Deep inside I guess we Italians have, when it comes to wine, an inferiority complex. When it comes to amounts, Italy and France alternate as first wine producing nation in the world. And although the quality of Italian wines has been constantly improving in the eyes of a certain number of wine consumers Italy is still not in the same league as other nations, more acclaimed for their top quality. There are many reason to explain this phenomenon: historic reasons, bad marketing, silly DOC rules not aimed at quality, etc. One reason that in my view plays a big role, is that many top Italian wines are produced in minimal amounts. Some are famous, and have become cult wines and be priced accordingly, making them a very pricey pleasure. But even for those that are not, finding a bottle of some of these can be a real challenge, even in Italy. That's even more sad if one considers that many of these wines break from the so called international style, bringing new sensations to those lucky enough to drink them. For this reason I was quite happy as I managed to get my hands on a bottle of Faro Palari 1998, a Sicilian wine, coming from the hills around Messina overlooking the strait that separates Sicily from continental Italy, or il continente :-) as many Sicilians still call it.
This region was, in Roman times, well known for its wine, then called Mamertino. This predecessor of old was produced in large amounts but since then the situation has changed. Faro (which means lighthouse) is a little DOC (quality wines from protected regions), close to being the smallest DOC in Italy. With only just above 6 hectares (15 acres) in the DOC area, the production is clearly tiny. Even smaller than it could be actually, as only a part of these are still used to make Faro. The production recently reached hardly 5500 litres, that means less than 7500 bottles. Even compared to what a Faro would have probably died out if it hadn't been for one wine maker, Salvatore Geraci, and his Azienda Agricola Palari. I was very curious about this wine and not only because of its rarity. Many of the last vintages ('98 included) have won the tre bicchieri (three glasses) award from the Slow food and Gambero Rosso guide, the most prestigious Italian wine guide. Still, when reading the review of these wines I got the impression one of the reasons for the prize was also a sort of encouragement for the effort of keeping the Faro DOC alive. So would the wine live up to its fame?
The wine is actually very pleasant but not a "fireworks" wine. It has a certain austere elegance without lacking the "muscles" for an important wine. It has a nice bouquet, ranging from berries, to more evolved notes. The balance is also pleasant with the alcohol only slightly stronger than the acid and the tannins (it is a Southern Italian wine after all). I usually avoid making comparisons between wines and the land they came from, though I don't deny the important of the terroir. But in this case I'll make an exception. This wine does have a Sicilian character: it's warm without being too exuberant, open and holding back at the same time and waiting for you to understand it. Probably not a wine for the followers of the "international style" wines, their loss anyway. If you manage to find a bottle and are looking for a wine with character and class go for it. Check the price though, I've seen bottles on the web on sale for more than 60 $ and that's almost twice it's normal price.
And now to the nerdy wine tasting notes...
The wine has a nice deep garnet colour still with lively ruby reflexes. The bouquet needs a few minutes to open up but then appears intense and rich. At first berry preserve notes (blueberries and mulberries) are evident, then smoke followed by black tea, chocolate and a hint of liquorice. The taste is balanced, with alcohol maybe a bit in the foreground, and the persistence is very long. The final aromas recall the berries noted in the bouquet (and very slightly the tea too).