Sicily’s “Il Censo” New Releases

Posted on Posted in Il Censo, Producer Spotlight

Arriving December 16th

Giampiero Bea, one of our dearest friends and collaborators, has an uncanny knack for finding and cultivating talent. As co-founder and president of ViniVeri—a well-respected consortium of winegrowers dedicated to producing wine as naturally as possible—he has introduced us to numerous growers whose ethos and aesthetics align with our own (Giovanna Morganti of Le Boncie and Paolo Vodopivec, to name a few). In the early 2000s, he helped the sisters of the Monastero Suore Cistercensi in Lazio refine and commercialize their distinctive wines, resulting in the much-beloved “Coenobium” and “Ruscum.” And, four years ago, he introduced us to Gaetano Gargano, a longtime client and friend who had recently begun rejuvenating his family’s old farm “Il Censo” in south-central Sicily. With Giampiero’s assistance, Gaetano had revived some old plantings of Perricone and Malvasia Nera, and had planted new vines of Catarratto and Perricone, with a mind to producing low-intervention wines in the vein of those he loved from Bea and others. Needless to say, we were intrigued, and the results clearly proved riveting, as the first shipment sold out within a couple of months. Demand and interest have grown over the years, and we now await our fourth installment from Il Censo, arriving in New York around the 16th of December.

Il Censo itself encompasses 65 hectares, but it is a polyculture of grapevines, olive trees (both new and 100-year-old plantings), wheat (a fascinating and robustly flavored ancient strain called Timilia), and pasture land for grazing animals. The vines themselves—only nine hectares worth—are planted on a volcanic outcropping at a formidable 600 meters above sea level. Gaetano farms everything organically, and the dramatic diurnal temperature shifts (up to 95 degrees in daytime and down to 50 degrees at night) during the growing season ensure wines of complexity and balance. Working in the vein of Bea, with extended skin maceration for the white wine and a laissez-faire trust in nature for the reds, Gaetano’s wines have a frankness and gutsy charm that is utterly beguiling. Much like the wines produced by the Cistercian sisters in Lazio, the Il Censo offerings are wines of joy, completely lacking in polish, pretense, or fussiness, bursting with life and speaking a homespun dialect all their own. As one would expect, they are never yeasted, never temperature-stabilized, never fined, never filtered, and only barely sulfured—the final products containing between 30 and 40 milligrams per liter of free sulfur dioxide. Gaetano continues to refine and master his approach, and the incoming wines are his strongest efforts to date.

2015 “Praruar” Terre Siciliane Bianco
“Praruar” means “towards gold” in the old Sicilian tongue, but this 2015, with its profoundly rich bronze cast, has definitively arrived at gold. Harvested under clear skies during the first week of October, this pure Catarratto spent 20 days on its skins, and passed one year in stainless steel with no thermoregulation and with sulfur added only near the time of bottling. Aromatically speaking, it’s unapologetically big and bold, hitting lofty highs and profound lows like a great pair of speakers. Fresh-baked gingerbread, citrus honey, quince paste, and Church spices (myrrh, frankincense) envelop the taster in a warm embrace, and the palate delivers mass and intensity without undue weight or alcohol. It is thickly textured, almost like chicken stock in its concentration of savory essence, but notes of chamomile and preserved lemon keep things relatively fresh. The surprisingly resonant, slowly fading finish carries honest, silty tannins and a lingering lash of solid rock. Overall, the impression here is that of something ancient, elemental—a liquid of heft and inscrutability that stands proudly apart from an ocean of sculpted, polite, benign white wines.

2014 “Njuro” Terre Siciliane Rosso
“Njuro” (“black” in old Sicilian and pronounced roughly like “nero”) is produced entirely from the indigenous Perricone, a blatantly peppery, assertive variety from which Gaetano claims it is nearly impossible to produce anything resembling a polished wine. The punchy and delicious 2014 spent 18 days on its skins (yes, less than the “white” wine!), and it sports a vibrant purplish hue in the glass. The exuberant nose offers dark, plummy fruit tinged with lavender, sandalwood, and a generous pinch of the aforementioned pepper—coarse-ground and super-fresh. The full-throated and ringing palate reprises the pepper theme, with notes of game and smoked meat adding complexity. The tannins are both gentle yet charmingly unpolished: rustic in the best possible way, offering neither the chubby smoothness of a carbonically macerated red nor the brooding architecture of a classical vin de garde. The 2014 “Njuro” is a delicious, gulpable wine that still offers layers through which to wade as well as a sense of intrigue—and, if history is any indication, it will be sold out in the blink of an eye.

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