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Il Grande Francesco is back!

The all-but-forgotten Monreale DOC lies southwest of the crumbling and exceedingly romantic city of Palermo, in the northwest part of the triangle island. Guccione’s sub-zone, Cerasa, is famous both locally and across the island for great grapes and wine. (Remember that Sicily has a very strong DIY house wine tradition.) Francesco Guccione, working only with native varieties, including the rare Perricone, farms six hectares of land that’s been in his family for generations. His great-grandfather used to make wine and tend horses here. Rainfall is miniscule, so they dry farm the dry farm. The soil is marl — mostly clay with some chalk and iron, which gives some of the vineyards a reddish brown color from oxidation. Rusty locals call it terre brune, or brown soil. The vines here dig deep for underground water on the higher part of the hill at 480-500 meters. The climate in this corner of the island is relatively mild, and Francesco has oriented his vines so that they receive maximum light exposure from sunrise to sunset. Farming is organic and biodynamic. Visit the vineyards with Francesco, and you’ll get a discourse on cover crops including herbs like chamomile and echinacea.

All of the work in the cantina is equally natural: native yeasts, no fining or filtering, and modest sulfur at bottling. The white wines see skin contact of between two and 10 days. Most of the wines are fermented and aged in 3000-liter tini: large, upright wooden casks.

Mount Etna may be getting most of the cool-kid press in Sicilia, but over in the other corner of the island, Francesco Guccione is making wines off the recently-beaten path — wines of equally-loaded character and authenticity.

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