A great retailer in NJ asked me to write how I found Guccione. Here’s the scoop with a Thanksgiving leitmotif.
Francesco Guccione is somewhat of a Phoenix Rising these days. He’s a small producer in northwest Sicily, about 30 minutes outside of the crumbling and exceedingly romantic city of Palermo. I heard of his wines years ago at a Thanksgiving dinner in Emilia-Romagna, of all places. Let me explain: Seven year years ago, I was living in Firenze and I had a good friend called Fred, an American who had been living in Italy for over a decade. Besides my friend and fellow wine-lover, he was the English-Proficiency-Test-Administrator for Italian air traffic controllers. His latest place to call home was a small town in Emilia-Romagna, called Forlì. One day work calls, informing him he needs to go to Palermo for the week to perform an impromptu English test. Trying to make the best of his time while there, he looks up Palermo’s most famous wine shop, or, enoteca. This particular enoteca was known to have gems from all over. Maybe they’ll have that elusive Sicilian wine he had been searching for for the last few months. The gal who helped him was the head buyer; her name was Vera. She had the wine; it was one of her favorites as well. She got it for him and he came back the next day to ask for a good place to something together that evening. The relationship bloomed. A few months later, my friend is commuting to Palermo on weekends, going to the aristocratic Massimo Theatre for lyrical opera, and drinking lots of Champagne. One morning we meet and I see him sporting one of those woolen golf bonnets that the old Sicilian guys peer under from, while alternately checking calcio (soccer) stats in La Gazzetta dello Sport. It was time to meet this ragazza siciliana. And,I wouldn’t miss the occasion to pick her brain for some cool and unknown Sicilian wines. So, it was decided we’d all meet up at Fred’s house for 2008 Thanksgiving in Emilia-Romagna. There were cheap commuter flights from Palermo (save money for more expensive wine!), and Firenze was just a two hour drive through the Apennines for me. We were going to give grazie, carve some turkey, and drink some Sicilian wines. The roasted Turkey aromas were starting to make our mouths water. I asked Fred what we were drinking. He winked while basting the turkey, “la siciliana Vera took care of it.” She had the wines shipped to him a few days before from Palermo. Sicilians are known for their hospitality and Vera was no different. (In fact, they say in Sicily you should come to the door knocking with your feet, since your hands will be filled with gifts.) Vera proceeded to pour for us one great wine after another: Loire crémant, grower-Champagne, and aged Burgundy. I wasn’t complaining, but I was a bit flummoxed as to why this proud ragazza siciliana, who pronounced she would “live and die” only in Sicily, would not show some love for Sicilian wines. She pursed her lips, raised her eyebrows, and informed us that she would like tobut that they were mostly badly vinified, too fruity, too obvious, and, generally — fanno schifo, disgusting. She reluctantly, after much prodding, intoned pleases, and a ricotta cheese cake with imported Graham cracker crust, offered one name. It was that same wine Fred was searching for: Guccione. I got a plane for Sicilia that next week to meet with Francesco Guccione and his old vines. His wines were off the charts when he and his brother started in 2007; we started importing him immediately. Sadly, the Guccione story took a turn for the worse in 2010. His brother, Manfredi, legally and literally locked him out of the cantina, leaving him only as owner of the vineyards. Unfortunately, they never resolved their differences and Francesco’s brother died in the meantime. Two vintages pass before Francesco managed to put together an ad hoc vineyard at his grandmother’s abandoned country house. His new vintage of 2012 Perricone marks many beginnings (and ends).
It’s a wine of rare breed, a wine the old-school aristocratic Palmerian theatre-goers would be happy to drink, as well as Parisian hipsters. And, I hope, all our wine-lover friends in between in the States. Guccione has only six hectares, the farming is rigorously natural; native yeast fermentation in 3000-liter tini (large, upright wooden casks). Perricone is one of those grape varieties you have to pick just in time (like Moscato). Wait just a little bit too much and the wine becomes fruity, a bit flabby, and at best a one-note wonder. Guccione’s Perricone has a spicy nose (think anise), the tannins are fine and elegant, giving structure and depth without being imposing. Pair it with relatively simple dishes: grilled flank steak or tuna with an olive and caper tapenade; grilled anchovies with oranges; sardines with pine nuts works really well. I imagine bluefish could be excellent. Caponata is a traditional Palermian dish (but easy on the vinegar). Spaghetti al pomodoro on a Wednesday night. And, you knew it was coming, Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing. The 2012 is just coming into its own now, but it will age. I had my last bottle of 2008 Guccione ‘P’ Perricone recently that was drinking like – Vera would be proud – an aged Burgundy years ago from that Thanksgiving in Emilia-Romagna. Producer info: http://portovinoitaliano.com/producers/guccione/ Wine info: http://portovinoitaliano.com/wines/guccione-sicilia-p/