On the Road with the Grape Guy

Report from : Cusumano's Other Side

06 Aug 2020

(August 5, 2020) ... Sicily is hot, it’s south and it is in Italy - that is what mosty of us know about this island at the "toe" of Italy … not a place you would expect to find delicate wines with plenty of acidity and finesse. I am a fan of indigenous grapes and Sicilian wine, which is a match made in heaven for wine drinkers, so when the opportunity came along to sit down virtually (and digitally) with Diego Cusumano (whom along with his brother Alberto) started the winery as we know it today … I jumped at the opportunity.

Cusuamno was started 45 years ago by Diego and Alberto’s father, and it produced bulk wine up until the late 90’s when the boys started to make some investments in the vineyard and the winery: their father’s advice about making good wine of quality: “it is important to control 100% of your grapes”.  They brought in a Piedmontese winemaker named Mario, who finishes harvest in the north then makes his way south to start harvest and making all over again.

Cusumano started their rise slowly, increasing their production to match the levels they required, thus able to keep their quality constant, plus they were using sustainable practices the whole way – they were sustainable grape growers and makers before it became trendy, Diego is proud to point out.

The three wines tasted today showed a different side of the winery’s output. Here in Ontario we see the Nero D’Avola, the Syrah, and the Insolia on a regular basis, and the occasional “Vintages” selection comes through the board – but these wines are on another plane of quality.

2018 Shamaris (Grillo) – Tenuta Monte Pietroso  Shamaris - Cusumano
This wine sees 6 months in stainless steel with no skin contact … making it a very fresh wine, it is also grown at 400m above sea level. Traditionally the Grillo grape is grown at, or about, sea level and can be a bland, non-descript white; with the higher elevation at which these grapes are grown it creates more character and keeps the acidity. It took the Cusumano brothers 6 years of experimentation to learn how to make a better Grillo, keeping freshness and lightness: lemon, beeswax, floral, bitter yellow melon and even a saltiness that makes this wine perfect for food pairing – but also a lovely sipper. Nice light 12.5% alcohol.  (*** ½+)

Disueri - Cusumano2018 Disueri (Nero D’Avola) – Tenuta San Giacomo
The Nero that goes into this wine is taken from a single vineyard that lies 10km from the sea at 400m above sea level, it’s claim-to-fame is that it has a completely white calcareous soil. The name of the wine means “desire”, given this name because the estate lies beside an old dried up riverbed that was known as, “the river of desire”. No oak is introduced to the wine and it remains on fine lees for its entire time in stainless steel (5 months). Not your usual rich version of Nero D’Avola, it is smooth and silky with soft tannins, but it’s the black cherry, licorice and herbal notes that are the most striking and riveting all backed with good acidity and a certain salty/stony quality. Another food wine that is incredibly sippable.  (****)

2018 Alta Mora (Carricante) Etna Bianco Alta Mora - Cusumano
The Alta Mora project, while part of Cusumano, is treated as something completely different: from the website to the wines. These are wines that come from a totally different region of Sicily, Etna, where the volcanic soils give a totally different character to the wines. Three “contrade” (crus) were acquired back in 2013 by Cusumano and the Alta Mora project was born. This Etna Bianco is made with the Carricante grape – a white that is native to Sicily and in particular the Etna region. It resides at 600m above sea level and is a late ripening variety. Diego says the final wine gets compared with the likes of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, as people try to determine what niche they should put this wine into; but he claims it is its own particular set of separate variety with its own characteristics. Interesting to note that the wine sees no oak treatment, yet it has a richness on the palate that mimics some wood, or long lees aging: rich and salty with notes of pineapple – a wine to be experenced.  (*** ½+)

The wines above are available through consignment (Family Wine Merchants)

Bonus Wine Still Available at the LCBO …

Cusumano 2018 Insolia ($12.95 - #173336)
Look, this wine is not going to blow the doors off ... but if you're looking for something to just sit on the patio and enjoy those hot days ahead, this one will definitely do the trick; and what's more it's the perfect summer sipper at an unbelievably good price. Good acidity follows grapefruit and guava plus there is a citrus pith note that provides a refreshing and pleasant bitterness on the finish. If you are looking for comparison, it's like Sauvignon Blanc with a Southern-Italian twist.  Rating: *** ½


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