Pursuing Perricone

Encountering passionate evangelicals for a specific wine — as I did recently with Sicily’s Federico Lombardo di Monte Iato and Marilena Barbera — it’s easy to get caught up in their romantic ideals. Which is why, after my initial article on the origins and history of Perricone, I set out to find as much of the stuff as possible. Problem is, this particular wine is not exactly available in every Publix, Total Wine or package store. Finding some quality subjects, in this case, takes some hunting. I turned to man-about-wine Zach Morris, a former wine school colleague who — despite his newfound focus on coffee — I knew would be up for the challenge. And that he’d gladly support my sampling efforts.

What follows is the result of an afternoon spent getting to know this unique Sicilian native.

DeBartoli Rosso di Marco Terre Siciliane 2011

There’s a lot to like about this one, all warm, breezy and marked by fresh bursts of Mediterranean flavor. The ripe red fruit is a tad sappy, perhaps a product of the heat and lower elevations of southwest Sicily. Though somewhat refined and stylish, it manages to retain the grape’s herbal, rustic persona and features a mildly sour, earthy aftertaste that likely results from reductive, minimalist winemaking. Complex yet approachable, this has the goods to attract newbies to Perricone.

Feudo Montoni Vigna del Core Sicilia 2014

An easy contrast to the first; fuller, rounder, smoother. Our generic descriptors — complete, cohesive, seamless — are indicative of a well made, varietally faithful wine. The nose recalls an expensive, meaty Northern Rhône Syrah. Dark, fleshy fruit is more skin than pulpy flavor, but far from unpleasant. A noticeable lack of acidity keeps this from being refreshing, lending credence to an earlier observation that making a young, ripe Perricone may not be possible. Our verdict: developing, not ready for prime time but with enough going on to sense potential.

Caruso & Minini Sachia 2008

This may be what the last one will become when it grows up: beautiful, with ripe aromas and mature, sensory fullness. A nose of hot, dry Mediterranean aromatics segues into savory Syrah-like scents of dark fruit and game. The grape’s rough and tumble edginess hides in the background, subtly integrated with the added depth and complexity of age. Based on past experience with younger vintages of Sachia, this seems at or near its peak, a serious wine that can hold its own with any dusty, cellar-worthy prize.

Guccione “P” 2012

Could this be the archetype? Dark and intriguing, its allure challenges the drinker’s patience as it transforms in the glass, even after hours of decanting. Restraint is rewarded with an honest, old-school wine, a primal expression that speaks for itself. The aromatics ring true, a green herbal tang with underlying sanguine iron minerals and a subtle, terroir-driven macchia that balances savory with vegetal. This is a singular wine, feral but easy to dig, a result of great winemaking that showcases its uncompromising, assertive attitude. Revisiting it over three days, the evolving depth is remarkable, as is an unexpected vein of raisin and fig that’d fit right into a Valpolicella ripasso.

Firriato Ribeca 2011

A vibrant Perricone that could, like Rosso di Marco, have wide-ranging appeal. Fresh and inviting, it effortlessly combines varietal identity with power and tannic structure. Using the barrel to tone down some of its wilder nature doesn’t keep the nose from showing its skunky old-world aromas, a heady combo of scorched earth, cedar, curing tobacco and the full-bore meat and cooked game one often finds in — guess what? — Syrah. The intensity and purity of this fruit, however, elevates this lush and concentrated farmhouse wine without going too far.

Il Censo Njuro Terre Siciliane 2011

Awkward and clumsy, uncomfortable even, we find our one outlier. There’s a studied eccentricity a la Frank Cornellisen, a nerdiness more stimulating to the brain than the senses. Offensively sharp and herbal aromatics feature an astringent odor of drying geraniums and a briny, oily dose of canned cat food. (Ed note: Yum!) The mellower palate incorporates a dose of light sour cherries, alongside a lingering vinous sensation, as if it was still fermenting in the bottle. After some time, a second sampling shows riper fruit but is no less unsettling. Though it might appeal to the most adventurous drinkers, this one is certainly too strange to recommend as an intro to an otherwise lovely grape.

In the end, our session left us with the obvious conclusion that further Perricone “study groups” are sure to come. Among the dozens of rediscovered native grapes of Italy, it’s one I’m rooting for.

Featured image of De Bartoli Vineyards © Marco Belli.