January 27, 2010
The more I start learning about Italy’s wines, the more I feel that regionalism and obscurity often defines the country’s offerings. That is, almost nothing is a single, consistent hallmark. Last week, at a “Wine 202″ class at Red Slate Wine, I tasted an Italian red so peculiar as to be compelling. And its existence makes me feel once again overwhelmed at the task I’ve set myself in 2010: learning about Italian wine.
The 2008 Occhipinti SP 68 is a blend of 50% Frappato and 50% Nero d’Avola. Made by Sicilian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti, this whimsically-named (after a local roadway) red is one of weirdest wines I have ever met—and I’m not saying that condescendingly.
The Nero d’Avola grape I’ve encountered before. The traditional Sicilian grape loves the local heat and tastes a lot like Australian Shiraz in a lot of its incarnations. It can also be floppy and syrupy when it is carelessly managed. Just in case your head isn’t about to explode yet from the sheer number of grapes grown within Italy, be warned that the “black of Avola” is also called Calabrese D’Avola, Calabrese De Calabria, Calabrese Di Noto, Calabrese Dolce, Calabrese Pittatello, Calabrese Pizzuto, Calabriai Fekete, Negroamaro, Nero D’Avola, Raisin De Calabre Noir and Struguri De Calabria.
Frappato, however, was entirely novel to me. The SP 68 smelled something like one of those powdered sugar cookies with the jam on top. Even more specifically, like a strawberry Fruit Roll-Up. In this Chowhound thread, commenter Aosta said the grape could be a bit too “soda pop” when on its own (not blended as it is here), and that seems completely plausible given the zing and candy I tasted. It’s so fresh and tart it made my molars vibrate a little bit.
This grape is fundamentally obscure. I have a hunch the Occhipinti SP 68 might be the only thing one can get one’s hands on in the Portland area right now. I didn’t buy a bottle last week. I plan to rectify that mistake. Red Slate sells it for $28.