SP68 Rosso by Arianna Occhipinti – serious fun
Arianna Occhipinti owns 23.5 hectares of vineyards in the southeast of Sicily, near Vittoria. Here is a beautiful land of limestone and sandy soils at around 300 metres in altitude. It’s in complete contrast to Mount Etna further north; flattish land where grapes are just one of the many fruits, and vegetables are grown – polytunnels seem as familiar as vineyards. However, it’s also arguably where the Frappato variety originates and reaches its zenith, while the local Nero d’Avola is also particularly suited. Occhipinti is an oenology graduate (of Milan University) mentored by her uncle, the revered winemaker Giusto Occhipinti of nearby C.O.S. She now has a stellar reputation of her own, bursting on the scene with her first vintage in 2006. The SP68 Rosso is the entry-level wine in the range, but all of her wines are exquisite.
Occhipinti concentrates on growing autochthonous grape varieties; viticulture is biodynamic. In the winery, there is a complementary non-interventionist winemaking approach. It includes wild yeasts, spontaneous fermentation without temperature control in gravity-fed concrete tanks, no fining, no filtering and minimal sulphur. The results are exuberant, pure wines with a real sense of place.
Occhipinti, SP68 Rosso, Frappato/Nero d’Avola, IGT Terre Siciliane, 2019. 12.5%
SP68 is the local Strada Provinciale, which runs past the Occhipinti vineyards near Vittoria. The road is historically significant, as it follows an ancient route thousands of years old that took the wines to the main towns and ports of south-east Sicily. Just like the local DOCG Cerasuolo di Vittoria, SP68 is a blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato. However, where it departs from that is that the DOCG blend must be 50-70% Nero d’Avola, while SP68 Rosso reverses that ratio. This wine is 70% Frappato and 30% Nero d’Avola. The Frappato brings lightness, floral scents and acidity along with strawberry fruit, while the Nero d’Avola contributes structure and a darker richness. It’s matured in those cement vats for six months before bottling and then given another month to rest before release.
The result is a light red wine comparable in style (if not in taste) to Beaujolais or a Loire red. Indeed, you could chill it in summer.
This wine is unusual in that while it’s a serious proposition, it’s also exuberant fun. SP68 Rosso is a vivid ruby colour, purple flecked and slightly turbid in the glass, young wine with nothing taken out. It’s nervy too. Cherry, strawberry and violet perfume leads to a bright, fresh palate. Cherry, strawberry, mulberry and cranberry are in tension with a streak of saline minerality and a hint of liquorice.
There’s little tannin but outstanding balance and texture, thanks to fresh acidity and relatively light alcohol. It isn’t a wine for thoughtful contemplation or for marvelling at complexity. Instead, it’s one where you’ll find the bottle quickly empties! My advice is to buy the most recent vintage available – it’s not that it won’t last a couple of years or five, it’s that the current vintage always has the most youthful energy and zest. It’s an authentic and exciting wine that reveals the personality of the winemaker and its terroir.
As for food pairing with SP68 Rosso, a perfect match is Arancini, those fried Sicilian rice balls covered in breadcrumbs. It’s also excellent with antipasti or with paté on a picnic. Pasta? Try Spaghetti alla Norma (aka aubergine heaven). Alternatively, break the usual “rules” and drink this red with fried or grilled fish such as whitebait and sardines.
This wine always brings back memories of Sicilian heat and breathtaking countryside. It’s a joyous celebration of life at any time of the year.
There’s a fairly wide distribution in the UK, but try Buon Vino £23.00
SP68 Vittoria-Pedalino Km 3,3
97019 Vittoria (RG)
If you enjoy SP68 Rosso, then try the SP68 Bianco – a white wine for another time! There are more Sicilian wines, including those from Arianna Occhipinti and C.O.S., here.