Silence in the hills above Palermo: Porta Del Vento

I arrived at Porta Del Vento in Camporeale after a three-hour struggle to escape a tangle of traffic in Palermo. Over 2,000 feet up on a ridge in the hills only 25 miles away, there was no sound except wind rustling through the silence. The land tumbled down steep slopes into a patchwork of vineyards, crops and woods.

Marco Sferlazzo greeted me with a deep, Humphrey Bogart voice, and we set off to walk in the vineyards. “I grew up in Palermo with my parents,” he explained, “but forty years ago, I used to help my grandfather on his farm at harvest time. What an event! Everyone picked during the day, ate together, then, slept out here in the country. I had a piece of that in me and always wanted to return.”

Marco still splits his time between Palermo and Camporeale, but it’s clear where his heart is. His philosophy is to let Nature have her way as much as possible, allowing plants and herbs to coexist with his vines. Watch the video:

“People thought I was nuts when I bought this vineyard: old vines, not a lot of grapes, organic, and steep slopes that can only be worked by hand. But those are the very things that define my wine. Those are all the things that I wanted.”
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Marco’s vineyards sit like a saddle on the ridge. The wind blows almost all the time keeping the vines healthy: from the Northeast in the summer, cooling things down, and from the Southwest in the winter. All of this land was under the sea eleven million years ago so the first 3-4 meters of soil is sandy and underneath is roccia marina sandstone, that is relatively porous and easy for the roots of the vines to penetrate and take in minerality.
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His grape varieties are Cattarato (white), Perricone also called Pignatello (red) and Nero D’Avola (red). His location, old vines, growing and cellar methods bring out the character, personality and elegance of varieties that were historically used for blending (especially the first two) or to make table wine. Each one is its own Cinderella story in Marco’s hands.

In the cellar, we tasted the whole gamut.
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La Mira: a metodo classico spumante made 100% with Cattarato: a fresh, clean, crisp sparkling wine that has more structure (12,5% alcohol) than your average sparkling and pairs not just with lighter dishes but also more structured ones like white meats.

Catarratto: like the sparkling version, a crisp, dry white with the aromas of the flowers, plants and herbs in the vineyard.

Maqué Rose in Marco’s words: “like a white wine but with the structure of a red”. 100% Perricone. No maceration on the skins. Light and fruity but with tannins in the background.

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Nero D’Avola Deep ruby red. Elegant, rich and complex, but clean and crisp from the minerality of the soil. Round tannins. Not muscular or overly strong.

Perricone Blue-red color. Full-bodied wine with two aspects. The first, balsamic, herbaceous, with the aroma of macchia mediterranea an evergreen shrub, and the second, ripe summer blackberries.

Maque Blend of Nero D’Avola and Perricone. Persistent, complex, rich. A dance of the two grapes together.

As we were tasting, Marco’s “orange wine”, Saray, made with Cattarato grapes left to macerate for a long time on the skins…
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…the sun was setting. It looked like a glass of Saray had been thrown into the sky. “This is the wine I sell with the most satisfaction,” Marco said, “It should be paired with fatty dishes like duck.” It was also delicious paired with the sunset. IMG_5652

In the UK, find these wines at Berry Brothers Rudd. In the US, try Chelsea Wine Vault. Or use wine-searcher. Prices are in the range of $18 to $30. They are still largely “undiscovered”.

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