An editor once urged me to avoid the word ‘mouthwatering’. And fair enough. It’s cheap and played out – the kind of language you expect from a Hungry Jack’s ad – and it doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture. Yet every now and then, regardless of how hackneyed or off-putting it may sound, something comes along that really kicks your salivary glands into gear.
Alessandro Viola’s 2020 rosé is one of those things. You practically taste it with your eyes the moment it spills into the glass, pale ruby and hazy with the slightest orange tinge, pretty as all get-out. This is a wine with no shortage of energy or personality, and that’s apparent from the outset. Just don’t mistake its youthful look and the childlike label for a lack of technical know-how.
Viola grew up around wine; his father was a grower, which led him to pursue a degree in oenology and viticulture, followed by work in the vineyards on Mount Etna and in Northern Italy. Today, he farms twelve hectares by hand without chemical inputs across two sites outside Alcamo in Sicily’s northwest, between Palermo and Trapani. His focus lies on just some of the compelling indigenous varieties – Grillo, Catarratto, Nerello Mascalese – that have generated a surge of interest in Sicilian winemaking over the course of the last decade or so.
And then, of course, there’s the island’s most widely planted varietal and the only grape in Viola’s rosé, Nero d’Avola. The fruit comes from sandy, clay-rich soil in the lower of his two plots, perched around 200 metres above sea level. Spontaneous fermentation with no temperature control, no skin maceration and six months of ageing in stainless steel make for a boundlessly lucid and lively expression; light without being limp, almost like juicy red cherries, tart cranberries and hibiscus flowers boiled down to a kirsch-like essence. There’s a ripe, candied feel to it, brought into balance by licks of fennel, green herbs and blood orange peel. ‘Succulent’ goes a long way in describing the thirst-slaking acidity, but not quite long enough.
With what often seems like too many wines now playing in the unfined, unfiltered, low-ABV, high-acid and low/no-sulphur space, it’s becoming increasingly crucial to ask what sets one apart from the others. In the case of Viola’s wines, it’s a rare sense of effortlessness and purity, coupled with the feeling that they remain something of a secret. They’re not as anchored to tradition as, say, the wines of Tenuta Delle Terre Nerre or Salvo Foti, nor do they attract the same cultish fanaticism as Frank Cornelissen or Gabrio Bini. (At least not yet.) Much like Sicily itself, they’re Italian by definition, Mediterranean by nature and somehow very much their own thing all at once.
What’s more, you’ve got to applaud the personal touch of a winemaker willing to plaster his personal email address on the back of the bottle in this day and age. Crack one on a carefree afternoon, and you may likely find yourself compelled to reach out to tell him how much you enjoyed it.
And FYI, the Italian phrase for ‘making the mouth water’ is ‘far venire acquolina in bocca’ – just in case.