grandfather too!). Anyway, the wine is delicious. Black and red fruits mix with spicy tones and a touch of mushrooms—a little weird but irresistible to me. The bottle makes me want to grab it and take a glass, and once I taste it, I want to finish it all and set the bottle on my shelf!


Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2008 $129.00

I was putting together a list of Barbaresco for one of my clients to add to his cellar and the first one that came to mind was Giacosa’s Asili vineyard, which I think represents pure, traditional Nebbiolo at its best. The 2008 is structured for the long haul and impeccably balanced. Once you’ve had this wine you know what Barbaresco should be like. This wine will age another 15-20 years—and this is only the white label! Imagine how great the red label (Giacosa’s Riserva) is! But that’s for another day. In the meantime, enjoy this ’08.

Go-To-Wine Tuesday

COS Frappato 2011

RD7973-2“This smells like a corn husk!” I exclaimed upon my first whiff of COS Frappato 2011. Unlike any frapatto I’ve ever tasted, nor like a typical Sicilian wine, I adored it.

My first experience with COS was New Year’s Eve three years ago when I had a bottle of Nero d’Avola 2008. It was equally interesting and not in a typical, hot Sicilian style. It’s extremely difficult to make a great Nero; when I find one, I usually make a note of the winery. COS practices biodynamic winemaking, began aging in amphorae in 2000 (just like another IWM favorite of mine, Gravner – maybe I just have a thing for amphora aged wines) and became the first winery to achieve DOCG status in Sicily in 2005.

Per my very vegetal first impression of this wine, you’d safely assume it’s not a fruit-driven vino. I got a lot of vegetation and soil on the nose, with notes of bark herbs like cinnamon and nutmeg as well as some strawberry leaf. On the palate, it was very smooth for a 2011, showing light tannins, more earthiness than I’d expected, and just a bit of orange zest. As the wine opened, a fruit character emerged in the form of under-ripe strawberries. Super delicious, this Frappato was great with Dijon marinated rib-eye steak and my new favorite side dish: sriracha sautéed sweet potatoes.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicilia’s One and Done

A look at Sicilia’s lone DOCG wine designation–at least for now

Image from Wikipedia

A bunch of Nero d’Avola. Image from Wikipedia

Sicilia’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria may be the region’s one and only DOCG wine, but it has a venerable history. Named for its color–“cerasuolo” means “cherry” in ancient Italian–and its township, Vittoria, this wine officially dates to 1606 when the town’s founder Vittoria Colonna gave colonists one acre of land for their own use, providing that they cultivate a second acre with grapes. However, markings on amphorae discovered in Pompeii suggest that this Sicilian red wine was enjoyed for many centuries previous to Vittoria Colonna’s mandate.

While similar in name with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo, which is the Rosé made from Abruzzo’s Montepuliciano grape, Sicilia’s Cerasuolo di Vittoria is its own creation; the two wines only share the “cherry.” Comprised entirely of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, two grapes indigenous, Cerasuolo di Vittoria’s DOCG region spans several municipalities in three provinces in southwest Sicilia. Here, below the sandy soil lies a layer of Tufa stone that helps to retain the water necessary to ripen the grapes in this arid, almost desert-like, climate. In many ways, the micro-climate of this DOCG is tailor-made for the slow-ripening Nero d’Avola, which is so prone to rot that it doesn’t grow anywhere else in Italy.

Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG must be aged for a minimum of eight months; Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico must be aged for at least eighteen. This wine is a sprightly medium-bodied cherry-red wine with purple or pink highlights. With a pleasing fruity quality of red berries, strawberries, cherries and figs, underlain by notes of ginger, leather and tobacco, Cerasuolo di Vittoria is a wine meant to be enjoyed relatively young, though it can happily age for 5-10 years in good years.  Cerasuolo di Vittoria achieved DOC status in 1974 and was elevated to DOCG in 2005.

IWM’s favorite Cerasuolo di Vittoria comes from COS, and it’s a delicious wine with great aromatics, a palate marked by candied fruit and spice, and a long-lasting finish. It’s a perfect summer Red.

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