My memory from Trapani is the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi.
All right, I know it seems weird…but when I went to Sicily with a friend some years ago, we were both writing our Ph.D. in history and my focus was on nationalism and how the image of Garibaldi was used in other European countries for domestic political change.
Now, my focus has shifted to wine but still, history is a crucial part of what I do.
Right now, what comes to mind when I think of Trapani is Assuli winery and Garibaldi. LOL
As you might have understood by now, this article will talk about Assuli winery and viticulture and winemaking in Sicily.
It was in the midst of the Coronavirus lockdown, that I was asked by Riccardo Gabriele to set up an interview with Roberto Caruso, the owner of Assuli winery. This interview then further led to him being a guest at my WinesOfItaly LiveStream at the end of April. (See Wines Of Italy LiveStream for other previous live streams.)
Assuli – A family winery in Sicily with a long history
The Caruso family has owned land and vineyards close to Trapani in Sicily since more than 100 years back in time, but it is only more recently that they have dedicated themselves to the bottling of high-quality wines.
The main business of the Caruso family has not been viticulture and wine but rather they are a leader in the marble extraction sector since 1948 when the company was founded by the present owners’ grandfather, Cav. Lav. Giacomo Caruso.
When most viticulture and wine production in Italy was focused on quantity rather than quality in the 1950s and 60s, this was also the case in Sicily. The market request decided in those days what grapes were to be cultivated by the local Sicilian growers and farmers. Most farmers conferred their grapes to the local cooperatives and were very much dependant on the prices that were set by the buyers.
In fact, that is why a lot of international grapes such as Sauvignon, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, etc. were planted in Sicily in those days, i.e. to satisfy the market needs and get higher prices.
Also, the Caruso family cultivated both indigenous and international grapes in those years and sold them to the local cooperatives. In the beginning, it was fairly lucrative and they managed to invest in more land and plant more vineyards in Sicily. Today, in fact, they have around 100 hectares (about 250 acres) of vineyard.
However, after having taken the first steps towards a more quality-oriented wine production in Sicily together with different partners in the early 2000s, they decided six years ago to create their own wine-producing family brand in the form of Baglio Assuli.
A Focus on the local Sicilian territory
When establishing the Assuli brand, the Caruso family decided to return to the origins, so to say, and focus on indigenous grapes to Sicily. They wanted to put the local territory in the limelight again and give it the importance it deserves. Therefore, they reorganized most of the vineyards where they planted native grapes and started to produce only monovarietal wines of Sicily.
In fact, they are today cultivating Grillo, Lucido, i.e. Catarratto, Zibibbo, Nero d’Avola, and Perricone. They also produce Syrah even if it is not an indigenous grape but so very connected to Sicily for many years now. Since 2019, they are also organically certified.
Roberto Caruso told me that the vineyard plots can be divided up in mainly four different areas, namely
- The largest area located between Trapani, Marsala, and Mazara
- An area close to Calatafimi that is on a bit higher altitude
- A third area close to Segesta
- Bosco Scorace that is the most recent addition and a treasure of a vineyard plot
Roberto emphasized how the Bosco Scorace piece of land that is situated inside a national park is on 600 meters altitude and has an ideal microclimate for viticulture.
On a clear day, you see both the Mediterranean and the Tyrrhenian sea.
Here they have just planted Perricone, Nero d’Avola, and Grillo. The soil is a mix of clay and calcareous layers, with pebble stones and infiltrations of chalk.
Roberto says that these conditions will allow them to produce their top wines from there in the coming years. The first harvest will only be in a couple of years though.
An experimental vineyard
What really caught my attention was when Roberto Caruso started telling me about the experimental vineyard they have set up at the estate in collaboration with the Vite Vino Institute in Marsala.
The idea is to recuperate old and lesser-known grape varieties that have been forgotten or disappeared during past years. This is an essential part of their work to valorize the local territory and give a voice to the viticultural heritage of Sicily.
With the help of the Department of Agriculture at the University of Palermo, they have had access to scions of the rare grape varieties and have then grafted them onto 15 rows of Insolia plants. It is a tiny plot of an experimental vineyard located in the Mazara area.
Which are the old and rare varieties they have recuperated then?
Well, for example, varieties such as Reliquia bianco, Insolia nera, Lucignola, Vitrarolo, and Anonima (a variety found without any specific name).
Their goal is to arrive at the point where they will be able to produce and bottle wine with these varieties.
Soon it will also be able to visit the experimental vineyard during a winery visit…well, that is when it will be possible to travel again in the post-Covid era.
What about the wines from Assuli winery…?
Just before the live stream with Roberto Caruso, I received a box with Assuli wines from Sicily to taste. In the video above you can listen to Roberto talk about their Nero d’Avola wine Lorlando.
The first wine I opened was their dry white Zibibbo wine – Dardinello DOC Sicilia -which is just a lovely white wine that is very drinkable. It is an aromatic white wine with good acidity and notes of lemon, orange, and white flowers such as orange blossoms. You can feel the presence of the sea and its saltiness both on the nose and the palate.
Furthermore, I have tasted Furioso DOC Sicilia (2017) that is their Perricone monovarietal wine. Perricone is one of the grape varieties that they have recovered in their experimental vineyard and it is a variety that is, in fact, native to the provinces of Trapani and Palermo.
Perricone used to be a quite popular grape in the area in the past. Indeed, Ian D’Agatha mentions how it in the 19th century was used to make Zucco Rosso that Henry d’Orleans was so fond of. Perricone was, and is, furthermore one of the grapes used to make the ruby Marsala. (See Ian D’Agatha, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, p. 393.)
Perricone met its destiny with the phylloxera and was almost wiped out at the end of the 19th century. It has then been a bit forgotten but in recent years it has been rediscovered and you can now find producers who make Perricone wines again, such as Assuli.
Furioso from Assuli is an elegant and smooth wine with notes of red berries, a floral touch, mainly violet, meaty or of graphite, and an undertone of the Mediterranean flora.
An interesting thing you might have noticed is that each wine has been named after a character in the epic poem Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. Just another reason for you to try these wines.
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