Amidst the fertile terrains of Sicily, where ancient vine roots intertwine with the rich tapestry of history, lies the quaint town of Chiaramonte Gulfi, located in the picturesque Iblei Mountains of the province of Ragusa. This town is the cradle of Gulfi winery, an endeavour conceived out of Vito Catania's unwavering passion for his land and its vinous heritage. Since its inception in 1996, Gulfi has been on a quest; a quest that harmoniously melds tradition with innovation, embarked upon the undulating hills of the Iblei Mountains to the fervent landscapes of Pachino in the Val di Noto and culminating amidst the volcanic embrace of Mount Etna. Each vineyard, each grape variety, is a verse in Gulfi's poetic ode to Sicily's diverse viticultural tapestry.
The imagery of Eros and Psyche, as depicted on Gulfi's labels, isn't merely a whimsical dalliance of ancient lore, but a symbolic representation of the intertwining narratives of Gulfi and Sicily. The mosaic, ensconced in the heart of Villa Romana del Casale, is a tribute to love, desire, and the eternal dance of destiny. It's a silent narrative that speaks volumes of Gulfi's ethos, an ethos that reveres the indelible bond between the land and the vine. In the playful imagery of Eros and Psyche, Sicily and Gulfi find an impulsive yet profound emblem of their intertwined destinies, where the wine is their daughter Vulptas (literally meaning 'pleasure'), a sensual ode to the land it springs from.
As my love affair with Sicily grows with every bottle, Gulfi has become a significant chapter in this ongoing romance, shaping my vinous predilections with its evocative offerings. This wine-tasting event, dedicated solely to Gulfi, is not just a nod to my enamour for Sicilian wines but an ode to the island's enduring legacy.
A sense of freshness
Given Sicily's blazing climate, one might naturally presume that its wines are predominantly bold, ripe, and intense. Historically, this was often the case, and in certain regions, it remains true. Yet, the past two decades have seen a rising trend towards lighter, more refreshing wine styles. This evolution became palpable this year as we savoured the exceptional offerings from vintners such as Arianna Occhipinti, Gulfi, and several others.
Gulfi boasts wine production in three distinct regions: Chiaramonte Gulfi, Etna, and Pachino. Each region benefits from cooling factors - be it the soaring altitudes of Mount Etna or the soothing sea breezes of Pachino - that moderate the nighttime temperatures. This natural change in temperature balances the daytime heat, facilitating a slower grape maturation while preserving their acidity. Embracing the island's time-honoured "Alberello" bush vine technique, all vineyards are dry-farmed with a dense configuration of over 8,000 vines per hectare. Without the crutch of irrigation, these vines delve deep into their marl or limestone foundations, extracting rich nutrients. Such intensive rooting, combined with the high planting density, yields fewer fruits, but of unparalleled quality, flavour concentration, and complexity.
Gulfi's commitment to natural practices is uncompromising. The estate had long eschewed chemical pesticides and herbicides, even before acquiring organic certification. Presently, their vineyards thrive under biodynamic farming principles, flourishing under the expert oversight of renowned consultant Salvo Foti.
Chiaramonte Gulfi is the birthplace of Gulfi Winery. It is characterized by its hilly terrains, with altitudes spanning approximately 420 – 450 meters above sea level. Underneath, the land is composed of calcareous marl. The surface reveals detrital materials - a mixture of silty, locally sandy marl interspersed with pebbles and calcarenite content, offering an average permeability. This unique blend of geological features ensures a rich foundation for viticulture. Here, the Catania family has also explored non-native vines, like the Caricante in the Iblei Mountains, ensuring that the wines produced are both familiar and intriguing.
Etna, nestled between the Nebrodi and Peloritani Mountains to the north and the Catania Plain to the south, stands as a geological marvel. This region marks the collision between the Euro-Asian and African plates, giving birth to its distinct basic volcanism. The soils, rich in volcanic sands infused with minerals and microelements, provide a fertile base for viticulture. The Catania family vineyard, perched at 800/850m above sea level, scales the mountainside. Due to the land's gradient, terraces have been painstakingly crafted using dry stone walls, known as "reseca", now recognized as UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage. The wines produced here, especially from grapes like Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio, are a celebration of Etna's majestic nature.
Venturing further south, Pachino, within the Eloro DOC, offers a different yet equally enchanting landscape. The warm climate, moderated by the Mediterranean Sea, combined with the diverse coastal vegetation, evokes a sense of exotic beauty. A significant portion of the Iblei Mountains stretches to this region, culminating near sea level. Pachino is an emblem of morphological contrasts where remnants of ancient lava flows, limestone structures, beach deposits, and marine sediments converge, creating an unmatched terrain. This dynamic blend provides an extraordinary backdrop for the Canatia family's best Nero d'Avola wines.
There are 4 'crus' differentiated by Catania family:
- Contrada San Lorenzo - neroSanloré and Rosà;
- Contrada Maccari - neroMàccarj;
- Contrada Buffaleffi - neroBufaleffj;
- Contrada Baroni - neroBaronj.
Gulfi Carjcanti 2019
This wine secured the 🏅 4th place in our wine tasting lineup.
The Carricante grape variety stands out for its pronounced acidity, often described as zesty. It thrives amidst the significant day-to-night temperature fluctuations typical of the Etna region. These grapes undergo a steady maturation throughout the extended growing season, maintaining their pronounced acidity even as late as September. In cooler seasons, some vintners may even let them hang until October.
While the final character of the wine is influenced by specific winemaking techniques - such as the choice of harvest date, the decision to age on lees, and the type of aging container - Carricante wines are generally recognized for their citrusy aromas, refreshing herbal undertones, and distinct minerality. This unique profile leads some enthusiasts to draw comparisons to Chablis.
"Carjcanti" is a pure expression of Carricante, sourced from the Vigna Campo vineyards in the Passo Guastella district of Chiaramonte Gulfi. Nestled in the Monti Iblei region within Chiaramonte Gulfi (in the Ragusa province of South-Eastern Sicily), the vines flourish in limestone-clay soils at an altitude of 420 meters. The harvest typically commences during the third week of September. The grapes are then transformed into wine via direct pressing, followed by fermentation in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels of varying sizes (500L and 2500L).
Gulfi Reseca 2017
This wine secured the 🏅 6th place in our wine tasting lineup.
From the northern slopes of Etna, in the municipality of Randazzo, comes a wine with deep roots in the region's volcanic history. The "Vigna Poggio" vineyard, spanning a generous 1.5 hectares within the Monte la Guardia section of Randazzo, boasts century-old vines. Trained in the traditional alberello system, these vines are supported by chestnut stakes and enjoy a planting density of 10,000 vines per hectare. They flourish on terraces crafted from volcanic stone, set against the enchanting backdrop of a chestnut forest.
Viticulturally, the vineyard follows traditional Etna methods, strictly adhering to organic practices and opting for non-irrigation. Positioned 800 meters above sea level, the vines thrive in a cool and breezy climate, deeply rooted in the area's characteristic volcanic soil. These conditions nurture the 100% Nerello Mascalese grapes, which produce an annual yield of 60 quintals per hectare.
The vinification process pays homage to the region's winemaking traditions. Harvested between the first and second week of October, the grapes undergo an extensive maceration with their skins to produce a red wine of distinction. Following malolactic fermentation, the wine finds its way into 500-liter French oak tonneaux for a maturation period of at least two years. This aging process is further extended with a minimum of two more years in the bottle, ensuring a wine that truly embodies the spirit and essence of its Etna heritage.
Gulfi Pinò 2016
This wine secured the 🥉 3rd place in our wine tasting lineup.
Hailing from the northern slopes of the iconic Etna in the municipality of Randazzo, the Pinò wine showcases the richness and depth of the Sicilian terroir. The "Vigna Militi" vineyard, occupying approximately half a hectare within the Monte la Guardia section of Randazzo, is a testament to innovation. Instead of the traditional local varieties, it features a massal selection of original Burgundy Pinot Noir vines. These vines are prudently trained in the classic alberello style, supported by chestnut stakes. The impressive planting density of 10,000 vines per hectare ensures the vines compete, driving their roots deep into the volcanic terraces they call home. These terraces, crafted from the very lava that has defined Etna’s soils, are bordered by an enchanting chestnut forest, painting a picturesque backdrop.
The vineyard management reflects a strong commitment to nature. Adopting organic practices and abstaining from irrigation, the vines are treated with respect, allowing them to express the land's true character. Perched at 850 meters above sea level, the vineyard benefits from a cool and breezy climate, accentuating the qualities of the 100% Pinot Noir grapes which yield about 65 quintals per hectare.
In the winery, the magic truly begins. Harvested between the second and third weeks of September, the grapes undergo an extended maceration with their skins at low temperatures, preserving the fruit’s intrinsic qualities. Post malolactic fermentation, the wine is transferred into 500-liter French oak tonneaux, where it matures gracefully for at least a year. The maturation journey doesn't end here; the wine is then bottled, resting for an additional year, ensuring the wine is a harmonious blend of the Etna's volcanic spirit and the elegance of Pinot Noir.
Gulfi NeroMàccarj 2018
This wine secured the 🏅 7th place in our wine tasting lineup.
Adhering to traditional viticultural practices, Vigna Maccari from Pachino stands as a testament to the harmonious relationship between man and nature. Managed organically and without the aid of irrigation, the vines stretch across the gentle slope, merely 30 meters above sea level. Here, the temperate-warm Mediterranean climate intertwines with the calcareous-clay soils to craft a haven for the vineyard's star – the Nero d'Avola grape. Cultivated in the traditional alberello style.
With a planting density of 8,000 vines per hectare, the yield averages around 50 quintals of grapes per hectare, depending on the year. Harvesting commences post mid-September, marking the beginning of an intricate vinification process. Extended maceration with the skins ensures a rich extraction of flavors, resulting in a wine that mirrors the depth and soul of the terroir. Following malolactic fermentation, this exquisite nectar finds its way into 500-liter barrels, maturing gracefully for approximately two years. But its evolution doesn't end there. It is release after a subsequent year of bottle aging.
Gulfi NeroSanloré 2011
This wine secured the 🏅 5th place in our wine tasting lineup.
Located a mere 10 meters above sea level, the San Lorenzo vineyard from Pachino benefits from the temperate-warm Mediterranean climate. The sandy-red soils, characteristic of the region, further enhance the terroir, offering an ideal base for the vines. The vineyard's mainstay is the illustrious Nero d'Avola grape, accounting for 100% of its cultivation. With a planting density of 8,000 vines per hectare, Vigna San Lorenzo boasts a yield of 40 quintals per hectare.
NeroSanloré is vinifed in the same way as NeroMàccarj. The winemaking process commences post mid-September. The grapes undergo extended maceration with their skins, ensuring a deep extraction of flavors and aromas. Once the malolactic fermentation is complete, the resulting wine is transferred to 500-liter barrels, where it matures gracefully over the next two years. But its evolution is not yet complete - a subsequent year of bottle aging refines the wine further.
Gulfi NeroBaronj 2017
This wine secured the 🥈 2nd place in our wine tasting lineup.
Vigna Baroni is another Cru from Pachino. Situated at an elevation of 30 meters above sea level, the vines are caressed by the temperate-warm breezes of the Mediterranean climate. This ambiance is complemented by calcareous-clayey soils, creating an environment where the vines flourish. At Vigna Baroni, with a density of 8,000 vines per hectare, the yield is approximately 40 quintals per hectare, though this might fluctuate based on the vintage.
The vinification journey begins in the first half of September. The grapes, once plucked from their vines, are treated to a prolonged maceration with their skins, allowing for a rich extraction of flavors. Following malolactic fermentation, the wine is then transferred into small 500 and 225-liter barrels, where it embarks on a maturation process spanning around two years. This meticulous process culminates in a year of horizontal bottle aging, refining the Nero d’Avola's intrinsic qualities, and gifting wine enthusiasts a beverage that embodies the soul of Val di Noto.
Gulfi NeroBaronj 2004
This wine secured the 🥇 1st place in our wine tasting lineup.
There is nothing to add. This wine is made in pretty much the same way as the 2017 NeroBaronj, it just allows us to witness vertical development of the wine.
Gulfi Nerojbleo 1999
This wine secured the 🏅 8th place in our wine tasting lineup.
And here we are, back to Chiaramonte Gulfi. Within bounds of rolling hills of Monti Iblei, several vineyards collaboratively pour their heart and soul into the crafting of Nerojbleo wine. Drawing grapes from various terrains dispersed across Chiaramonte Gulfi and Ragoleti, the production of this wine represents a harmony of nature and nurture. Elevated at 450 meters above sea level, these vineyards grow on calcareous-clayey soils. The vines are densely packed, with 8,000 vines dotting each hectare, yielding approximately 80 quintals per hectare.
The winemaking process commences towards the end of September. The harvested grapes undergo an extended maceration with their skins, ensuring a deep, flavor-rich wine. Post maceration, the wine is left to mature for a minimum of 12 months in French oak barriques and tonneaux, with capacities of 225 and 500 liters respectively. The wine is then further refined in bottles for at least a year.
- Gulfi wines by Jacky Blisson MW
- Harding, J. (2023). The Oxford companion to wine. Oxford Companions.
- Ep 416: The History of Sicily… From the Wine Perspective
- Villa Romana del Casale: Guide