Porta Del Vento: Tasting Terroir

On a torridly hot July day in Parlermo, I drove up to Camporeale for another visit to Porta Del Vento (Door of the Wind). Walking through the vineyards in the cool, windswept hills, Marco Sferlazzo pointed to the saddle shaped dip between the hills (above). “That’s it,” he told me. “The wind channels through there, from the north in the summer and from the south in the winter.”

porta del vento

Looking down from the vineyards, Palermo seemed a million miles away even though it’s less than an hour drive, on the other side of the hills pictured here. The altitude, pristine landscape and the wind are natural components of “terroir” here. Read earlier post.

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Then, there is the human component. Porta Del Vento is certified organic, but Marco uses some biodynamic methods as well. One is the sovescio method for fertilizing his vineyards without animal manure or chemical fertilizers. He plants fava beans and other legumes between the vines, then, at about this time of year, cuts the plants down, allows them to dry in the vineyard before plowing them into the soil.

Marco reminded me that the reddish, sandy soil we were looking at sits atop layers of sandstone (roccia marina) that took over ten million years to form. It is basically consists of compressed, decomposed shells dating back to when this land was under the sea. He pointed out a wall of sandstone on the other side of the vineyard that hasn’t yet decomposed into soil.

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“There are about 3-4 meters of sandy soil above layers and layers of that sandstone,” he explained. The roots of the vines easily penetrate the sandstone. They go deep down, pulling in minerals with the water they drink.” This is especially true of the old vines.

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We stopped several times to look at the grapes that are growing especially well this year. “We had lots rain all during the spring,” Marco said. “And since the end of April, we’ve had sun. Everything is plentiful: the grapes, the fruit trees, the nuts, the olives…” The weather in a given year is also a strong component of terroir.

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On the way back to the cantina, we stopped to eat marenghe (wild cherries). Biodiversity in and around vineyards is also a component of terroir that adds complexity and personality to the wine.

When we got back to the cellar for tasting, Marco talked about choices he makes that strongly affect the wine and become the “people” part of terroir. His philosophy is to make wine “in the vineyard”, in other words to allow the wine of a certain vintage year to express the personality and characteristics of that place and that year. This is in contract to the philosophy of making the wine “in the cellar” by doctoring the grapes, must or wine to conform to a standard.

The two most striking examples Marco shared with me were:

Porta Del Vento Perricone Terre di Siciliane IGT (2010 vs 2013)
Perricone is one of four native red varieties found in Sicily (others: Nero D’Avola, Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, and Frappato). It is grown exclusively in the area between Trapani and Palermo by only about fifteen producers.

In this video, Marco explains that there are two aspects: first, fruit, and, second, balsamic, spicy, herbaceous aromas and flavors.

(For subtitles in English, click CC.)

We tasted the 2013 in which the two components were in harmony.

Then, Marco poured the 2010, which was a cool year when the grapes couldn’t mature all the way, meaning that the second aspect prevailed. The result was astoundingly different, basically out of balance.

After that experience, Marco decided that in years like that, he won’t make Perricone at all, but will instead use all the grapes for Maqué Perricone Rosato (rosé). He producess the Rosato annually by picking some grapes early and allowing a short contact with the skins to give the wine its color. The result is a crisp, refreshing, dry wine.

Porta Del Vento Catarratto “Saray” Terre di Siciliane IGT (2009 vs 2012)
Since Marco only makes “Saray” in the best vintage years, 2009 and 2012 were both good years, just different. 2012 was cooler.

In 2009, he left the Catarratto grapes resting on the skins for 45 days and then, after fermentation, left the wine to age three years in large barrels. The result was a rich, complex, “orange” wine.

Saray

In 2012, when the grapes were slightly less robust, he left them on the skins for only 30 days and in barrels for only two years. The wine was an amber color instead of orange. It had character and complexity but with distinct crispness that was more recognizable as his Catarratto wine.

What a fascinating lesson in terroir. I saw again first hand how the personality of “real” Italian wine in a given vintage year is truly an intersection of:
…natural components (land, soil, altitude, weather…)
…and the vintner’s choices (planting, pruning, when to harvest, how to ferment, what wine to make…)

Porta Del Vento
Contrada Valdibella
94043 Camporeale (Palermo)

Member of Renaissance Italia

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