Removing the sleep from the corners of my eyes on Day 3 (or was it four?) of my Sicilian trip, I faced a delightful conundrum: I could either stay in my opulent room and exceedingly comfortable bed, or I could rise and descend to the majestic first floor of the Don Venerando Luxury Villa for an exquisite breakfast and a walk around the estate before our 10:00 departure.
I went with option number two as I am rarely one to miss a meal.
Well, that is not entirely truthful. Don’t get me wrong, I ate my fair share, but I did not stroll the grounds. Unless, of course, leaving my pool-side table with a view of the Ionian Sea (an embayment of the Mediterranean Sea, just south of the Adriatic, for those keeping score at home), for another trip to the breakfast buffet constitutes a “walk around the estate.”
My singular goal on all press trips (other than to avoid appearing like an oversized glutton) is to never, ever be late. And since we had a three-hour van trip ahead of us, I decided that a more sedentary approach, with my bags packed and ready at the front door was more prudent than either a meander down to the sea or another hour in 1,000 thread-count sheets.
Plus, the Sicilian pastries were, well, really good.
And rationalization really easy.
Eventually, with the help of a small forklift, I was able to extricate myself from my poolside/seaside seat and loaded my luggage and carcass into the van that would transport our group away from the familiarity of Mount Etna and to the Western, and much flatter, part of Sicily.
We were headed to Gorghi Tondi, a relatively new brand created by sisters Clara and Annamarie Sala. While the brand itself is fairly new, Clara and Annamaria’s family has been making Marsala on Sicily for four generations. In fact, it was the matriarch of the family, Dora—Clara and Annamaira’s great-grandmother—that laid the foundation for Gorghi Tondi when she purchased 130 hectares of vineyards in the Natural Reserve of Lake Preola and Gorghi Tondi, which became a World Wildlife Fund site in 1998.
The grapes from the vineyards had been sold off to various producers until Clara and Annamaria, seeing the decline in the popularity of Marsala, decided to make their own wine, founding Gorghi Tondi Winery in 2005.
The winery, located just outside of the reserve, is impressive. While certainly replete with elements of Italian style and refinement, the overall impression evokes the influence of Moorish and North African culture.
The following morning, we headed back to Gorghi Tondi for a tasting of the winery’s five Grillo bottlings, each made using a different method. Despite popular opinion, Grillo, the white variety of Sicily, is not technically native to the island—it first appeared on Sicily about 200 years ago (which, in my opinion, is close enough to being “native” but no one asked me).
The area around and including Gorghi Tondi is the traditional area for Grillo on Sicily since the grape is very resistant to various climates and can handle the often fairly high temperatures and frequent wind in Western Sicily. The grape can reach good maturity with lots of sugar, which is why it was used for Marsala.
Dry Grillo, though, is really only from the last 20 years. and requires the grapes to be harvested one month earlier for the dry style of wine. Of the 130 total hectares at Gorghi Tondi, 35 are planted to Grillo of varying ages, up to about 40 years old which is about as old as Grillo vines get.
2016 Gorghi Tondi Vivitis Bio: Produced completely without the use of any sulfites. Pale yellow with green hue. Winemaker was worried that without sulfites the wine would lose some aromatics. Well no need to worry: big melon and mango, quite tropical, with even some banana oil on the nose. On the palate? Quite tart. Quite. Tart. Not as fruity as one might expect from the nose. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.
2016 Gorghi Tondi Coste a Preola: 100% Grillo, all from the nature preserve. Stone fruit a go-go with peach predominant. From older vines (20 years). Tart and fruity. This is what I think of when I think Grillo. Excellent. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
2016 Gorghi Tondi Kheirè DOC Sicilia: Retail $21. From the Greek word for “welcome” since Sicily is a crossroads not only between countries but continents. Rich and full yet tart with great fruit (intensely rich peach) and depth. Also a salinity that would kill with food. Perhaps the best Grillo I have had. From two vineyards one 27 years old, the other 32 years. Whoa. $21??? Easy. Outstanding 92-94 Points.
2014 Gorghi Tondi Grillodoro Passito IGP: Botrytis affected hand picked and sorted. Only Sicilian wine made this way and only Botrytized Grillo in the world. Happened to come across the affected grapes one year a month or so after harvest. Decided to give it a go. Harvest berry by berry and make several passes over many weeks. Only about 3000 bottles which was the largest harvest. Not made every year. Dark almost orange. Viscous and rich with apricot and honey. Sweet with plenty of acidity, brown sugar and apricot. Long finish. Very tasty. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
N.V. Gorghi Tondi Palmarès: Brut. 100%. Charmat method. Use grape must from same vineyards for second fermentation. Tart and vibrant. Lemon and pear. Nice and refreshing. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.